Higher and Higher How preparations for the 2008 Olympic Games are transforming Beijing
Nearly 30 years ago, Deng Xiaoping tore down Mao Zedong’s “bamboo curtain” and enacted a series of reforms designed to liberalize China’s economy.
Men from China’s countryside demolished this building in just a few days. They worked with their hands, hurling bricks and chunks of wood from its roof - washing, eating and sleeping in a row of makeshift dorms nearby. Beijing Foreign Studies University January 2006
Deng adopted an “Open Door” foreign policy and promoted “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.” The result - three decades of explosive economic growth and stunning social change.
Beijing Foreign Studies University November 2007
The university’s new building - a block long and six stories tall - will house a gymnasium, an activity center and a swimming pool.
Beijing Waiguoyu Daxue is considered China’s top foreign language school, a training ground for diplomats and teachers.
Formerly run by the Foreign Ministry, “Bei Wai” now operates under China’s Ministry of Education. Students study a wide variety of languages - from Hausa to Bulgarian - but aren’t always allowed to pick for themselves.
The construction of a new gym at “Bei Wai” is part of a larger trend. While the school will not host an Olympic event in 2008, six Beijing universities equipped with new facilities will.
Where Deng experimented with free markets, his successor Jiang Zemin actively promoted them. In the 1990s, Jiang targeted China’s crowded eastern seaboard for intensive development. Ultimately, that development led to Beijing’s 2008 Olympic bid.
Supply and Demand
Beijing, like most Chinese cities, owes its rapid rise to a stream of cheap labor imported from the countryside. Migrant workers make up nearly one third of the municipality’s population - nationwide, they total 150 million.
Shenzhen, once a fishing village, is now a hub for international trade. Designated a “Special Economic Zone” by Deng in 1979, the city’s gross domestic product grew, on average, 33.3% per year between 1980-2004.
Cities like Beijing and Shenzhen remain attractive destinations for migrants, but wages are rising and some academics believe China’s enormous labor pool may be drying up. According to Party media, 737 million Chinese occupied rural areas in 2006 - 56 percent of the country’s total population (down from 64 percent in 2001 and 74 percent in 1990).
Beijing, unlike Shenzhen, has been at the center of Chinese culture, trade and politics for a long time - 800 years. Genghis Khan’s grandson made Beijing his capital during the Yuan dynasty, as did the Qing and Ming emperors.
When cultural landscapes collide
Beijingers are fiercely proud of their home. Speakers of a rough dialect upon which standard Mandarin is based, they aren’t so proud of the toxic, swirling winds that often obscure Empress Cixi’s ‘Summer Palace.’
Gone are the city’s twisting alleyways and squat courtyards. Now wide expressways carry taxis to and fro and high-rise apartments dominate the skyline. Some Beijingers oppose “westernization,” while others flock to Starbucks and McDonald’s.
“ Rush hour” in busy Beijing Cars may soon outnumber bicycles
In preparation for the Games, Beijing construction firms are leveling traditional alley-neighborhoods or “hutongs.” Two-thirds have been destroyed since 1949. According to Switzerland’s Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, Olympics-related construction may displace 1.5 million people. Local officials disagree.
Preserving the past Ancient stone engravings lie broken behind a popular Beijing museum (center). A 15th century Buddhist temple, protected and recently restored, won’t be bulldozed (right). A new building pokes out from behind Beijing’s ancient southern wall (above).
Despite new emphases on “green building” and “renewable energy” handed down by Party leaders, few projects seem to meet environmental standards. Meanwhile, property values are climbing and Beijing has announced it won’t suspend construction during the Games.
The world comes to town
Deadlines for 2008 have driven work to a fever pitch, earning Beijing high praise from the International Olympic Committee and condemnation from many environmentalists.
State of the World Population 2007 - United Nations Population Fund