Beijing construction triptych #1: Mandarin Oriental

Three and half months ago, during the climax of the Spring Festival/Chinese New Year fireworks insanity bacchanalia, the nearly-completed Mandarin Oriental Beijing hotel, designed by Rem Koolhaas, was engulfed in flames. It soon emerged that fireworks on the nearby CCTV tower, also by Koolhaas, had been the source. (Reuters photo of the fire, Feb 9)


The fire and its aftermath will make a great book topic for someone (not me), because of all the intriguing "this is modern China!" strands involved. The climax of architectural ambition / hubris in Beijing. News media intrigue about exploring the cause of the fire. Backlash against CCTV, for whom the complex (including famous odd-shaped tower) is being built. Many, many other subplots -- as suggested eg here.

What strikes me at the moment is that the building stands untouched, looking months later just as it did when the ashes cooled. Two days ago, looking east from about half a mile away, across the Third Ring Road:

Sometimes structures in big Chinese cities appear -- or disappear -- practically overnight. Other times, they sit for a very long period in limbo. I'm not sure of all the reasons why the hotel has this frozen-in-time aspect, but it's startling whenever I see it.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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