Demolitions Hit Gulou Xidajie as Long-Term Expats Consider Bailing on Beijing

Break time is over, and Beijing is once again back to its business-busting ways.

Construction crews set to work on Gulou Xidajie yesterday, using a bulldozer to tear down a supermarket and a Japanese restaurant at that street's intersection with Dashibei hutong. Though it seemed like summer vacation was in full swing for those laborers – and the officials bent on chasing slews of streetside businesses throughout much of 2017's first half – yesterday's demolitions brought a quick end to the recent respite in such razing, leaving onlookers to wonder just how far the revamps will reach. 

Jonathan Ellis, an American expat who operates Big Bear Baked Goods on Dashibei, along with Anete Elken of RuKis Estonian Bread, saw the bulldozer roll in at around 1pm and snapped a few photos and a video of the scene.

"My bakery, and this hutong, is right by the Dongcheng/Xicheng district divide, so apparently they're coming down and this is part of the reformation of Xicheng district," he told the Beijinger. He added that, aside from the Japanese restaurant and the supermarket, the workers "started to demolish stuff at the top of the street," which leads him to think the demolitions aren't yet over.

When asked if he worried about his bakery being among the area's businesses to bite the dust, as it were, Ellis simply said: "We'll find out tomorrow."

Upon further reflection, Ellis called the changes a "sterilization project." Upset as he is about the risks to his own operation, Ellis spent more time lamenting the end of affordable street-level business wholesale markets, news of which broke last year. "My friend was reading a social media post that Beijing is making a push to get rid of all non-organized sales of goods. That things like Sanyuanli market will be gone in two years."

He called it "a new Great Leap Forward," in which some efficiencies may emerge, but much of what he loves about Beijing will get lost in the process. These widespread closures of affordable and popular businesses, along with news of other crackdowns on VPNs, tougher visa restrictions, and other contentious new developments, are all beginning to take their toll on not only him, but also many of his friends.

"In all the 10 years I've been here, I've never seen changes like this," Ellis said, adding that many of his fellow long-term expats feel the same way.

"A lot of people go in mass exoduses every few years or so, that's cyclical. But this feels different. Many of my friends and I keep saying the market here is getting harder and harder to work in. That it's becoming a harder place to live. It may indeed be time to go."

More stories by this author here.
Twitter: @MulKyle

Photos courtesy of Jonathan Ellis, the Beijinger


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