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August 11, 2008 4:24 PM

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Celebrating the Spontaneous in Beijing

The Angel nightclub in BeijingJoe McNally/Getty Images Beijing nightlife is a hodgepodge, a perplexity: the neon clubs; the all-night lounges; the nouveau bars dug out of ancient alleyways; the apartments and underground dens where musicians, journalists, Chinese-Americans, Chinese-Canadians, and...


The Angel nightclub in Beijing
Joe McNally/Getty Images
Beijing nightlife is a hodgepodge, a perplexity: the neon clubs; the all-night lounges; the nouveau bars dug out of ancient alleyways; the apartments and underground dens where musicians, journalists, Chinese-Americans, Chinese-Canadians, and mobs of the discontented mingle and cavort.


It's not just a question of where people go, of geography. It's a matter of style and politics. In New York, this is unremarkable; we expect options. Nightlife -- life in general -- is unplanned. But an unplanned night in a planned society like China is a different thing. It's strange.

Young Chinese students -- the only-children born of China's one-child rule -- want drugs, sex, Italian shoes, Italian jeans, Nike sneakers. They appear untethered to any ideology.

People in their 30s are more sober: They want money and real estate. When they go out, they dress well and they look serious. Their nightly forays are less quests for stimulation than statements. They are hard to define, proud but cosmopolitan.

The bohemians, the writers, sculptors, guitarists -- grunge, punk, poor -- the people who live uncertainly, don't fit into this matrix.

The academics, now in their 40s who still frequent the bars and reminisce about an activism long dead, worry.

Anyone with money, the lawyers and money managers manning the skyscrapers of this reconstituted Beijing, are suspicious of anyone who doesn't like it.

What you sense, at a quarter past four in the morning, enveloped by a purplish light in a dance hall throbbing with a terrible noise, is that none of this was intended. It all simply happened. It's happening.

Which is a very good thing. 
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