“You can’t go that way,” says a black-clad guard outside the China National Convention Center Hotel. “Everything’s separate.”
Visitors may find this ironic — hypocritical, even. It’s not. For Beijing, the capital of a nation where the characters for “city” and “wall” can overlap, it has become part of the DNA. It’s the latest incarnation of something that has typified the Chinese capital for centuries, since the days emperors occupied the Forbidden City: At its core, Beijing is a compartmentalized metropolis of tiny gated, fenced and subdivided ecosystems that developed both organically and by design — but that made this town strangely appropriate as the site of a locked-down, tightly regulated, bubbled-in COVID Olympics.