Many of Yiyun Li's stories revolve around her childhood home of Beijing, China's capital city. Beijing (meaning Northern Capital) is one of China's four great ancient capitals, alongside Nanjing (meaning Southern Capital), Xi'an (meaning Western Peace) and Luoyang (known during the Tang dynasty as Dongdu, meaning Eastern Capital).
While the total population of the Beijing area is almost on a par with Shanghai's 19 million, it resists the frantic, hurried pace of its coastal counterpart. The city is crossed by several rivers and is also the northern terminus of the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal. Beijing is home to Tiananmen Square, the largest city square in the world, which is located at the entrance to the Forbidden City. The Imperial Palace, known as the Forbidden City, was built during the Ming Dynasty in the early 15th century and was home to 24 emperors, and the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government, for almost five hundred years until the rise of the Republic of China in 1912.
Despite all these attractions, Beijing's appeal does not reside solely in history. Ancient and communist buildings now stand side by side with ultra modern structures built by a new generation of innovators, such as 45-year-old Zhang Xin. Recent construction includes the incredible knot of the National Stadium, nicknamed the Bird's Nest, and the China Central TV Building (apparently known to locals as 'Big Boxer Shorts'!). These incredible structures are just more proof that Beijing will constantly adapt to and grow with each generation that inhabits its streets and buildings. Like the characters in Yiyun Li's stories, Beijing is a testament to change and adaptation. It evolves on top of itself, creating layers of future potential and past relics.
Images: National Stadium and CCTV Building
This article is from the September 22, 2010 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.
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