The Great Beijing Cleanup

As the Olympics nears, the Chinese government is building walls to hide blight.

ByABC News
February 18, 2009, 2:18 PM

BEIJING, Aug. 4, 2008 — -- With a mere four days to go until the Olympics begin, thousands of shopowners around Beijing are preparing for what they hope will be a big month of tourist-generated profits. However, just across the street from the Temple of Heaven, one of the city's most trafficked tourist spots, August looks uncharacteristically bleak.

Chen Shihua, 43, has lived in and operated a small restaurant across from the Temple of Heaven Park for over 20 years.

In July, she earned just over one thousand Chinese Yuan ($146) serving noodles next door to a shoe shop and a clothing seller. Her modest income was enough to put her children, ages 8 and 15, through public school.

Her neighbor, Zhou Jiafeng, sold cold drinks and ice cream to tourists along the street, providing much-needed relief from the summer sun.

But everything changed on July 17, when a notice from what seemed to be city authorities was posted informing them a wall would be built around their shabby but functional storefronts.

The next morning, construction workers appeared and built a 10-foot brick wall in half a day, completely blocking Chen's storefront.

Suddenly, Chen's shabby but convenient street-side presence was blocked, save for a door-sized opening. Hou's drink and ice cream stand was now virtually invisible to the beaten path of neighbors and tourists.

Two days later, Chen said, mysterious people wearing Olympic-looking credentials hung Beijing Olympic signs on the wall facing the Temple of Heaven.

Chen felt the effects immediately. Her income slowed to a sputter.

"Before the wall, we made 1,000 to 1,500 Yuan per day. Lunch was the busiest. Now we probably only get 300 to 400," Cheng told ABC News.

Chen also owns the property of three shops next door and felt forced to stop collecting rent money from her tenants.

"Why has this happened? The Olympics, definitely," she said in a melancholic tone. "But you know, hosting the Olympics is not easy."

Wang Qing, 23, works in the clothing shop nestled between the shoe seller and a trinket store just inside the newly constructed wall. A fresh college graduate, Wang hopes to save up for grad school while she helps her older cousin run his business while he's away.