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. 

The front of Oriental Plaza Mall, seen in Beijing's Dongcheng District. The mall boasts more than 23 restaurants and bars, four floors of high-end retailers, a hotel, and a glass skywalk bridge.

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People wait to cross a street outside a local grocery market in Beijing's Xicheng District. 

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The headquarters of China Central Television are seen in Chaoyang. Most of China’s television broadcasts are filmed, produced and broadcast from the 54-story building. 

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Children return from school to a hutong on the outskirts of Chaoyang District. 

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Patrons dine at Migas Mercado's balcony on the seventh floor of China World Mall. 

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Gray concrete bricks are seen by a renovated hutong cafe. Walls are typically gray because during the Ming and Qing dynasties—between 1360 and 1911—only buildings inside the Forbidden City were allowed to use brightly-colored tiles. 

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Residential complexes are seen behind a brick wall spanning the outskirts of Chaoyang District.

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Men play a game of xiangqi in a renovated hutong of Chaoyang.


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An office building overlooks Tuanjiehu Park in Chaoyang. 

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A man rides a motorbike through a Dongcheng hutong.

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Pedestrians wait to cross an intersection in Chengdu. Road space rationing, introduced in 2008, aims to combat traffic and pollution by restricting cars from traveling on certain days depending on the last digit of license plates. 

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A traditional hutong doorway, left, is seen next to a renovated apparel shop. Doors are traditionally painted bright red, often accompanied by lions or drum stones.

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A Miniso location is seen among renovated hutongs in Dongcheng. Miniso, a fast-fashion and low-cost retailer of household consumer goods, reached a revenue of $1.5 billion in 2016. 

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A woman takes a selfie in front of a wall of flowers in a newly-renovated hutong alley. 

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