Doing business amid the dying detritus of old Beijing

As Beijing moves forward with its urban gentrification campaign, waking up to the tremors of jackhammers, bulldozers, and excavators has become a morning ritual for residents on its suburban margins. In the last six months, thousands of unsightly stalls, hazardous industrial complexes, and illegal and semi-itinerant businesses have been cleared to made way for plans to create what officials deem a “global” city—less crowded, safer, more modern.

Beijing’s outskirts, however, are home to millions of menial workers. They are cooks and cleaners, couriers and factory workers, who all play an integral role in the economy, yet were driven from the city center by rising costs and regulations. In November, these clean-up campaigns escalated after a blaze in a Daxing district low-income housing block killed 19 residents.

As the red mark of 拆 (“demolition”) appears overnight on the structures where they eat, shop, sleep, and work, tenants and business owners know they’re living on borrowed time. When Spring Festival comes, many leave for home and will never come back. Yet wherever they can find four walls still standing, Beijing’s “phoenix” migrants have a living to make.

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End of Days is a story from our issue, “The Noughty Nineties.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


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

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