The famous portrait of Mao Zedong still looks out over Beijing as though he's guarding communist austerity and discipline. But the Beijing he stares out upon is hardly the city he left behind.
Change is everywhere—in the clothes (you could wear them to the office in any cosmopolitan city); in the increasingly paralyzing traffic (more and more foreign- and Chinese-made automobiles jam the streets); in the electronics (smartphones, smartphones, smartphones); and in the construction (high-rises, high-rises, high-rises). If you scrub off the Gobi Desert dust, which is glued to everything with diesel exhaust, you'll find Beijing's true patina—a mixture of old and new. It may surprise you that you can still catch the glimmer of a lacquered temple or a traditional jadeite bracelet contrasted with the machine-made gleam of chrome and glass.
No doubt it's a calculated gleam. The Chinese government wants Beijing to be recognized as a modern world capital—especially modern enough for foreign investment. Beijing is a huge, burgeoning metropolis, with bulldozers carving the way to its future.
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