Su was 10 years old when she was forced to leave her home, as the government was going to destroy it. She was raised in a hutong, one of Beijing’s traditional neighbourhoods that date back to the 13th century, first established during the Yuan dynasty.
“They were courtyard houses passed down from generation to generation, and even if they often lacked private toilets and fast internet the atmosphere was just unique: it was a community-based life where everybody helped everybody and people lived life in the streets, playing mahjong or drinking tea. They were the soul of Beijing since the ancient times of imperial China.”
It’s the same old story: destroy the old to build the new. And when in the 90’s Beijing started its rush to modernity, the city needed space to build towering residential complexes and transform itself into an ultramodern urban sprawl.
But this came at a cost to 500.000 residents who got displaced, and to 8000 hutongs that were torn down forever. The government compensated the families with little money, which means they could only afford to move to the city’s outskirts, outside the fifth or sixth ring roads. Very far from where they used to live before.