Post the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, and the emergence of China’s economy in the 1980s and 1990s, in little over 30 years, China has become the second wealthiest country in the world and the scale of modernisation and transformation in these two major cities has been unparalleled in the modern world.
The government still controls all aspects of society, media, industry: you can’t walk down a street in either city without seeing some form of government propaganda poster or declaration about how to conduct oneself socially and economically in the eyes of the state. Although, as both cities have advanced economically, Western influence can be seen in everything from the abundance of food chains and luxury designers.
To see the old way of life is becoming increasingly difficult in both cities, which is why having an expert guide is of paramount importance. Residential housing has been removed to make way for tall apartment buildings; historical temples have been remodelled for gaudy newer places of worship, market streets have been rehoused in large, shopping centres and the many bicycles which used to be the main transport for residents in the city have also been usurped for cars; the more luxurious and expensive your vehicle, still signifies your stature in the community in China. Then of course there’s the pollution; Beijing is especially bad, but it’s omnipresent in both cities. Whilst on a bad day it can be unpleasant, the photos we are saturated with in the West paint a shocking picture and the reality is that the haze is infrequent and both cities have many blue sky days per year.