In a Beijing village, a community of strivers clings to a doomed existence

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).

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author Jeremiah Jenne

Jeremiah Jenne is a writer and historian based in Beijing since 2002. He earned his PhD from the University of California, Davis, and has taught Late Imperial and Modern Chinese History for over 15 years. His essays and articles on China have appeared in The Economist, the South China Morning Post, The Journal of Asian Studies, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and The World of Chinese. His writings can also be found in China in “2008: A Year of Great Significance,” “The Insider’s Guide to Beijing,” and the 2015 collection “While We’re Here: China Stories from a Writer’s Colony.” Jeremiah frequent speaks and leads workshops on history, culture, and cultural adaptation for students, embassies, companies, and community groups. Along with David Moser, Jeremiah also hosts the podcast Barbarians at the Gate.

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