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The last days of Guangyuanli

September 27, 2017

A blogger, Xuzhifeng, took photos on Guangyuanli’s “last day.”

2016-06-30, in the Guangyuanli residential district, the old and worn out buildings have already been vacated, Mr Wang Jie said, “ Tomorrow, they will begin razing everything to the ground. We lived in our home here for more than thirty years, for the last time we are looking around for anything of value we can bring away. Since I grew up here, it is a bit hard to let go.”
The barbershop owner, who had been in business here for more than ten years, said, “Tomorrow my small shop will be torn down, but at least on my last day I can still give a haircut to some of my old customers.”
An old man who was tidying up his things said, “ We welcome the improvements. But if we move back here to the same address, with a residence which is the same surface area as what we had before, in that exchange we will have a one-room apartment, which is not enough for our family. This is what city transformation comes down to.”
This is one of the biggest shantytown renovations in Beijing this year, involving more than 5600 households altogether, 2228 in Guangyuanli. Since the third month, residents have been steadily moving out and vacating their homes.




konjaku: in the following article shantytown renovation in Guangyuanli is linked to something larger: the mechanization of certain tasks in the modernizing city, making life more convenient. This example is hard to argue with.

Collecting from latrines for the last time in Guangyuanli

With a ladle in one hand, and a bucket of excrement in the other, hobbling across the detritus left after the buildings of Guangyuanli have been torn down — it is not hard to imagine how difficult a job this is


A rusted and spotted ladle, an iron bucket, a three wheeled cart to hold the collected excrement –these have been the tools of the trade, unchanged for half a century…as society changes, these too will pass into history


The squad leader teaches the pair how to use the new technology. In the future, they will drive the brand-new vacuum truck, and enjoy the high-speed efficiency and convenience of mechanization.


These two are responsible for Guangyuanli sanxiang (third alley). This long and winding alley has many curves and zig-zags. They have to pull and push the cart from side to side to get to the latrines.


As Li Jun loads excrement in the cart, the stench causes passer-by to cover his nose and hurry away. The job of hauling away excrement is one in which the one gets dirty so the myriad can be clean, but people do not always adequately appreciate this.


When after a busy day the two brothers return to their team headquarters, they rush to the bathhouse, and to their heart’s content wash away their fatigue and the filth.


With the roar of backhoes and excavators, the old and worn-out shantytown is reduced to a heap of rubble.


The two men are resigned to the fact that the old method will disappear, and be replaced by mechanization, but they can’t help feeling a little disappointed.

One ladle, two metal buckets, and a three-wheeled cart…starting with the birth of modern China, these have been the standard tools of the trade for the nightsoil collectors. After half a century, this characteristic scene in Beijing alleyways, is disappearing because of urban development, and specifically the renovation of shantytowns.

Fan Duanyong and Li Jun are two ordinary sanitation workers in Xicheng. They do not sweep the main streets, they do not collect garbage, but deal with something people are reluctant to talk about, “nightsoil.”

At dawn, the conscientious Li Jun gets their equipment ready. Fan Duanyong wipes down their “precious cart.” Then he checks the tires. This rusted and spotted cart shows its weight of years.

With one riding a bicycle, and the other pulling the cart, chatting on the way, the two set out for Sanxiang alley in Guangyuanli. The narrow and long alley is hardly wide enough for two people, and with twists and turns, one cannot see to its end. After going less than 100 meters, Li Jun stops the cart at a cleared-off spot. “The cart cannot go further, and no tube is long enough to reach the latrine, so we have to resort to our old tools, and clean it out bit by bit.”

Forcing open the door of the public toilet, a sharp smell immediately assaults their faces, but the two are unmoved. “ Heck, after all these years, we’re used to it. Putting on a face mask is embarrassing, besides, we’re just not that fussy.”

While one used the ladle to scoop out and transfer contents into the pails, the other keeps the area tidy. In a little while the buckets are full, and Li Jun carrying both buckets on a pole balanced on his shoulders, goes toward the cart. Quickly he pours the contents inside. After a number of repeated trips, the container in the cart is completely full, with up to twenty pailfuls.

Fan Duanyong said, “In Guangyuanli there are in all eighteen bathrooms, some large some small, that need to be cleaned.” When they have finished the first one, the two wipe the sweat off their foreheads, and immediately go on to the next.

On the way, there are the empty houses which the residences have moved out of, and piles of rubble. Carrying their tools, climbing up and down, the two arrive at a dry latrine, now no longer used, with no water at all. “Even though no one is using it, we come and check it everyday to make sure it is not leaking out or obstructed.” All the morning the two perform the same repetitive tasks. Pushing their cart back and forth, it is clear this is a long, slow job.

Returning to their squad headquarters, they are just in time for the quarter-year distribution of labor-welfare goods [usually gloves, boots, uniforms, flashlights, etc]. Carrying liquid soap and shampoo, they are about to shower, when they get a phone call.

“Our latrine pit is blocked up, can you come and take a look?” Without having a chance to eat a meal, the two went and got their equipment again from the storehouse, and went off, back at work.

Every day when Fan Duanyong and Li Jun finish work, they stop and look around them for a while. The neighborhood of one-story houses which they knew so well is rapidly being demolished by men in coordination with machines. These lanes and alleys will be reborn, and the work they did by hand will be replaced by mechanization.

Fan Duanyong and Li Jun hope that whatever job they have in the future, they can continue to work with both hands to keep the city running smoothly.









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