We spent the last ten days living in a small Tongzhou village, an hour east of Beijing, and construction was non-stop. Every day we were there, a ramshackle house was torn down and replaced by a building site. New walls would go up in hours. Bricks and dust were everywhere. Often, a 4′ pile of sand would block our driveway. If we wanted to drive anywhere, the six of us would have to pick up shovels and move it ourselves. (The builders would hide around the corner, leaving only their shovels behind.)
Just beyond the village, though, there were mostly fields. At the ends of many of the fields were graves. Conical mounds of dirt, with an inscribed gravestone, sitting on top of the plough lines. Old women were squatting at the ends of the fields, planting new crops.
It seemed a strange place for graves, so we asked a local friend about them.
“Ha,” he laughed, “I don’t think those are real graves. There probably are no bodies down there.”
Fake graves? Outside our Tongzhou village??
“Yes. The villagers know that the land is going to be developed, and the government will only give them so much money. But if it’s a graveyard, they may pay more. So the local villagers build fake graves on their fields, to get more money. You know the expression ‘shǎjīng?’” I didn’t. “It means stupid-clever. That’s what they are. Shajing shajing.” He laughed at his own expression, as he repeated it again. “傻精傻精.”
It seemed strange to dedicate graves to government payouts. But just a few miles away, close enough to see if the pollution wasn’t too heavy, there were high rise apartment buildings. A short bus ride away, there was a new subway line. Two of my friends had recently bought houses near here. This land was no longer just for planting Chinese cabbage. It was becoming real estate.
(As usual, many of the pictures — and in this case, I think all of them — are by Woo.)