THE URBAN JUNGLE
“Beijing is predictably unpredictable.”
Humans of Peking is a website dedicated to collecting the portraits, quotes and short stories from the people living in China’s capital. Personal anecdotes and disarming portraits put a new perspective on Beijing’s inhabitants; capturing unique intimate moments in a rushed city of millions.
The city currently has over twenty million people inhabitants. The urban scenery is continuously changing. “Beijing is predictably unpredictable,” says Daisy Sun: “Buildings are erected as fast as they are demolished, businesses are opening and closing, people are coming and going. However, through all the hustle and bustle, you can still find that one small coffee shop or discover that one charming alley. Beijing is a city full of urban development, yet still holds on to and is filled with years of culture.” With Humans of Peking, Sun and Qi play with Beijing’s contradictions and versatility; spotlighting the individual within the masses of people. “There is already so much focus on everything that makes us different,” Katharina Qi explains: “whether it is in terms of sex, age, ethnicity, gender or religion. With Humans of Peking, we want to capture the moments that make us all human. It is a reminder that in this big city we are all really more alike than we are different.”
Humans of Peking does not discriminate. Sun and Qi go out of their way to interview all types of people – especially the ones they see on a daily basis, but hardly interact with, such as the security guard at work or the dry cleaner in the street: “There are so many people we pass by everyday without ever really connecting.”
BEIJINGERS WITH A MISSION
“People don’t come here for a relaxed lifestyle”
Sun and Qi approach people by simply chatting to them. “People aren’t really shy to talk about themselves, and they love to talk about their families. We only later ask them if we can feature them and make a picture. By the time we make the picture, the initial awkwardness is already over.”
A city with twenty million individuals, do they have anything in common? “People in Beijing have ambition,” Sun states: “So many of them are working towards something. Generally people don’t come to Beijing for a comfortable and relaxed lifestyle; they come because they’re driven. They’re here for personal growth or for setting up their businesses.” Now that housing prices have reached a new peak and the job market has become highly competitive, people struggle to make money, get a car, and buy a house, says Sun. Getting settled is important not just for individuals, but for their families too: “Family is always a priority within people’s lives here.” Instead of worrying about buying property, younger generations often come Beijing to follow their dreams.
“Step in the Right Direction”
It’s also what brought Sun and Qi to Beijing: dreams of living in the big city and curiosity about what Peking life was all about. Qi, who originally is from Henan Province, and Seattle-born Sun met each other in a hutong bar. They both had aspirations to start a website on the people of Beijing. Although they have busy jobs and both volunteer at TEDxBeijing and BarCamp Beijing, they keep their eyes open in order to never miss an opportunity when they’re roaming the streets as they could come across someone who is willing to give them a snapshot into their life. “We just love talking to people,” they say.
Humans of Peking went live earlier this January (2015). Sun and Qi are determined to turn the site into a success. “We’re doing this for fun, but our mission is to connect as many people as possible,” Qi says: “We hope people will stop and take a moment to realize how easy it can be to communicate and learn about one another.” Since they want to involve as many people as possible with their work, Humans of Peking offers stories both in Mandarin and English. Sun adds: “Currently, a significant amount of our ‘humans’ are locals, but we would like to hear more stories from foreigners as well, since Beijing is such a diverse city. Hopefully, our blog can also serve as a way for foreigners and locals to better understand each other.”
Sun and Qi are positive-minded: “If our work helps bring even just a few more people together, then that’s a step in the right direction.” It is their ambition, and they are driven. Of course; they’re Beijingers now.
– by Manya Koetse
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About the Author: Manya Koetse is the editor of What’s on Weibo. She’s a Sinologist who splits her time between the Netherlands and China. She earned her bachelor’s degrees in Literary Studies, Japanese & China Studies and completed her MPhil in Asian Studies. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter.
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