Next Stop, Xi’erqi: the Station at the Heart of China’s Big Tech

On the No. 13 Line from Xizhimen Station, a public transit hub on the second ring road close to Beijing North railway station, it just takes 18 minutes to reach the heart of China’s internet industry: Xi’erqi.Home to internet giants such as Kuaishou, Baidu, Lenovo, and Didi, rush hour sees thousands of IT professionals flood…

On the No. 13 Line from Xizhimen Situation, a public transit hub on the second ring road end to Beijing North railway put, it merely takes 18 minutes to reach the coronary heart of China’s cyber net alternate: Xi’erqi.

Home to cyber net giants equivalent to Kuaishou, Baidu, Lenovo, and Didi, hotfoot hour sees thousands of IT mavens flood into the subway put at Xi’erqi from the many industrial parks internal reach. On the platform, a swirling sea of humanity awaits.

The road above is rarely any much less chaotic. Pedestrians mob the three-method junction plan the put as impatient autos honk and weave their method thru gaps within the crowds. When they in a roundabout method turn the corner, most drivers invariably stomp on the fuel and bustle off with a train.

Watching the bedlam while stooped under a net site visitors light, a young put of commercial worker ready for his Didi toddle sends a snarl message to his good friend on WeChat: “There are such heaps of contributors — it’s take care of Plant life vs Zombies.”

There are such heaps of contributors — it’s take care of Plant life vs Zombies.

– Remark of job worker outside Xi’erqi Situation

Whatever the comparability with a cell game where a participant fights off unending hordes of zombies, the subway is principal. Because it makes its serpentine, ceaseless circuit proper thru the metropolis, the subway is no longer only a lifeline but additionally a backdrop to many tales.

Packed take care of sardine cans, its coaches offer microcosms of the metropolis — put of commercial workers sound asleep standing up, a image of its relentless grind; or a passenger misplaced in a book, a mirrored image of its intellectual elite.

For so much of, subways are with regards to the shuttle, but where there are contributors, there are consistently recollections. Though at the origin identical in both invent and aim, subway stations be pleased step by step developed their very hang traits that turn out to be symbols of the metropolis’s districts.

Among the subway stations intently linked to China’s booming cyber net alternate, few are more eminent than Beijing’s Xi’erqi Situation. In quite so much of systems, this put mirrors the instant improve of the alternate itself.

In 2003, when the genuine platform became as soon as opened, China had spherical 50 million cyber net customers; Taobao, which at closing revolutionized the nation’s spending habits, had perfect merely gone reside, and Baidu’s first discussion board put up became as soon as made in December that year.

By the time the composed, and newest, Xi’erqi platform launched in 2010, Baidu had been listed within the U.S. for five years and its headquarters moved to Baidu Tower — plan Xi’erqi Situation.

Any surge in alternate is pushed by contributors. As cyber net corporations continue to develop, so will the different of tech workers in Beijing. And most will alight at Xi’erqi Situation.

People cross a road near Xi’erqi Station in Beijing, 2021. Chen Meizi/Ciwei Gongshe

Of us rotten a road plan Xi’erqi Situation in Beijing, 2021. Chen Meizi/Ciwei Gongshe

Then and now

About a hundred years ago, Xi’erqi — its name reputedly originated in the end of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) — became as soon as all but desolate.

To shield in opposition to invaders, the Ming courtroom no longer perfect renovated the Mountainous Wall to the north of Beijing but additionally constructed quite so much of outposts, where squaddies and horses had been stationed. At the time, the house became as soon as merely mountainous grassland, excellent for raising horses.

The Ming dynasty divided garrison areas into stations, which had been further partitioned into battalions, and then corporations. Each and each firm became as soon as made up of ten banners, or qi, of ten households every — the smallest administrative unit.

At the time, northern Beijing comprised ten banners: regarded as one of them became as soon as Xi’erqi, which literally translates to “two western banners.” Initially, merely 20 households and their horses inhabited Xi’erqi.

None can be pleased imagined then that the land of their properties, stables, and pastures would in the end turn out to be regarded as one of perchance the most densely populated and affluent areas within the national capital.

Advantage at the subway put, most IT mavens seem to with out advise establish with issue — it plan elevated effectivity. It’s why the crowds ready on Xi’erqi’s platforms invent clear queues at the subway doors. With every declare that stops, passengers wait patiently on the platform for others to salvage off earlier than surging into the autos.

In 2019, a video on the microblogging platform Weibo confirmed contributors boarding the subway at Xi’erqi. Mistaking it for Shinjuku put in Tokyo, the uploader praised Japan’s civic sense.

When a different of Weibo customers identified it became as soon as with out a doubt a scene from Beijing, the uploader deleted the video.

Though the Xi’erqi put opened in 2003, it became as soon as deemed too runt to accommodate the rising different of passengers merely seven years later. It became as soon as then moved to its order put, about 50 meters away.

