Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future
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For centuries, Beijing was closed off to the world, turned inward and literally built around the imperial Forbidden City, the emblem of all that was unknowable about China. But now the capital is reinventing itself to reflect China’s global influence, progress, and prosperity. When Tom Scocca arrived—an American eager to see another culture—Beijing was looking toward welcoming the world to its Olympics, and preparations were in full swing to renew itself.
Scocca discovered a city of contradictions—modern and ancient, friendly yet wary, bold and insecure. He talked to scientists tasked with changing the weather, and interviewed architects; checked out the campaign to stop public spitting; documented the planting of trees, the rerouting of traffic, the demolition of the old city, and the designs of a new metropolis, all the while finding the city more daunting, and more intimate. Beijing Welcomes You is a glimpse into the future and an encounter with an urban place we do not yet fully comprehend, and a superpower it is essential we get to know better.
had he explained this and gotten us settled in the other van than we looked out the window to see him turning the empty van around and zipping back uphill through the tunnel. The new driver was wearing a neat yellow shirt and seemed more mild-mannered than the rest of the crew. He cranked the ignition and nothing happened. We sat there in the skunk-smelling dimness. Would the cable car really have been so bad? Resignedly, the driver dug out a tool kit and reached behind his seat to take the
Porsche Cayenne parked with two wheels on the sidewalk, I had reached a galvanized metal construction wall and a rubble zone. It was two years since the new Qianmen had opened for business, right in time for the Olympics, but the neighborhood here was frozen in mid-demolition. Walls or corners of buildings were still standing, even as the rest of the structure slumped into piles of broken bricks, or twisted steel and concrete. Dirt and debris spilled out of empty shopfronts into the street.
cameras and two video cameras. The cheerleader was not leaping very high. The lead photographer, a man in a blue tank top and flip flops, with a samurai ponytail, demonstrated the desired jump: a running leap that left him staggering to a halt, slapping the wall. A female assistant, in tartan shorts and knee-high stockings, with a pierced nose, darted out to blot sweat from the cheerleader’s lip and lower eyelids. Besides the magazine people, there was a South Korean photographer for a Chinese
was moving. “The Olympic things are only convenient for the Olympics,” I said, in a flash of Mandarin competence. “For everyone else, they’re annoying.” The driver clapped a hand over his mouth and held it there theatrically. Then he put it back on the steering wheel. “Understand?” he said. The on-site press center was less plush than the off-site one. The renovations at the latter were cushy, the elevators so lavishly mirrored, inside and out, that it was hard to tell when the doors had
terrible dye job, a classic Beijing dye job, came the other way. Those were the last signs of everyday life. On Outer Dongzhimen Avenue, half the lanes were closed off. Policemen and the People’s Armed Police were standing guard all along the street. The paramilitary police were wearing uniform jackets, despite the heat. The street was nearly empty except for them and a few taxis. The Second Ring Road was squeezed down to one lane. The city had been scoured clean of anything that could