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New Left Review 4, July-August 2000


A Chinese poet rediscovers his native city, learning how much a favourable book review costs. Vignettes of China’s new ‘literary merchants’ drawing water from Mao’s well, with a faux slice of the Great Wall in the garden; and of its older industrial workers, destined for the scrapheap.

YANG LIAN

RETURN TO BEIJING

22 December 1999

Flying into Beijing from London in the afternoon, we arrive in the New Capital Airport Terminal for the first time. The silver-grey, nineties-style building, spacious and attractive, constitutes a striking contrast to the older buildings constructed in the seventies. But the familiar ‘long dragon’ is still there: too few passport control points in Customs, leaving several hundred Chinese and foreign passengers mingling together with no choice but to stand in line and wait. The queues are the same for all. Strange sensation: I am arriving as a citizen of New Zealand back in my own country. Images of Auckland cross-cut memories of Beijing. Leaving the airport, the sky is bright blue and the distant hills clear and distinct—typical recollection of a winter’s day here. The taxi driver tells us that strong winds have blown the pollution away over the past few days, and now some of the more heavily polluting factories have been ordered to halt production temporarily, to preserve the view for celebrations of the Millennium. ‘Usually, there’s a thick grey smog all day.’

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