- Title: CHINA: Elderly Beijing residents look back on 60 years of communist China
- Date: 25th September 2009
- Summary: BEIJING, CHINA (RECENT) (REUTERS) SLOGAN PAINTED ON WALL OF HUTONG READING "ELIMINATE THE BOURGEOISIE, PROMOTE THE PROLETARIAT" 82-YEAR-OLD BEIJING RESIDENT MR. ZHAO SITTING IN STREET TRADITIONAL STONE DRUM ZHAO'S FACE (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) 82-YEAR-OLD BEIJING RESIDENT MR. ZHAO SAYING: "It was not good then. There were not enough clothes to wear. In the thirties and forties you could see people starving to death on the streets. Now it is not like that."
- Embargoed: 10th October 2009 13:37
- Location: China
- Country: China
- Topics: History,Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVABRT8QCS31L8SUQY8HY0STJDD
- Aspect Ratio: 4:3
- Story Text: Deep inside Beijing's ancient alleyways, elderly residents reflect on the dramatic changes they have witnessed over the past 60 years since the 1949 Communist Revolution in China.
China's revolutionary past still lives on in its capital's ancient streets, 60 years after the birth of the People's Republic of China under the communist party rule.
For generations, Beijing's traditional brick wall 'hutong' alleyways have formed an intricate network across the city.
Some walls still bear the marks of zealous revolutionary periods, and slogans such as "Eliminate the bourgeoisie, promote the proletariat" are clearly visible on the brickwork.
Behind the walls, one-storey courtyard residences which once housed wealthy families, now house several families each.
Eighty-two-year-old Mr. Zhao has lived in Beijing's Xilou Hutong for more than 40 years and was born in old Beijing, before the Communist revolution sparked China's 60 year march towards economic development.
Having only received four years of formal education, Zhao can barely read a newspaper and made a living as a trade labourer.
He never married and has no children, so he now spends his days sitting in his courtyard reflecting on times when life was not so easy.
"It was not good then. There were not enough clothes to wear. In the thirties and forties you could see people starving to death on the streets. Now it is not like that," he said.
Following 1949's Communist Revolution, Beijing's hutongs were crammed with people, courtyards were subdivided to hold more families and living conditions began to deteriorate.
Mao Zedong, the former Chairman of the Communist Party, whose body lies on display in his mausoleum on Tiananmen Square, is still revered in China.
But the 'Great Leap Forward' and his attempt to implement rapid industrialisation in China in the late 1950s, led to widespread famine as the people struggled to meet impossible targets.
Backyard steel furnaces sprung up in Beijing's alleyways and neighbourhoods were organised into collectives, eating and working together.
Sixty-two-year-old Li Xionger was a student during that period.
"During the Mass Steel Production Campaign students would go out together to collect metal straps and bring them into school. Also during the Great Leap Forward, everyone was together, eating together. It felt like a big family," Li said.
But for many, communism brought welcome change to the old order.
Shi Shulan, who was born in Beijing's hutongs, funds her retirement by selling traditional Chinese calendars and socks from a makeshift stall.
Although she remembers the hardships of the revolution, she also recalls the excitement of Mao's Communist upheaval.
"We admire Mao Zedong, he was this," she said, putting her thumbs up.
"We really respected both Chairman Mao and Zhou Enlai. We loved them."
Mao's rule culminated in the Cultural Revolution, a decade of social upheaval in which class struggle forced many to denounce their own family members and radical young students built a cult of personality around the aging leader.
Mao's death in 1976 marked a change in direction for China, as de facto successor Deng Xiaoping steered the country onto a path of market reforms that has made it the word's third largest economy.
On National Day on October 1, a massive parade will showcase the country's growing military strength and latest weaponry afforded by its economic boom.
Many of Beijing's old hutongs have been demolished to make way for modern apartment buildings and office blocks, and a few have been rebuilt as commercial shopping venues.
Little in China is as it was 60 years ago, but those who live along Beijing's alleyways remain to tell the story of a dramatic transformation.
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