I do not know anything about currency issues, but I have tried to keep up with the buzz about China possibly revaluing the yuan.
I have a fair amount of RMB saved up in my Construction Bank of China account, and if they appreciate its value, I will have more to take home – or more accurately, more to travel on when my contract is over at the end of August.
At the same time I learned about China warming to revaluation, I read about something tragic in Beijing: the local government looks set to destroy the best part of old Beijing, the Drum and Bell tower area (also known as “Gulou” or 鼓楼) and turn it into a cultural disneyland. This hurts my heart. Gulou is my favorite area of Beijing, and it is not overrun like other popular hangout spots with bars and restaurants – probably because there is not a direct subway station (yet) and because the roads in the area are narrow. I spent a nice evening in the area with Alastair on Tuesday, where we sipped very affordable Tsingtao outside a cozy bar whose owner also manages a hotel next door. He enthusiastically showed us around this beautifully restored hutong home, where he refitted nine small but elegant and comfortable rooms for lucky guests – who pay no more than 400 RMB per room (about $58). He swept open an upper room’s curtains to reveal the most romantic view I have yet seen in Beijing: the deep purple horizon melted into the inky black sky where stars shine over the relatively darker Gulou neighborhood, the Drum and Bell Towers themselves powerfully silhouetted only thirty meters away.
All of this will be rendered moot by the government’s eagerness for reshaping the city in their ill-formed vision.
How are those two news items related – the yuan’s revaluation and the assassination of Gulou?
The NYT reports that the initial announcement about the yuan’s revaluation could be made as early as this week, even before paramount leader Hu Jintao arrives in Washington for a nuclear non-proliferation conference. The Gulou issue, which has met with unsuccessful resistance from community leaders in recent weeks, is at the point of being officially announced. People who have not lived in Beijing, and even some of those who do and only visit Wudaokou or Sanlitun, are not conscious about Gulou as the last grand fragment of old Beijing, where you can actually feel like you are not far removed from Ming-era markets and the siheyuan of the Manchus during the Qing dynasty. The soul of that time still lingers here, however faint.
If the yuan revaluation issue were not on the table for several more months and the government announced their plans for the Gulou area now, some non-state news organization should be able to amplify it to the world as an example of the poor values of the government with regard to their cultural treasures, like when they tore down Beijing’s city walls and destroyed all manner of relics during the Cultural Revolution.
I believe the government will announce the revaluation and the Gulou “renovation” project on the same day. The West will be so obsessed with the yuan issue that even if news of Gulou’s demise reached them, they would ignore it. Within 24 hours of China’s announcements, bloggers and talking heads will regurgitate each others’ assessments and talk about how this “changes everything” with China. Those with the biggest predictions of sea change grandeur will get the most clicks. The silent death of the Northern Capital’s heart will be unheard by anyone except angry locals, especially the business owners who are summarily ejected from their properties.
If I were the government and I intended to both revalue the yuan and kill Gulou, I would do the same thing. The bigger news to please the world will stifle any significant objection to their transgression.