East of Caochangdi
Despite Beijing’s apparent density, the city is dotted with significant expanses of unused or marginal land. This land mostly takes for the form of rubbish piles, demolished villages, or another seemingly temporary condition. Some of it is former agricultural land that urban villagers have simply stopped farming. During the Olympics, areas like this were often walled off with construction fencing. This was also true of occupied urban villages that the government thought to be too unsightly for Western eyes. China’s modernization has rendered these lands, both inhabited and desolate, as urban by-products—spaces obscured and thus assumed as a null condition between somewhere and somewhere else.
This man was coming out of a 10-acre trash dump when I encountered him just east of the village. Whether he lived there, was discarding trash, or found the poor child amid a heap of refuse (my preferred sensationalized narrative), I have no idea. After he left, I walked in to take a few more photos and was promptly kicked out by a woman that I assume was the gatekeeper. My attempt to claim ignorance on the basis of language–my default technique to continue doing something that I know I shouldn’t–didn’t get very far.