The Great Brickening
Beijing, the capital of the People's Republic of China, is the world’s most populous capital city. With 16 urban, suburban, and rural districts, it’s undergone rapid urban and socioeconomic development in the previous decade—particularly during the 2008 Olympics—and has yet to falter.
Adding more than 18 subway lines since 2003 and swiftly expanding skyscrapers ever-upwards, government-issued programs now endanger another artifact: hutongs.
Hutongs, or Beijing’s traditional housing quarters, have a history of 800 years in narrow streets and alleys. Tenants are forced to leave their homes as real estate developers side for profit. Hutongs, once numbered around 7,000 in the 1980’s, have decreased to 600, displacing almost half a million.
Replaced with commercial plazas and apartment-style buildings, Beijing's cultural identity is quickly changing in character. To locals, the city is a place of “less human warmth”, instead now fast-paced and frenetic. As Zhang Wumao’s now-banned manifesto says: “When people from Tongzhou and Shijingshan are dating, they're basically in a long-distance relationship.” Now, Beijing only belongs to outsiders and tourists.
It all has to do with economics: 54% of China’s households are considered “middle class”—but that same percentage is estimated to become “upper middle” by 2022. Although Beijing’s government has pledged to cap its population at 23 million, the country's overall population is set to pass one billion by 2030.
The country’s powerful consumer market takes with it the “Old China”, but along with it a valuable cornerstone of Beijing culture that has since bricked it together.