The changing face of my Beijing

Seven decades of transformation through the eyes of 93-year-old barber Jing Kui.

    Of the more than 15 million people living in Beijing, few can claim to know the city as well as Jing Kui.


    Jing has lived in the Chinese capital for over 70 years, and has worked just as long as a barber.


    He has seen how hair styles have changed – from long plaits to crew cuts - he knew the city before all the traffic congestion, before the air pollution and before it ever saw communism.


    Al Jazeera spent a day with Jing. This is his perspective on how life in Beijing has changed over the years:

    First person

    My name is Jing Kui. This year I'm 93. When I was 15, I came to Beijing and took an apprenticeship at a barber shop. So, I’ve been here for some 70 years.


    I have had two wives, both passed away. One of them had four children, the other gave birth to two. Now, even my children are retired.


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    I was thirty-something when Mao declared the People's Republic of China.


    On October 1st, 1949, the day Mao declared the People's Republic of China, no one showed up for work.


    Every family was told to send one representative down to Tiananmen Square. Everyone paraded around and around Tiananmen, all day.


    My barbershop closed when the communists took over; there was no longer private property. For extra money, I walked the streets looking for customers.


    I had 400 or so clients, but so many of them have passed away!  So now I'm left to play a lot of mahjong.


    Back in the day, people wanted hair styles that looked good but also felt comfortable.


    Now look at the styles today. People want strange, bizarre cuts. I can't cut hair into those styles and I wouldn't, in any case.


    I sometimes lecture those in the younger generations, telling them the cuts don't look good - they're only for people on television; it's fantasy not reality. Look at President Hu Jintao or Premier Wen Jiabao, I tell them - they have proper cuts.


    'Beyond comparison'


    Jing has been working as a barber since he
    moved to Beijing 70 years ago
    You just can't compare the past to now — it's beyond comparison, this place has changed so much!


    The place where they are building the new Olympic stadium used to be a village, surrounded by farmland.


    The guard told me the stadium is 70 metres tall and will seat some 100,000 people.


    A village has only a few hundred people; the stadium can fill so many villages - this is just beyond my imagination!


    Beijing's changes have been phenomenal.


    The Old Beijing - the Beijing that was when I first arrived - had only one million people.


    Once night came, at around 9 in the evening — there would be no one on the streets. Not two cars would pass along the street all day. There weren't that many cars at all — mostly rickshaws or sedans and even those were rare.


    'Clean Beijing'


    Jing's philosophy on life:
    You reap what you sow
    Clothes, shoes - all had to be mended constantly. Now, people can buy new clothes.


    And back then, the homes were so fragile, looking like they were about to fall apart.  Now, look at the big apartments.


    And before, trash would be all over the streets. Now, this is a clean Beijing.


    In the past, Beijing was surrounded by high walls and outside the wall, was a moat.


    But with all the people here now, they tore down the city walls. There's nothing now.  It's changed. 


    This isn't a bad thing, necessarily. There are so many more people and cars now. 


    There used to be a million people - now there are more than 10 million who live here. So there's no other solution than to tear things down - or else how would the cars get around? 


    Over all these 70 or 80 years — this is the best time to live in Beijing. 


    Now, you have one child and that one child will live. Back then, you'd have 10 children and eight would die.


    Over the years I've had seven or eight apprentices. Most of them died in their twenties or thirties and my oldest apprentice died at the age of 59.




    I hope to see the excitement and the fanfare of the Olympics.


    Of course, at my age, I can't guarantee I'll be around for the Olympics.  But you know, I'd love to see everyone from all over the world descend on Beijing.


    I've set some rules for myself: Don't be a glutton, don't think too hard on things, don't let problems bother you too much, treat people well, don't allow yourself to get angry over issues, don't do bad things — if you do, then you'll feel guilty or scared and that's not good for the soul. 


    By being kind, you can be at peace with yourself. Then you can sleep well, eat well, with a free conscience.


    Life is like farming: you reap what you sow. When you plant wheat, you’ll have flour. So when you are kind to others, you'll receive kindness in return. Wouldn't you agree?

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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