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You're not supposed to see this

Posted by Scott LaPierre  August 10, 2008 05:54 AM

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BEIJING--Last week, reporter Patty Wen and I spent some time in this part of Beijing south of Tiananmen Square called the Xuanwu district (the story appeared in today's Globe). The Chinese government doesn't want foreigners like Patty and I (or most of you) to actually see large parts of the Xuanwu district. So they've done about the most low-tech, unimaginative thing you can do to hide something: they built a big honking wall right down the sidewalk, inches from the openings of shops (above photo) so all you see from the street is this:


Preeeeeetty clever, huh? You know that if you hide something, it only gets journalists' juices flowing. So below, dear reader, we proudly present some images from behind the wall.



As you can see, it's not even that bad--it's not like the Chinese government was obscuring horrible open poverty and disease, or roiling political dissent, or anything. It's just a rather humble "hutong" neighborhood, made up of tightly packed dwellings clustered around narrow alleys.


Sure, it's a little informal (I saw one elder gentleman shuffling around the neighborhood in baggy boxers and slip-on sandals), and some of the storefronts could use a makeover. But it's kind of great too--everyone knows each other, things are close together, and the place at midday is full of cooking smells (mingling with the scents of rubbish and dog poo, of course).


It's being hidden because it's the opposite of everything that is sparkling, brand new, and ultra-modern (and kinda boring) about Beijing, the Beijing the government wants you to see during the Olympics. In fact, everything in these photos is slated for eventual demolition (and you can see some structures have already been knocked down) so they can throw up some more squeaky clean high rises.


And, who's to say the urban renewal's all bad? Modern flush toilets and more personal space are quite nice, after all. But for the meantime, enjoy this glimpse into a rich, fast-vanishing part of Beijing.




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19 comments so far...
  1. It's just a face lift. You are not young anymore, take some botox shots, you look better. It's only temporary. It's not something new that people don't already know. Have some sense of comedy.

    If the Western journalists aren't so dramatic, always looking for the contrast and contradiction, nobody would have cared.

    Posted by J August 10, 08 07:43 AM
  1. It's to bad that they didn't just give the village residents all that money. It looks like they could use it. I have a hard time watching the olymics after seeing the televised reports on the horric dailly routine the young gymnastics are subjected to in China. It made me sick and I no longer enjoy watching it.

    Posted by BV August 10, 08 11:56 AM
  1. i think they did a great job of covering up what they wished to cover. Hooray! I see nothing wrong with the efforts made to make "quick face washing" of otherwise
    less than pretty places. We here in the states could use this technique in many parts of our country. Maybe we should still take a look at China for "some lessons to learn."

    Posted by m p bradley August 10, 08 01:02 PM
  1. Now that China is becoming a global power, sound like there are American jealous of the success of modern China. Isn't the US has plenty of poor and rundown neighborhoods and societal ills that it doesn't want the world to know?
    Being to many different part of the world myself, comparing NYC(consider the greatest American city) to other modern cities around the work, especially Asia and Europe. NYC looks prehistoric. Boston? such a joke!

    Posted by BostonStinks123 August 10, 08 01:20 PM
  1. I think the reporter is was sheltered from the poor. So what, its a poor neighborhood. Most countries have these. NEXT STORY!

    Posted by Vic August 10, 08 01:56 PM
  1. It's not a matter of jealousy - it's a matter of openness. During the Atlanta olympics, we didn't wall any of the rundown neighborhoods down in Georgia in an effort to "improve" appearances. If anything, money was spent to IMPROVE the neighborhoods, rather than spending money on MASKING the problems. China's transparent zealousness to put a pretty face over a troubled city and country is primarily... transparent. And on your other point, NYC, Boston, and many other American cities had their modern booms decades ago. Many Asian, European, and Middle Eastern cities are booming now, which will certainly lead to newer and potentially more appealing city environments... but as always, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    Posted by Greg August 10, 08 02:00 PM
  1. The Western journalists is to be ashamed at contradiction and hypocrisy please to look at poor section Boston! Isn't they ought to "quick face washing" for praise of China, which has now becoming global power? Please to learn a sense of humorousness! We from United States could learn much from modernizing Beijing.

    Okay seriously, Government of China, you guys should consider better ways to spend your money than patrolling message boards at Boston.com. And if you're going to hire message board inspectors to pose as American citizens - I'm looking at you, m p bradley, BostonStinks123, and J, at least make sure their English is a bit better. Please to you offer of help!

    Posted by Not a Chinese Gov. Agent August 10, 08 03:26 PM
  1. For all of you who consider this a "face lift" or "face washing" think again. The stores behind that wall aren't getting any business. It's actually pretty outrageous.

    Posted by Jen August 10, 08 04:29 PM
  1. I like chinese food.

    Posted by WMancini August 10, 08 04:46 PM
  1. Your photos and text nicely reveal a great deal about highhanded short-term image manipulation by the Chinese leadership.
    Potemkin redux.
    Of course, for his night-time speech in New Orleans George bathed his cathedral backdrop in the sanitizing glare of floodlights.

    Posted by zyg plater August 10, 08 10:42 PM
  1. I don't understand why they want to hide the everyday normal life of China,
    they are just like us, no different.

    Posted by John August 11, 08 12:03 PM
  1. anybody seen my puppy?

    Posted by Bobby August 11, 08 01:44 PM
  1. Would like to see all AMerican medalists sing the national anthem when they recieve a medal.

    Posted by Bonnie Ford August 11, 08 11:03 PM
  1. As a famous chinese saying goes, "Men live for face as trees grow for bark." In China the 'face' is really a traditional value concept for over 2,000 years. More understanding for the Chinese people, please. :-)

    Posted by ChineseGuy August 12, 08 10:17 AM
  1. How's that a "cover up"? Despite all this talk of destructions of older building, many Hutongs in Beijing are indeed on the protected list and are super expensive to own these days.

    Putting a wall in front of the neighborhood makes it look better. Don't read too much into it.

    Posted by Steve August 12, 08 10:32 AM
  1. Firstly, I am a Chiese guy.
    it's popular in every city in China ,or in any city in developing country, even in USA. How could we blame that?obviously,it's fact that we are improving our life!
    Many Chinese people is welcoming international people from anywhere, even accept more and more criticism.

    Posted by boor August 22, 08 12:51 AM
  1. I think you commentors are missing the point or the article. You're coming across as whiny, defensive babies. The author of the piece isn't saying America is any better, or that those areas are even that bad, just that they're being obscured by the walls in order to hide them.
    Stop your crying.

    Posted by Gary August 25, 08 01:17 PM
  1. Hoho, only if you dig deeper, you will find that these people, who own the soon-to-be demolished houses are compensated with millions of $ (yes, USD). Part of the reason they were still there to be seen is that many of them were taking the olympics hostage so their greed will be met cause they know that the government, or the Chinese tridition, wants the guest to see the best.

    So the wall was built.

    Posted by WizBe August 27, 08 04:09 AM
  1. so what are you trying to pull? People you supposedly EXPOSED seemed very happy. To put a neat front on the street is normal to me. I pity the western journalists who tried their best to make China look bad however they can, the west just can stand China's peaceful rising. They can't tolerate the idea that a non-western model of society actually is beating them, couple this with the hint of racist mentality, you got all these clown journalist that do nothing but trying to nitpick China. Grow up!

    Posted by snowman121 August 30, 08 12:01 AM

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