A view of Xi’erqi Station on its first day in operation, Dec. 25, 2010. He Ke/Legal Evening News/People Visual

A compare of Xi’erqi Situation on its first day in operation, Dec. 25, 2010. He Ke/Beautiful Evening News/Of us Visual

Down to earth

After the inauguration of the composed put building in 2010, a cluster of runt kiosks opened at the used put’s put. The aroma of steamed buns, corn congee, grilled sausages, and candied chestnuts would flit into Xi’erqi put’s southern entrance.

Here, IT mavens in a run to salvage to work within the morning, or with tiny time to spend dinner within the evening, stopped for a transient chunk.

For Zhang Wei, who accomplished an internship at an cyber net firm internal reach in 2016, Xi’erqi put consistently conjures up recollections of grilled pancakes. “There had been pork and rooster pancakes; the pork ones had been in particular tasty. When I walked over there, that comely scent hung within the air. I will tranquil be conscious merely how tasty they had been. The first chunk became as soon as the excellent,” he says.

Regardless of his zest for pancakes, Zhang has rarely eaten them since discovering tubby-time employment in 2017. He merely gets off work too gradual. “In the midst of the internship, I became as soon as at 7 p.m. and had time to spend them. Now, my work finishes at 9 p.m. I’d perchance starve to death earlier than I arrived,” he says.

Though Zhang has since left Xi’erqi, he crossed the put as soon as, but couldn’t fetch the kiosks. As an different, your entire block became as soon as cordoned off with blue building panels.

In 2020, when demolition work began at the ragged put of Xi’erqi Situation, this paradise of breakfast kiosks became as soon as removed. Now, the house’s perfect snack alternate options are the Huihuang International Browsing Mall or the benefit stores at the Science and Technology Park.

However traces of the used put linger; a battered road tag survives. A tiny bit over a meter substantial, it appears to be like on the verge of toppling over and tranquil stands perfect because a samaritan propped it up with a brick.

A street sign outside Xi’erqi Station, 2021. Chen Meizi/Ciwei Gongshe

A road tag outside Xi’erqi Situation, 2021. Chen Meizi/Ciwei Gongshe

The tag parts to a couple instructions: Xi’erqi North Toll road, Shangdi East Toll road, and Xi’erqi Avenue. One road, then again, is lacking: Houchangcun, which this day symbolizes China’s IT alternate. Kuaishou, Baidu, Tencent, Lenovo, Didi — this road is house to all of them. Additionally it’s miles inappropriate for story net site visitors jams.

Indignant by Houchangcun garnered its recognition years after the put became as soon as constructed, the tag is an anachronism that has perfect barely survived.

In the first few years after commencement, Zhang Wei lived at one stay of Xi’erqi North Toll road. Though his shuttle to work perfect took 10 minutes in a taxi, it would possibly perchance perchance design end spherical 50 minutes at hotfoot hour.

Cab drivers rarely bag such instant-distance, long-interval fares. So Zhang had tiny different but to issue a toddle the second he woke and then pray a driver would agree by the point he accomplished getting dressed.

It isn’t easy for the cab drivers either. In step with a Didi driver surnamed Wei, he is least willing to design end passengers to Xi’erqi in the end of hotfoot hour.

“On the job, we strive to design end earnings of hotfoot hour to impartial bag as many fares as doable. The morning hotfoot is from 7 to 10. At the same time as you bag fares to Xi’erqi, you’ll be stuck in net site visitors for an hour,” he says. “It plan that to your entire morning, you’ll perfect be ready to impartial bag two or three fares at perchance the most — which is a waste of a day.”

At the same time as you bag fares to Xi’erqi, you’ll be stuck in net site visitors for an hour.

– Wei, Didi driver in Beijing

To capture a ways from the gridlock, Wei usually begins his shift on the northern facet of the Science and Technology Park where many IT mavens hire apartments. It helps bypass the notorious jams along the western roads plan Xi’erqi put.

On Friday nights, the evening hotfoot at Xi’erqi begins earlier than approved. By spherical 7 p.m., quite so much of streets proper thru the put arrive to a full standstill. Once, in the end of this time, Wei received a toddle request to Xi’erqi subway put. After the passenger received into his car, he tentatively requested, “It’s very congested spherical Xi’erqi Situation. How about I design end you to the Academy of Existence Sciences Situation instead?”

The passenger refused and mentioned he became as soon as no longer in a run. Wei tried: “What about Yongfeng Situation? There’s no net site visitors in that house.” The passenger refused again.

A migrant, Wei moved to Beijing from a runt town within the neighboring Hebei province. Then, he’d never taken the subway earlier than, and didn’t impress two internal reach subway stations would possibly perchance lead to utterly diversified locations.

