I lived in Beijing for a year and I wasn't aware that these kinds of secretive compounds still existed. Fascinating glimpse inside the world where high-ranking Chinese military members and their families live in Beijing, but still a world apart. The Last of the Gilded Citadels: Life Inside the Secretive World of Beijing's PLA Compounds
by Karoline Kan
As the daughter of a highranking colonel in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Wang grew up in a military compound 25km northwest of Tiananmen Square. “They call me a Beijingren, and of course, technically, that’s not wrong – it’s what it says on my ID card,” she explains. “But my relationship with Beijing is closer to that of a migrant worker. I remember the very first time that I met my classmates at school in Dongcheng – real Beijing kids who talked in Beijing dialect. I realized then that I was different. I remember thinking, who am I?”
To outsiders, Wang’s childhood home remains a mysterious place, surrounded by high walls and guarded at all times by armed soldiers. Inaccessible to all but select military personnel and their families, the compound receives few civilian visitors. Its whereabouts are not made visible on online maps, nor is its address publicly available.
Once inside, however, perspectives can appear reversed. Mystery is replaced by routine and spontaneity by order. Each day soldiers awake at dawn to perform exercises and chant patriotic slogans. At 6.30am, ‘Ode to the Motherland’ is broadcast across loud speakers, followed by morning updates from China National Radio. By 7am the courtyard is alive with uniformed men and women strolling purposefully between buildings. Work starts at 8am sharp and finishes at 11.30am. Lunch is eaten communally and typically followed by a mid-afternoon nap. Work commences again at 2pm and finishes at 5pm.
By contrast, those who lived in compounds, “belonged to the state” – the country’s new elite. In addition to housing, life inside the compounds guaranteed higher than average living standards: clean wide streets, beautiful gardens, free bathing rooms, free cinemas, free activity halls, free buses, free shops, free barbers, free phones, free post offices, free hot water, free electricity and free heat. “In the planned economic era, life inside those compounds was far beyond the imagination of people outside. It was the illusion of a communist society come true, but enjoyed by only a special group of people,” says Ma Gang. The children of military officers inside the compound were dubbed “Wild Children” by local Beijingers, who considered them outsiders, who took a considerable share of local resources. Most compound kids cared little about their new nicknames; they were proud of their special identity.
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