The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed by Michael Meyer (China 1995–97) is the one of three books cited by Richard Bernstein, a former Time Magazine correspondent in China, in a long essay/review entitled “The Death and Life of a Great Chinese City” in The New York Review of Books, March 26, 2009 issue.
After his Peace Corps tour, Mike Meyer spent three years living in a single room of an old courtyard house, using a public toilet and a public bath and out of this has come his fascinating portrait of life in a narrow backstreet of Beijing that vanished to make way for the Olympics Games.
Bernstein makes the point that Michael is “no sentimentalist or preservationist ideologue. He writes, “It can’t be forgotten that life is a lot better for most people in the new Beijing, but then he quotes Feng Jicai, saying in Meyer’s book, ‘I often say that on the entire earth, there isn’t a nation that could, in the name of the Olympics, destroy its own cities, and its own history.”
Trying to save that history, at least in prose, is RPCV Michael Meyer. Read his book, published by Walker last year, and you’ll see what I mean.