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Southwest of Qianmen and Tiananmen Square in Beijing is a maze of narrow alleyways stretching from the theater and market street of Dazhalan all the way west to Liulichang, Beijing's antique and traditional Chinese art supplies street.

In the Qing Dynasty, this area was the city's commercial quarter where travelling tradesmen and local commoners who were not allowed to live in the Manchurian City (sometimes called Tartar City in English language accounts) north of Qianmen. It was also the place where Beijing opera really took off, and the area of choice for theaters, tea houses, inns, opium dens and brothels.

As Beijing prepares for the Olympics, this historic quarter's future is uncertain.

This episode of the Hard Hat Show is an interview with American writer Mike Meyer, who is living in the area and writing a book about it, to be published next year by Walker / Bloomsbury. He has been living in a small room in a communal courtyard, volunteer teaching at schools, and getting to know the community. He tells us about the history and future of the neighborhood, and the problem of preserving the area in the face of Beijing's hyperspeed urban development.

This video is also available at Danwei TV, where there are links to other ways to see the video, including an option to download the entire video as a Quicktime file.

Credits: Shot and edited by Luke Mines, presented by Jeremy Goldkorn, with music by Fernando Fidanza.
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