If there is a city that truly captures the sense of “The Fat Years“, a fascinating fiction written by Chan Koonchung, it’s of course some parts of Beijing which are mentioned in the book but maybe also the city centre of Tianjin. For the last two years, I have been following up the sad story of a French covent built in 1862 by missionaries but soon to be demolished by wealthy real estate promoter who had been luring at its central location. Thanks to the local government and lots of Hongbao, he ended up with all the Church’s lands and started the construction of huge high-end residential towers. The covent has been rebuilt and is now used as a eye-catcher to attract potential clients. A few nuns live inside, mainly to look after their new building. There is another “potemkine” church nearby but don’t expect anything religious inside: it’s a water treatment station. The area is pretty, expansive and close to business towers. Inside the commercial district stands the roman-style Saint-Joseph Cathedral where young couple get themselves photographed. Next to it, I found 1 Uniqlo, 3 starbucks, 2 costa-coffee, 3 KFC and 1 pizza-hut – all of them in 5 five minutes walking distance – with loudspeakers spitting Christmas tunes all day long. Chan Koonchung call it the “Artificial paradise”, where God + GDP worship still makes a kick-ass mix.
More pictures on Catholics in Tianjin here