Chinese Studies Book Club #1

Welcome to the inaugural post in my Chinese Studies Book Club.
Every week I will be reading a different book related to China. It might be about history, art, culture, literature or anything that captures my interest. Every Sunday I’ll share my thoughts on the book, what I learned and what I think the writer did well.

I’d encourage you to read the books along with me, and if you do I’d love to hear what you thought of them. You can reach out to me through my contact form or on Twitter (@benedictaltier). Alternatively, just wait until Sunday to get a summary of what I thought were the most important ideas in the book.
The first book this week is called ‘The Last Days of Old Beijing‘ written by Michael Meyer and published in 2008. I want to read this book to discover some of the heritage of the city which for over a year now I’ve called home.

The Last Days of Old Beijing

I moved to Beijing in September and am sharing an apartment with three friends on the 22nd floor of a high-rise building. The building is situated a fifteen-minute scooter ride from Peking University where I study which is some way out from the centre of the city in the North West of the capital. Almost every building in sight aside from on university campus recently built. However, when I venture out in central Beijing I sometimes hang-out in the last remaining ‘hutongs‘ of the city. In fact, my favourite bar ‘Modernista‘ is tucked right in the middle of one. The term ‘hutong‘ refers to the narrow streets and alleys intersecting one-story dwellings often centred around a courtyard. Hutongs at one time used to be commonplace in the city. However, in recent decades the Chinese government began a concerted effort to clear these supposedly hazardous dwellings and instead replace them with homogenous high-rises. In doing so many critics claimed they were obliterating the priceless cultural heritage of these narrow streets and alleys that once numbered in their thousands.

Hutongs were the cultural heart of Beijing

The Last Days of Old Beijing is a chronicle of an English teacher’s experiences living a Hutong just before the 2008 Beijing Olympics watching as Hutong culture was all but resigned to the history books.
This Sunday I’ll share my thoughts on the book in a post, and at some point, I hope to make a video although that could be delayed by my upcoming trip to South Korea on Thursday.

See you Sunday.


Benedict Altier studied Chinese Studies at the University of Oxford. He enjoys coding, travelling and learning about China.