The great city of Beijing, capital of China from the ninth century, and given its form for five hundred years by the Ming Dynasty, was for a millennium one of the most extraordinary places on earth. At a time when London, Paris, or Rome had only several hundred thousand residents, Beijing held over a million. This book tells the history of this great city, and through it provides a highly engaging summary history of China. In the summer of 1997, President Jiang Zemin made a decision to destroy the old city. There was no announcement, no explanation given, nor any attempt made to justify his decision. Even those working as architects only became aware of what was happening when it was already too late. Expertly moving between historical analysis and reportage, Jasper Becker describes the impact of this systematic destruction, a unique telling of the history of Beijing that encapsulates both the grandeur of its creation and the tragedy of its current transformation.
Jasper Becker reported from Beijing from 1985 to 1989 for the Guardian. Until May 2002, he was Beijing Bureau Chief of Hong Kong's English-language South China Morning Post. His first book, on Mongolia, was The Lost Country (1992); his second book Hungry Ghosts (1996) is an award-winning account of the famine kept secret by Mao from 1958 to 1962. The Chinese (2000) was hailed as the best single-volume introduction to China and its people. His most recent book, Rogue Regime (2004), is his latest title, focussing on North Korea.