Rural Beijing is not what it was before. What was once a community of farmers whom grew crops and raised livestock to sustain their livelihoods is now home to a large elderly population whose children have left to work in the city long ago. New families moving in are not farmers - rather young people with wealth seeking a respite from the city. Many of the housing units were completely reconstructed in the 1980's and 1990's. New construction continues - still in the manner of local building customs and available materials. Due to both regulations and customs, the houses are nearly all built as low-rise courtyard typologies, their large wooden doors opening up into the alleyways, where the collective life of the village occurs, both through informal gathering spots and planned out spaces.
The Li Family
I spoke with members of the Li family in their courtyard home, which they constructed in the 1980's. They were very welcoming and proudly showed me every corner of their house, a spatious courtyard home with both modern amenities (a flat screen tv) as well as traditional features (stove-heated beds).I asked them about the collective life of the village and the differences between urban and rural life in contemporary China. They tell me that the environment in rural Beijing is undoubtedly better and it is more pleasurable to walk around outside and socialize with neighbors, whereas the city offers no such opportunities because of its density and overwhelming presence of unfamiliar faces. When I ask when and where the collective life of the village most often occurs, the matriarch of the family tells me, "after meals in the evening all the people congregate in the alleyways between houses and socialize with each other."