After narrating this story, he requested: “Couldn’t he (the passenger) be pleased taken the subway from the put at the Academy of Existence Sciences?” I replied: “That’s the Changping Line. They’d must salvage off at Xi’erqi and substitute strains.”

“What about Yongfeng put? Would Yongfeng put no longer be ok?”

“Yongfeng is good connected to Line 16. He perchance wished to design end Line 13.”

The outlet of the composed Xi’erqi put on Dec. 25, 2010, meant a most essential expand in passengers. 5 days later, a level of the put that linked it to the Changping Line became as soon as opened too. As a consequence, as neatly as to workers within the vicinity, the Xi’erqi put also serviced a rising different of Changping residents who transferred there on their day shuttle downtown.

Spherical this time, China’s cell cyber net generation became as soon as poised to elongate. In the summer season of 2010, Steve Jobs announced the iPhone 4 at the Apple Developer Convention — for many Chinese, this became as soon as their first chance to bewitch a smartphone.

At the tip of 2010, China Mobile announced that its 3G community would encompass your entire nation, and 4G became as soon as merely proper thru the corner. The introduction of smartphones and excessive-bustle broadband no longer perfect pushed IT giants of the desktop age to transition to cell platforms — it also meant fertile ground for the expansion of many composed open-ups.

Since 2009, Baidu, Netease, Didi, Sina, and Kuaishou be pleased moved their headquarters to Houchangcun in Xi’erqi. Twelve months later, Tencent constructed its composed Beijing headquarters merely a block a ways from Sina. Though fierce opponents, the two corporations together yarn for perchance the most online net site visitors on smartphones.

In 2020, the full output of the corporations internal Houchangcun reached 336.63 billion yuan ($53 billion) or end to 130 billion yuan per square kilometer. Each and each trip of land here is take care of gold.

Given its proximity to this mighty wealth, Xi’erqi can also merely seem understated, pondering its bleak, commercial fine.

In contrast, Wangjing East Situation, about 20 km away — house to Alibaba and delivery extensive Meituan — feels more cosmopolitan. One Wangjing East put exit is under an Alibaba put of commercial building.

At 4 p.m., two young Alibaba workers had been deep in conversation at a yogurt shop, where perchance the most payment efficient cup sells for 29.9 yuan.

At Xi’erqi put, then again, 29.9 yuan is satisfactory to spend a tubby belly’s payment at a wonton chain or at a Jap restaurant. The stores along the road closest to Xi’erqi put had been renovated in newest years, but most are tranquil instant-meals chains.

On this phase of town, security guards with a month-to-month salary of perfect 6,000 yuan and million-yuan-a-year executives alike love getting cheap malatang, or moving sizzling pot, from the Huihuang International Mall.

Among the hotfoot hour crowd, perchance the most approved attire in summer season is plaid shirts or T-shirts; in autumn and wintry weather, sunless down-stuffed jackets and custom firm hoodies.

It begs the compare: Did IT mavens adapt to the very best method of residing of Xi’erqi or did they form it?

Passengers crowd Xi’erqi Station, Oct. 22, 2021. People Visual

Passengers crowd Xi’erqi Situation, Oct. 22, 2021. Of us Visual

In and out

Constructed in a low-lying house, the Xi’erqi put gets worse in the end of every heavy downpour in Beijing. Attending to the put requires crossing no longer perfect streets, but mini rivers.

On July 16, 2018, Liu Lian needed to navigate thru knee-excessive water to salvage from the put to her internal reach office. Standing at 176 centimeters, Liu is no longer continuously instant for a lady. In a video she shared on WeChat, China’s social app, she is considered wading thru the water. The caption: “It’s a proper ingredient I’m substantial!”

A defining image of the downpour became as soon as a viral image: At the entrance of Xi’erqi Situation, an IT worker sits on a trash can half of-submerged in a pool of stagnant water, preserving an umbrella while engrossed on his cell phone.

At the put, the iron railings outside are movable; in the end of high hours, they devise a twisting labyrinth that forces commuters to queue up. At diversified events of the day, every corner railing is removed so contributors be pleased a more teach direction internal.

To pause passengers from getting soaking wet, subway officials house up a tarpaulin canopy. In the midst of the pandemic, as neatly as to going thru the rain, the workers at Xi’erqi put also shouldered prevention and capture watch over responsibilities.

At spherical 2 p.m., a cleaner scrubbed down the sliding platform doors with disinfectant. Even supposing announcements request that passengers refrain from leaning on the doors, few listen, so this phase of the put requires frequent disinfection.

Donning yellow latex gloves, the cleaner worked his method from one stay of the platform to the diversified, spraying disinfectant with one hand and wiping with the diversified. He says: “Disinfectant is in this bottle. On daily basis, we now must use no longer decrease than 18 to 19 hours cleaning.”

On daily basis, we now must use no longer decrease than 18 to 19 hours cleaning.

