Looking out of the window of my bus into central Beijing, I can see a lot of rebuilding going on. This is of course nothing new – I’ve never really seen a lull since I came to China two years ago. But there seems an added urgency now, perhaps driven by the 1 October National Day celebrations just around the corner.
Last year there was a major effort to clean up Beijing’s image in time for the Olympics. This was very much for the benefit of the visitors coming to experience China and Beijing as host for the Games. But this time, we have what an internal affair, the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the Republic, and the collective effort has in many ways been refined and expanded from last year’s dry run.
Maybe because time is running out to complete building projects, at this point there is a noticeable concentration of effort going into the borders of the building sites, the edges between the sites and the public areas, in an effort to polish the surfaces of China’s ubiquitous piles of rubble. This concentration is at its height at building sites along the main roads and gets progressively diluted according to the hierarchy of streets, becoming less intense as you move from dajie, to xiaojie, to the alleys and hutongs.
The criteria for effort seems to be dependent on what is public and private space, and is consequently redefining what is public and private. “Public” and “private” seems to be defined by visibility – if you can see it from the road, it’s public, and these “public” areas are seen as part of the State’s responsibility for its image, and are taken under the State’s wing as places which are vulnerable to tidying up.
So new walls and surfaces are being built to hide the messy bits, which through the act of redefining of public and private, become private, invisible places, inside the public, visible boundaries.