Michael Meyer: See You Again, Old Beijing

The American travel writer Michael Meyer recently went on a book tour in China for the Chinese version of his book, “The Last Days of Old Beijing”. From The Slate Book Review:

I’m nearing the end of a three-week promotional tour for the Chinese edition of my book The Last Days of Old Beijing,which details the three years I lived just south of Tiananmen Square in Dazhalan, the capital’s oldest neighborhood ofhutong, the narrow lanes that lattice Beijing like canals do in Venice. With several locals, I had shared a dilapidated courtyard home—sans toilet and heat—recording both quotidian community doings and the largest, looming in the near future: the neighborhood’s destruction as the capital remade itself.

The English edition came out five years ago, but in China it was rumored to be banned not for its depiction of the sensitive subject matter of heritage preservation and relocation of residents, but because the introductory map of China shaded the island of Taiwan a different color than the mainland. I’ll never know for sure; don’t receive an explanatory letter on General of Administration of Press and Publication letterhead. In 2008, in Berkeley, Calif., at my first-ever radio interview for the English edition, I found myself seated next to the affable Salman Rushdie. After hearing I lived in China, he replied that all of his books were banned there. “Mine, too!” I boasted, with brash bonhomie. Banned brothers!

Not anymore. Last year, the book went to auction in China, resulting in both Taiwan and mainland editions. The differences between them are slight but telling: The cover of Taiwan’s is a warning-bright red with the image of a courtyard about to bite the dust, under the headline moniker The Disappearance of Old Beijing. The mainland’s cover is a warm blue image of a three-wheel bicycle against the backdrop of a construction site and the more wistful See You Again, Old Beijing. Place the books side-by-side: pessimism and optimism. [Source]