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Hong Huang, Managing Editor, City iLook Magazine

Beijing's Imperial Character Abides




Beijing's Imperial Character Abides

By Benjamin Chiang
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 401 )

The changes Beijing has seen over the past several decades have been particularly chaotic.When my mother first moved to Beijing in the 1950s there were still camels in the streets. Beijing has basically completed in the span of 20 or 30 years construction other cities accomplished over two or three centuries.

During the process of Beijing's rapid construction and urban development, one thing that hasn't changed is the imperial roots of Beijing culture. Beijingers ooze chutzpah, with a slight air of hustler.

Due to Beijing's long history as an imperial city, its residents are neither easily intimidated nor easily moved by anything. The most common thing you'll hear Beijing taxi drivers say is: "No big deal. We've all seen it before."

This Beijing character can at best be described in nice terms as a jaded broad perspective, and at worst an unfounded defiance. There is an inordinate amount of angst in Beijing, a sense of grievance, a tendency to view authority with a jaundiced eye, and a bit of egalitarianism. Beijing is kind of rebellious, but Shanghai has none of that. Shanghai denizens are truly obedient.

Beijingers are more obstinate and are not particularly easily influenced by others because they have always regarded themselves as the imperial culture. This has resulted in a concentration of cultural literati in Beijing, as the city becomes the major wellspring of cultural creativity in China. Innovation comes entirely from Beijing, while the commercialization of that originality is manifest in Shanghai. All the cultural goods you can see or get your hands on are found in Shanghai, but the innovation took place in Beijing.

Chinese Version: 皇城的文化 叛逆的北京