Beijing from Below

Stories of Marginal Lives in the Capital's Center

Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 27 illustrations Published: May 2020

Author: Harriet Evans

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > East Asia, History > Asian History

Between the early 1950s and the accelerated demolition and construction of Beijing's “old city” in preparation for the 2008 Olympics, the residents of Dashalar—one of the capital city's poorest neighborhoods and only a stone's throw from Tian’anmen Square—lived in dilapidated conditions without sanitation. Few had stable employment. Today, most of Dashalar's original inhabitants have been relocated, displaced by gentrification. In Beijing from Below Harriet Evans captures the last gasps of subaltern life in Dashalar. Drawing on oral histories that reveal memories and experiences of several neighborhood families, she reflects on the relationships between individual, family, neighborhood, and the state; poverty and precarity; gender politics and ethical living; and resistance to and accommodation of party-state authority. Evans contends that residents' assertion of belonging to their neighborhood signifies not a nostalgic clinging to the past, but a rejection of their marginalization and a desire for recognition. Foregrounding the experiences of the last of Dashalar's older denizens as key to understanding Beijing's recent history, Evans complicates official narratives of China's economic success while raising crucial questions about the place of the subaltern in history.


“Through a series of engaging and entirely unique ethnographic oral histories of the subaltern residents of a now all-but-destroyed Beijing neighborhood, Harriet Evans evokes a community, a fractured class, and a way of life that have now surely disappeared into the area's reconstructed shiny commercialism. Never central actors on any stage, and barely bit extras on the stage of Beijing's transformations, Evans's interlocutors are the kinds of people who disappear in any history. Her talent in rendering these left-behind urban denizens is astonishing. Beijing from Below makes a huge contribution. — Rebecca E. Karl, author of The Magic of Concepts: History and the Economic in Twentieth-Century China

“Harriet Evans makes visible a world that has been hiding in plain sight—the packed courtyards and dense social networks of one of Beijing's poorest neighborhoods. Drawing upon many years of conversation with residents and archival research, Evans provides a compelling account of everyday struggles and pleasures in a community that has been shaped, and neglected, by state policies. Beijing from Below raises profound questions about the reach of an ambitious revolution, even within its own capital city.” — Gail Hershatter, author of Women and China’s Revolutions


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Harriet Evans is Emeritus Professor of Chinese Cultural Studies at the University of Westminster and Visiting Professor in Anthropology at the London School of Economics. She is the author of The Subject of Gender: Daughters and Mothers in Urban China and Women and Sexuality in China.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations  ix
A Note on Use of Verb Tense, Spellings, Translation, Names, and Abbreviations  xi
Preface  xiii
Acknowledgments  xv
Introduction  1
Chapter 1: Dashalar  21
Chapter 2: Old Mrs. Gao  42
Interlude 1  67
Chapter 3: Zhao Yong  74
Interlude 2  97
Chapter 4: Hua Meiling  104
Interlude 3  122
Chapter 5: Li Fuying  130
Interlude 4  153
Chapter 6: Zhang Huiming  161
Interlude 5  178
Chapter 7: Jia Yong  183
Interlude 6  200
Conclusion  207
Epilogue  225
Notes  227
Bibliography  249
Index  257
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