– Cleaner at Xi’erqi Subway Situation

The cleaner didn’t even design end a destroy in the end of our interview; he moved diligently from one sliding door to the next as he spoke. He perfect stopped to witness up at the declare as it glided into the put, bringing with it a mighty gust of wind. Sooner than this gust can even resolve, merely as the sliding doors closed and the declare began up again, he resumed spraying.

His utility room is located under the stairs. After wiping down the railings, he set aside the spray bottle and rag internal and dragged out a accumulate of rubbish that he had emptied from the containers along the platform.

Because the Double Eleven browsing competition approached closing month, the Wangjing East Situation plan Alibaba’s headquarters became as soon as decorated with adverts for T-Mall. Aggressive promos modified the billboards along the tunnel walls while your entire platform became as soon as decked out within the app’s signature purple triangular flags.

Now not in Xi’erqi though. Whatever the many IT giants within the house, the put’s promoting areas had been in a roundabout method sold to Lagou, a job recruitment net site. A chain of adverts peppered the walkway from the entrance to the platform and the glass walls that pause passengers from falling onto the tracks.

All within the identical coloration of green, their slogan became as soon as stark yet candid: “Web respectable purchasing for a composed job? Dispute Lagou.”

And pondering IT mavens give Lagou so much of industry, Xi’erqi Situation has witnessed many farewells.

IT workers usually substitute jobs merely after the mid-year efficiency review and the tip-of-year bonus. Whether or no longer they’ve worked together for many efficient a few months or quite so much of years, it’s customary courtesy for coworkers who’ve grown end to desire every diversified neatly. More progressively than no longer, they meet for a meal at the eating locations plan Xi’erqi put.

Yao Hao, who had merely resigned from a extensive firm internal reach, selected to capture a farewell dinner at a pork sizzling pot restaurant subsequent to the put. Though he known as it a farewell dinner, he with out a doubt wasn’t going that a ways. His composed firm became as soon as merely down the road from the used one. However it with out a doubt would tranquil require braving the bustling crowds of Xi’erqi.

Each and on daily basis, at mealtime, eating locations are packed with workers from internal reach corporations. Even at farewell dinners, earlier than sharing office gossip, most design end a proper witness spherical first to make sure that no acquaintances are internal earshot.

Firm IDs are a truly easy solution to establish coworkers. Reach Xi’erqi put, many join them to a lanyard ragged either spherical their necks or held in one hand.

It became as soon as nearly 10 p.m. by the point Yao Hao and his colleagues accomplished the farewell dinner. In a while, a few them walked aid to their firm to build some work, while others went house.

At an intersection, regarded as one of Yao’s coworkers requested about what they’d attain within the event that they accomplished financial freedom within the waste. One coworker working in R&D mentioned, “After lying at house and doing nothing for a while, I’d tranquil must search out one thing to achieve, otherwise I’d feel nugatory.”

One more in checking out remarked with fun that the coworker had grown too used to being busy. “Being ready to laze spherical at house is this form of pleasure. You’re free to read, or study musical devices, and you don’t must work to display cowl your payment,” mentioned the coworker.

Of us and corporations alike arrive and hotfoot take care of the wind. Industries upward thrust and tumble. Amid it all, Xi’erqi put tranquil stands.

Each and on daily basis, any individual gets off at this put for the first time to open a composed chapter of their occupation; any individual takes a taxi house from here for the closing time, bidding farewell to China’s Silicon Valley.

Many take care of to bitch too. The roads are rundown, the put is crowded, there’s tiny proper meals spherical, the put floods when it rains, and the bus pause is simply too a ways-off.

However when most hotfoot away, Xi’erqi tranquil conjures up advanced emotions. Love when an grownup residing in a advanced house fondly remembers the peculiar cottage they grew up in.

The queueing area at the entrance to Xi’erqi Station, 2021. Chen Meizi/Ciwei Gongshe

The queueing house at the entrance to Xi’erqi Situation, 2021. Chen Meizi/Ciwei Gongshe

Anthropologists allege subway stations are defining aspects of fashionable metropolis landscapes. As portals proper thru which metropolis commuters circulation from one convey to 1 other, the connection between subway stations and contributors is, proper now, intimate and distant.

Alternatively, the extensive crowds of IT workers who rub shoulders here on daily basis be pleased tiny time to dwell on such abstract concepts. They be pleased more pragmatic considerations: “When will the evening high at Xi’erqi put arrive earlier?”

Zhang Wei, Yao Hao, and Liu Lian are pseudonyms.

A version of this text at the origin appeared in Ciwei Gongshe. It has been translated and edited for brevity and readability, and published with permission.

Translator: Lewis Wright; editors: Xue Yongle and Apurva.

(Header image: Passengers at Xi’erqi Situation in Beijing, 2018. Of us Visual)

  • cyber net
  • metropolis China