For Beijingers, this spring will likely be remembered as the season of the bricks.
The building of the Great Walls of Gentrification has blocked off—or knocked down—many of the city’s mom-and-pop businesses. Yet while progress marches on, the neighborhood of Huashiying (化石营, literally “Barracks of Fossils”), also known as Guandongdian (关东店) after the nearby thoroughfare, clings improbably to a precarious existence in the shadow of some of the city’s most iconic structures.
Despite an imminent demise reported as far back as 2008—when the government made the eradication of improvised buildings and makeshift utilities, known as “shed areas” (棚户区), an urban priority—this warren of shanties, shops, and local culture persists, wedged awkwardly near Beijing’s Eastern Third Ring and the gleaming steel and glass of the Central Business District (CBD).
And the survival of central Beijing’s last urban village seems even more impressive as the forces of modernity and order rip the heart from the hutong of Dongcheng and backstreets of Chaoyang. But for how long?