When you are asked to name the great, metropolitan cities of the world, you will naturally consider certain factors. It’s not always size that makes the difference. If it was, then Chongqing would be the capital of the planet, a role I think we can all agree that Chongqing, for all its charms, is not quite ready for. Sure, size has its place, but it’s the more abstract qualities that really elevate certain cities to greatness, and that probably influence your choices: political influence; rich history; culture; cuisine; cosmopolitan buzz; and so on.
Beijing has most of this –it’s working on the cosmopolitan buzz– but it conspicuously lacks the one other factor that defines many of the world’s other great metropolises: a giant monster attack.
I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately (a sure sign that the holidays are leading to a work slowdown), and I’ve come to the conclusion that Beijing cannot be a great, global metropolis until it is attacked by its own giant monster. Thanks to the encyclopaedic reference information contained in two invaluable websites, Stomptokyo.com and Giantmonstermovies.com, I’ve been able to research some of the cities that have been on the receiving end of giant monsters. Sure, you all know that Tokyo has had a fifty year kaiju infestation that has included Godzilla, Gamera and friends. New York got King Kong on multiple occasions plus, as a bonus, the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (by the way, that’s 180,000 feet, or about six times deeper than the deepest part of the ocean). London was attacked by Gorgo. San Francisco got the five-armed octopus of It Came from Beneath the Sea. The list has also has some surprises, including some of Beijing’s key, regional rivals and a few cities you’d never expect:
- Copenhagen was attacked by Reptilicus
- Hong Kong was attacked by Mighty Peking Man in 1977, in an unintentional but apt metaphor for the city’s future
- Rome’s Colosseum was destroyed by Ymir in 20 Million Miles to Earth
- Los Angeles got Them
- North Korea was attacked by Pulgasari, admittedly in ancient times
- South Korea’s Seoul has had various monsters
- Sweden got a monster, although it appears to have been confined to rural areas, in keeping with Scandinavian tidyness
- Bangkok got Garuda
- Even neutral Switzerland had a monster, although it was put there by Americans
- Every tiny town in the American southwest had a Gila Monster, Mantis or giant Lepus at some point, thanks to the tireless efforts of Bert I. Gordon and his contemporaries.
As you would expect, Singapore is monster-proofed, although I think a romp by a giant merlion would do it a world of good.
But let’s get back to Beijing. Those who like to quibble might be tempted to remind us that Mothra appeared in Beijing in Destroy All Monsters, but I am inclined to disqualify that for a couple of reasons. First, that’s a Japanese monster, and, as such, more insulting than terrifying. And, second, the climactic battle didn’t take place in Beijing.
The problem for Beijing is, of course, that it has no skyline, and no easy monster access. If a monster was going to attack any mainland Chinese city, it would probably make a beeline (monsterline?) for Shanghai. Not only does it have the Huangpu River and the nearby Yangtze, which is more than big enough for your standard-guage kaiju, but it has the glittering Pudong skyline which has “ravage me” spelled out all over it in neon. If the Oriental Pearl Tower isn’t a secret Mysterian headquarters building just waiting to be scaled by something giant, scaly and radioactive, then I don’t know what is. And Jinmao Tower is a close number two.
But what would a monster in Beijing attack? CCTV Tower? That’s way out west. The Great Hall of the People or the National Museum? Those low-rise, Stalinist wedding-cake buildings just aren’t all that satisfying as monster-fodder. Guomao’s twin towers are step in the right direction, but after Jianwai Soho, there’s precious little else smashable in that neighborhood. I guess a monster could kind of work it’s way down Jianwai and Chang’an Jie like a buffet line, stopping every kilometer or so to work on whatever medium-grade skyscraper or smokestack was convenient, but it seems like kind of a chore. Why waste the effort when the concentrated banquet tables of Shanghai and Hong Kong are so much more convenient?
And that supposes that a monster could get to Beijing. But this may be easier to solve. Although we don’t have a major waterway nearby, it is conceivable that monster awakened by, say, the depletion of Beijing’s aquifer could arise from the bottom of Zhongnanhai, or perhaps tunnel up from underneath the Shougang plant (which would put it conveniently near the CCTV tower). I guess a monster could rise out of Tianjin harbor as well, and take Tianjin as a kind of hors’d'oeuvre on the way in, but it all seems very indirect. Plus any such monster could get misdirected and end up in Dalian, or, worse, Seoul (which has already had a monster, thank you very much).
So I think Beijing has a clear mandate. If there is a better centerpiece for a giant monster attack than the 2008 Olympics, I cannot think of what it might be. Forget terrorist attack, I’m thinking giant monster attack. I think Beijing has a responsibility, a duty, to construct a monster-worthy skyline prior to the Olympics (it’s certainly working on this), and then take advantage of the games themselves to trash it utterly.
Now that would be a spectacle worth staying for, and it would ensure Beijing’s entry into the pantheon of great World Cities far better than any measly athletic competition alone ever would.