China Images - Beijing
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"Rush hour" in mid-town Beijing, 1986. The gray haze that you see in these photos is not an artifact of photography, it was a constant fact of life in Beijing winters. It fills the air from hundreds of thousands of "charcoal" fires burning a crude composition of charcoal+powdered coal. Citizens cast this paste into briquets in what appear to be ice-cube trays, seen on every doorstep.
This is a close up of wheeled traffic at that time. These 3-wheelers were used in tens of thousands, hauling everything from personal goods (rare enough at that time) to huge loads of hay and straw. Freight loads were often many times larger than the rig and driver.
The Beijing Railway Station (distance) was built by the Russians during their early attempts to dominate the Chinese Communist Party. It didn't work out. At this time the bulk of traffic coming into the station was "country" men, seeking work in the big city. Even though this was forbidden by the Party, crowds of these hopefuls seemed to arrive on every train.
Near the RR station I found this market. The attitude toward sanitation was more than casual; after all, you are going to cook it before you eat it. That will kill any germs. The larger views of this and the next few photos may ruin your appetite.
Survival of the fittest seems to be the public health theme. However, I have to say that I never got sick while making a half-dozen visits to China, and I ate pretty well what I pleased.
Another view of the market. Every operation of this kind was run by a work-group. The workers were usually domiciled on - or near - the premises, and they worked as if this was their entire life. There was no job-hopping, no moving about without "orders" from Party bosses. This did not lead to enthusiasm for good service.
The entire city was organized into blocks, and groups of "block mothers" like these, swept the sidewalks. These ladies also gathered street-level intelligence for the block committee, whose political leaders reported on any problems (unrest, dissension, strangers, hooliganism, ---) to Party bosses.
I thought much more interesting, and rare, were little ladies like this one, whose tiny feet had been bound during infancy. This "beauty" practice was, of course, made a crime by the Communists (one of the good things dome by the Party.) It is doubtful if any of these women (probably the daughters of the wealthy in "old" China) survive in 2004.
By contrast, in the China of the 1980s, families were restricted to one or two children, and gave every appearance of treasuring their few offspring. Little girls like this one were often better dressed than their parents, and most had one or two possessions like her pretty umbrella, that few adults would have owned.
Parents like this one, showed love of their children, whereas other public displays of affection were rare to non-existent.
I'll leave you with this back-door view of The Forbidden City, not seen in the tourist publications. I found that walking around to the less-known sides of famous places was often much more interesting. China has changed enormously since I was there in the '80s (only one European hotel was open on my first visit, and only those without "connections" stayed there) but places like this have survived centuries, and will likely outlast all of us.

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