Welcome to Disneyland – Authenticity in Jingshan Park, Hou Hai, and the Hutongs, Beijing, China

London -> Harwich -> Hoek of Holland -> Amsterdam (Holland) -> Copenhagen (Denmark) -> Stockholm (Sweden) -> Riga (Latvia) -> Moscow (Russia) -> [Trans-siberian or Trans-mongolian Express] -> Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) -> [Trans-mongolian Express] -> Beijing (China)

How do you like your disneyization? I love mine full-blown, all-encompassing, no-holds-barred, please.

So the hyperreal bronze sculptures along the pedestrianised shopping street full of international brands in Wangfujing, Beijing, China? Meh, ok.

bronze sculpture, Wangfujing, Beijing, China bronze sculpture, Wangfujing, Beijing, China

A little better: 景山公园 (Jingshan Park) that was just across from the Forbidden City and had been constructed from the excess earth excavated while building the moat around the palace.

景山公园 (Jingshan Park), Beijing, China
景山公园 (Jingshan Park), Beijing, ChinaIts Ming-dynasty pavilions (that is to say, the originals were constructed then but who knows how much original material remains) offered great resting spots for courting couples and retirees.

view of the Forbidden City from 景山公园 (Jingshan Park), Beijing, ChinaAnd right at the top of the mound, from the Wanchun Pavilion (Pavilion of Everlasting Spring), a great view of the Forbidden City complex.

景山公园 (Jingshan Park), Beijing, China
景山公园 (Jingshan Park), Beijing, ChinaBest of all was the opportunity to dress up in period costumes, and take selfies.

Oh but 后海 (Hou Hai)? Oh, hello!
后海 (Hou Hai), Beijing, China
后海 (Hou Hai), Beijing, China
后海 (Hou Hai), Beijing, China
后海 (Hou Hai), Beijing, China
All this landscaping was first conceived a few centuries ago (or at least during the Ming Dynasty, 1368 – 1644) to conform to the Chinese idea of a place of natural beauty, where leisurely strolls could be taken by the water, under the hanging branches of willow trees.

hutong, Beijing, China
It was surrounded by spruced up hutongs that had been cleared of their residents and renovated into a historically-themed amusement park for tourists, with its tropes of ancient tea houses with caged singing birds, oriental-tiled roofs,

rickshaws, hutong, Beijing, China
rickshaws, hutong, Beijing, Chinaand shop-owners and rickshaw rider cartel all appropriately-attired and performing their set-pieces.

rickshaws, hutong, Beijing, China
Yet, they were not playing at riding rickshaw, for that was their true occupation, and one that might not have arisen if this theme park had not existed. What delicious hyperreality in (in)authentic Old Beijing!

And then, there was just the period-insensitive merchandising: candied fruit on sticks, giant cotton candy puffs:
candied fruit seller, hutong, Beijing, China
cotton candy, Beijing, China

And not quite behind the scenes, but people you might want to ignore to maintain the illusion, the road-sweepers and cleaners:
road sweeper, hutong, Beijing, China
road sweeper, hutong, Beijing, China

One cannot google “hutongs” without coming upon loads of complaints about the loss of authenticity after the hutongs were demolished or sanitised of all grime, rats and vermin, falling tiles, pot holes.
sun setting over the Forbidden City, Beijing, China
Beijing, China
But first, what is this authenticity that we all seem to hold in high regard yet appear unable to accurately define?

景山公园 (Jingshan Park), Beijing, ChinaWould this scene be less authentic if you knew these people had been auditioned and given costumes to wear? What if they were really from a minority race, local tourists visiting from a village, but told to put on these outfits by their tour agency? And should they not even have gotten help from a tour agency to see the big city because that would make their experience inauthentic?

And second, why would the presence of “authenticity”, if it could be defined, be preferable for life and for society?

Advertisements

Leave a calling card

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s