Objects and memories left in the suburban rubble

There are few real residents left in Beneficent Temple slum. Aside from a man smoking his cigarette outside, a woman who hasn’t yet signed the relocation contract, and a few stragglers with the security guards (bao’an) knocking on their doors, it’s mostly just people like me—vultures, scavengers here to collect the ruins.

I see a woman walking away with a cart full of scrap metal. I talk to a man wrapping old electrical wires that he says he’s going sell. I am here, however, to collect something of a different sort of value: the stories of the residents that were and the objects that they’ve left behind.

The story of this slum—as told to me by a representative of the office in charge of destroying it—is a happy one. It’s simple the way he describes it: Move the people out, knock the old neighborhood down, and in three years’ time, the residents return to new, government welfare homes. Many of the people I talk to, though, seem unclear about why they are leaving and what will become of their old homes. And as the locked doors—later pried open by bao’an—on these homes  destined for destruction can attest, even residents who choose to go can’t sever their attachment to their homes.

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Alexander Cecil McNab is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese.

Gopa Biswas Caesar is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese.

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