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Danwei TV: Hutong Chronicles - Mike Meyer

Southwest of Qianmen and Tiananmen Square in Beijing is a maze of narrow alleyways stretching from the theater and market street of Dazhalan all the way west to Liulichang, Beijing's antique and traditional Chinese art supplies street.

In the Qing Dynasty, this area was the city's commercial quarter where travelling tradesmen and local commoners who were not allowed to live in the Manchurian City (sometimes called Tartar City in English language accounts) north of Qianmen. It was also the place where Beijing opera really took off, and the area of choice for theaters, tea houses, inns, opium dens and brothels.

As Beijing prepares for the Olympics, this historic quarter's future is uncertain.

This episode of the Hard Hat Show is an interview with American writer Mike Meyer, who is living in the area and writing a book about it, to be published next year by Walker / Bloomsbury. He has been living in a small room in a communal courtyard, volunteer teaching at schools, and getting to know the community. He tells us about the history and future of the neighborhood, and the problem of preserving the area in the face of Beijing's hyperspeed urban development.

You can find more about the Dazhalan area at the Dazhalan Project website.

This video is also available at Danwei TV, where there are links to other ways to see the video, including an option to download the entire video as a Quicktime file.

Credits: Shot and edited by Luke Mines, presented by Jeremy Goldkorn, with music by Fernando Fidanza.

Sexy Beijing is now on its own website: check the latest episodes at www.sexybeijing.tv

There are currently 13 Comments for Danwei TV: Hutong Chronicles - Mike Meyer.

Comments on Danwei TV: Hutong Chronicles - Mike Meyer

Fascinating stuff. I would have liked to hear from some of the local residents. Maybe in the next episode?

Another great episode from Danwei TV. Thanks! I am a big fan!

I havent been there for a while, and just went today. I didn't remember there being so many grotesquely crippled beggars there before.

Anyway, can anyone explain to me why 'dazhanlan' is pronounced like 'dashinar'?

I agree with Stephen. Not that Mr. Meyer isn't full of reflective insight, he is. But to somehow cut the westerner's perspective with the local's realism might be an interesting comparison. Maybe I was just hoping to hear from the guy with the Elvis hair! Awesome!

This is a native of Beijing who's studying in the UK. In fact, I've been also wondering about the reason why Dazhalan is pronounced differently. Anyway, it's pronounced as Dashilan'er, and sometimes "shi" is omitted by many local residents near the Qianmen area and hence pronounced as Dalan'er. =)

the character 栅 can also be pronounced "shan" -- as in 栅极 shanji, meaning electrical grid...

doesn't answer the question, but perhaps the 'shan' sound morphed a bit -- locally, lexically -- into 'shi'...?

Really appreciated this video, which allowed us to spend time with someone who is allowed to provide insight in a relaxed, deliberate manner at his own pace. Liked his point about which historical point does one refer to when wanting to reflect the past.

Great episode as usual. When's the next Sexy Beijing gonna be?

Great video! I look forward to reading Mike's book.

I was born in Beijing as a BaQi descendant. As a child, I lived in Houhai and Liulichang areas.

I like Mike Myers' Jingpianzi, spoken only by local Beijing residents. That is authentic Beijing dialect, different from Mandarin; in fact, the dialect is part of traditional Beijing culture. I am surprised that Mike speaks like a local! (at the beginning of the video, talking to his neighbour)

You are good, Mike! I also think Mike is knowledgable about the city of Beijing's history, because his version is consistent with what I learned from my family's history. I am definitely looking forward to reading your book soon.

Wow, this makes me feel so sad. I want the Chinese government to preserve the past and respect the legacy of it. In America, we have torn down so many buildings and destroyed neighborhoods to build sports stadiums. The United Center in Chicago where the Bulls play needed almost 5,000 homes destroyed to be built. Also, think about the families, the friendships, the stores, the history and community being destroyed.

Interesting. As someone who is inadvertently connected to all this, on one level you feel terrible that this is happening but at the same time, you know you can do little to prevent it.

Often the material from these old buildings comes our way. We get old doors panels and frames, tiles, architectural elements, door stones, even the wood beams... We often ironically joke in the office that we sell Chinese trash, as the average local guy really does see it this way. They know the old door has history, but that just makes it garbage WITH history - still to be thrown away (or sold to some unwitting foreigner who attaches value to it).

I'd like to think that at least we appreciate it, and that it going onward to a new life. I see some local Chinese wholesalers who ruin beautiful pieces. They could care less about taking the time to restore it lovingly. Rather then jut splash some lacquer on it and pump it out the door into a shipping container. Main goal: make a buck. Probably why they make more money then us - we make the mistake of actually caring about the piece!

If you want to see what happens to some of the building materials from these old hutongs have a look at the "salvaged materials" section on our own blog.

One flaw of the area was that it was filled with unattractive poor people. They were probably mainly moved in during the cultural revolution. Why do they deserve to live at the charming center of one of the world's major metropolises?

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