of today – via life stories belonging to the townspeople who have not found a place in either the official history or the official economic progress.
By chance I read the new one oral history-pearl Beijing from Below parallel to the somewhat older novel Murder of a red heroine (2012). These are two books that wonderfully complement each other's themes, each from its own big city and its own decade of China's ricochet into global market capitalism.
The first book, written by the British professor emerita of Chinese history, Harriet Evans (not to be confused with the bestselling novelist of the same name), is an intimate portrait of a number of poor and marginalized residents in the Dashalar district south of Tiananmen Square. (Tiananmen) based on countless interviews and conversations from the mid-2000s onwards.
The second is written by the Shanghai-born crime writer Qiu Xiaolong and is the first in the series about the investigator Chen Cao, who in this novel must try to solve the murder of a «national model worker» and at the same time navigate the political intrigues in the years immediately after Tiananmen- the massacre, and the so-called opening of the economy in the 1980s.
Those whose families were politically persecuted during the Cultural Revolution got through Deng Xiaoping's reforms during the 1980s provide an opportunity to return to the surface – and thus have the opportunity to take on both heroic and villainous roles in the 1990s Shanghai, which Qiu Xiaolong examines through the crime genre.
New political winds
Conversely, Harriet Evans shows how some of Beijings most vulnerable families have experienced Chinas historical transformations – including the Cultural Revolution and Deng Xiaoping's reforms as well as China's new ones claim to fame as an economic and cultural superpower – as one long navigation through various forms of precarity.
For the people Evans interviews, the new political winds have offered neither reparation for the violence of soul and body to which they were subjected during the Cultural Revolution, nor their share of the economic progress that China has enjoyed at the level of GDP in recent times. On the contrary, the recent transformation of the nation of China ends up wiping out the existence of these city dwellers in a neighborhood to which their family history, for better or worse, has been linked for generations – for some since the time before Mao and the People's Republic.
Both books provide a unique insight into the social geography of China's two most iconic cities, which ordinary visitors would never know. And while Murder of a red heroine depicts the class-producing political bureaucracy of the party state from what might be called the center of society, depicts Beijing from Below it, yes, from below. Both take place near Tiananmen Square: The first in the political sense, as the murder investigation takes place quite shortly after the massacre of the students, which led to internal and sometimes unpredictable clashes in the Party and surroundings, and the second in concrete. . .
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