The wider meaning of change in a Beijing alleyway


A cheap way to keep out the riff-raff

SALARY ALLEY runs from the National Art Gallery to Dongsi North Street in downtown Beijing. It is one of the city’s surviving hutong (alleyways) from the pre-Communist period—a lane of single-story houses, grey brick walls and upturned eaves. It is also a microcosm of changes ripping through China’s cities.

Salary Alley is poor. Large houses have been subdivided into warrens. Few have kitchens or bathrooms, so the lane is lined with public bathrooms and restaurants which are cheaper than eating at home. The hutong boasts ten eateries, four public bathrooms, nine grocery or hardware shops, a pet hospital, brothel, barbershop, four-star hotel, pool hall and a community-police headquarters. Jane Jacobs, an American urban theorist who extolled the varied life of mixed-use streets, would have loved it.

About five years ago, Salary Alley started to gentrify. It…Continue reading