More common are stories of old people who cannot get used to the new lives and quickly die of illnesses. One term that residents repeatedly use is biesi — “stifled to death” in the new towers.
Some residents wonder why they went through these travails when so little development is visible. Outside the town, one is confronted by kilometer after kilometer of empty lots — once farmland, now lying fallow, sometimes blocked from view by endless sheet-metal fences painted with propaganda about prosperity and development.
“Look at the empty fields,” former Guanzhuang Village resident Wei Naiju said. “That’s good earth; you could really plant something on it.”
In the town, the life that once existed has now been memorialized in a museum. It is rarely open to the public, but its front door was ajar one day in summer last year.
Filled with full-scale dioramas of village homes and human figures, it was a re-creation of the old village life, accurate down to the dried corn hanging from the eaves. An introductory plaque explained: “Time goes by and things change.”