Beijing Backpacking, Day 5: Real? Maybe?

New wealth can box you in
New wealth can box you in

If there was any evidence I saw to sum up China’s growing pains during my time here, this photo would be it. I’m in Sanlitun, the place most travellers describe as the CBD of Beijing (which, of course, from a foreigner’s perspective, means the place where most Western brands set up shop).

Naturally here, bars line the streets – and they rope you in with English. Across the road is an upmarket mall, and there is no shortage of designer brands. We found this in front of the mall – and yes, they’re real people, showcasing the idea of beauty that has become perverse in the Chinese aspiring middle class. Walk up to them, take their picture and they’ll strike a pose for you.

But I can’t help but see something sad behind this. It is, after all, called a ‘beauty box’. Two models also stand on the other side, behind a glass window. And once the tourists and travellers turned away their cameras, that girl on the left drooped in a big sigh. Talk about putting on a face. Can’t imagine how painful it would be for them to stand in that box in the outdoors all day.

Perhaps it reflects the new ideals that consumerism is bringing to China. And even more importantly, it reflects the cultural tension and insecurity that the wave of globalisation associated with the new wealth brings.


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