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Where What's Old Is New Again

China's capital is a city of extremes, physically exhausting and intimidating for its sheer sprawl and harsh climate, yet exhilarating and charming for its...

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New malls slated to open this year include mixed-use projects with hotels and entertainment complexes along with retail. The malls are spread all around the city, so no central part of Beijing is without a major shopping center.

Two of the world's 10 largest shopping malls are in China: The 2004-constructed 7.3 million-square-foot Golden Resources Mall, and the 2005-built 4.3 million-square-foot Beijing Mall.

And all this is miles from the actual Olympic city north of Beijing proper, where marvels of modern architecture like the "Bird's Nest" National Stadium will be used in August. An estimated 500,000 to 600,000 tourists will visit Beijing for the event, though that may vary due to increasing visa restrictions.

The cost to China of Beijing's Olympic drive — including the thousands of miles of new infrastructure and new buildings — has been estimated at $20 billion to $30 billion, though the government has not provided exact figures. What is more difficult to calculate is the cultural change within Beijing as it transforms from a once quiet, ancient capital to a bustling, modern, international and perhaps more generic version of itself.

With the breakneck pace to knock down the old and develop the new, the city has lost much of its charms and cultural relics. In their place rose a showcase of modern, avant-garde architecture, spotlighting cutting-edge designs such as the China Central Television headquarters designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.

Beijing's transformation has sometimes been met with intense criticism. Author Jasper Becker, whose new book "The City of Heavenly Tranquility," examines the ancient capital's destruction and makeover, said the modernization is without parallel. The 500-year-old Ming Dynasty city that once was old Peking was 64 square kilometers, or about 25 square miles. Since its demolition started in the mid-Nineties, the old portion of the city was reduced to 7 or 8 square kilometers (about 3 square miles), half of which is the old Imperial grounds of the Forbidden City.

"What they decided to do was to have this very stark, modern city planning and to cater to the avant-garde," said Becker. "There's nothing Chinese about it. "From a cultural and aesthetic point of view, I think it's been a disaster."
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