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The Streets of Xian

By Jennifer H. Arlen

The streets of Xian, the principal city in northwestern China, are a hub of activity. Young men and women, dressed in greys, greens, blues, and white, walk along the mud and brick sidewalks. An old woman toddles along on her small bound feet. People riding bicycles and pulling handdrawn carts fill the streets. An old man passes carrying a straw basket of produce on the back of his bicycle. Another man pulls concrete blocks in a hand-cart. Not permitted to own cars, individual Chinese haul everything from steel and logs to their crippled grandmothers by hand-cart and by bicycle through the streets.

The sidewalks along the city's larger streets are lined with small roadside enterprises. Vendors display fruits, vegetables, small paperback booklets and trinkets. Old women and men sell popsicles and tea to pedestrians. Three young women stand in an outdoor restaurant, preparing fried bread and dumplings. The restaurant, like all other privately owned enterprises is relatively new: it has not been long since the Chinese government prohibited all private businesses. Now, however, private enterprises are encouraged. These small businesses are viewed as a source of employment for the millions of Chinese who are unemployed while waiting for the government to "distribute" them to the jobs they will hold until they retire.

It is afternoon; the older men and women have returned from work, and the children are home from school. People gather in family groups on the sidewalks along the backstreets of Xian. A young girl stands by the public water well getting water for her family. An old woman washes her extended family's clothes in a metal tub. Another woman shreds cabbage and slices vegetables in preparation for the evening meal. A grandmother sits watching her grandchildren play as she mends shoes, and a man hunches over a chair he is mending. It is the quietest time of the day. Families sit together outside their homes, the women sewing and the men playing board games on the sidewalk.

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