To many people, China’s growth statistics over the last decade can be staggering and slightly abstract: growth of 10 or 11% a year, 3.3 trillion US dollars in foreign reserves, over 40 companies in the Fortune 500. But what does it mean to actually live through these figures and what impact does it have on the lives of normal people? As long time China residents, we have taken a small area in Beijing called San Li Tun and shown you in images exactly what the ‘China miracle’ looks like.
10 years ago, San Li Tun was an unremarkable, military owned district right on the outskirts of Beijing, just inside the 3rd ring road. It had been designated a Diplomatic area in order to move the city’s diplomats away from central Beijing. Beyond this area were farms and factories that fed and supplied the Capital. Now San Li Tun is both an entertainment and shopping Mecca for Beijing's bourgeoisie: a Swire Hotel, a flagship Apple store and a Bentley Showroom are the landmarks, taking the place of scruffy housing blocks and military out-houses.
The evolution of San Li Tun is an extreme example of China’s evolution – the decade long sprint from relative backwardness into the shining light of capitalism and all its excesses. The question we would ask is, whether the high heeled and fashionably dressed Beijing fashionistas that strut their stuff around the area’s Village shopping precinct are genuinely happier than the Mao suited wearing former residents who have long been relocated (usually forcibly to new apartments near the 6th Ring Road)? The sense of community that used to pervade this area, as dusty and run down as it once was, is long gone. All that remains is the odd housing block that clings on to its crumbling past, surrounded by a miasma of neon, wealth and an awful lot of Western expatriates getting drunk. Perhaps we’re being overly misty eyed about the past. We’re pretty sure Bentley isn’t too concerned about what has been lost. After all, over one in four new Bentley`s are sold in China (1,839 units in 2011).
The images below reflect a personal experience on the changes in a small area over the last 10 years.
All Photographs courtesy of Patricia Calvo ©2002-2012