An Ode to Beijing's Urban Renewal, With Apologies to Bruce Springsteen

The issue here is one of cultural confidence: Every time a tourist visits a gussied-up section of Beijing and complains, “This could be anywhere in the world!” there are a couple of polyester-clad mid-level urban planners in the Beijing municipal government high-fiving each other over the exhausted corpses of “Historic Authenticity” and “Cultural Preservation.”

Even as other international cities move in the direction of encouraging spontaneous markets, small vendors, and an organic street culture, too many planners here seem afraid that these are the things which make Beijing seem “dirty” or “backward.” It’s a problem which goes back to the days of Sun Yat-sen through the “Political Vicissitudes of the 1960s." Having been force-fed a Western idea of modernity for over 100 years, even today’s proudly rejuvenated Chinese leaders find it hard to conceive of a Chinese modernity which can co-exist peacefully with Beijing’s past.