By Gao Huabin, Beijing, China
Former Coordinator for International Relations at Nagasaki Prefectural Tourism Federation
Lived in Nagasaki from April 2006 to April 2007
Have you ever heard of Jingshan Park? This park, in the centre of Beijing, was once a garden used by the Imperial Family. The Chongzhen Emperor, the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty, under attack from Li Zicheng’s peasant army, hanged himself from a pagoda tree in the park.
The park boasts great scenery and many tourists visit every day. Particularly splendid is the panoramic view of the Forbidden City from the top of the hill.
Surveying the whole of the Forbidden City
from the summit of Jingshan Hill
The site of the Chongzhen Emperor’s suicide
I wonder if you have heard about the Jingshan Phenomenon. It’s a new leisure craze that’s been spreading across Chinarecently: middle-aged and elderly people are spontaneously gathering in open-air public spaces, like parks, and forming choirs!
The gatherings here in Beijing were the first of their kind, and the number of people involved here is the highest, so it has come to be known as the Jingshan Phenomenon.
Near to Shouhuang Hall, on the north side of the park, is the meeting place for the Jingshan Park Passion Plaza Chorus. Every weekend over 200 people gather here to rehearse songs. The choir has a conductor who leads them, and the group practices in a precise and structured way. With a focus on Chinese music, they rehearse dozens of songs each time, and their earnest, professional-standard performance moves the huge crowd of tourists, Chinese and foreign alike, to rapturous applause.
According to statistics, there are more than 40 such civilian choruses in Beijing alone, meeting to rehearse in dozens of park throughout the city. Participants may number in the ten-thousands. The trend is not confined to Beijing but has spread across China.
Last Sunday, I happened to be in Jingshan Park, and decided to go and see the famous “Jingshan Phenomenon” for myself. In addition to the popular large choirs, who were practicing hard, I saw small choirs, opera groups, wind bands, dancers, comedy double-acts and more. Large numbers of elderly people and tourists were gazing at the performers, and many were inspired to join in singing and dancing themselves.
Revolutionary Opera (BeijingOpera popular during the Cultural Revolution)
Dancing with coloured ribbons
So, why is the Jingshan Phenomenon so in vogue now?
First of all, in big cities like Beijing and all across the country,China’s population is aging. A need has emerged for public events like this, to help the large numbers of older people to stay in shape, both physically and mentally. According to the authorities, by the end of 2010 there were 2,350,000 over-60s inBeijing, an increase of 84,000 on the previous year, representing 18.7% of the population.
The numbers of older people will continue to rise, and as the elderly population increases, by the same token, the numbers of such groups and activities is expected to increase too.
Secondly, periodic outdoor activity, especially singing, is said to be highly effective for maintaining physical and mental health in the elderly. Just like deep breathing, singing increases lung capacity, strengthens abdominal muscles, increases blood-oxygen levels and energises the body, at the same time as helping us to keep fit and maintain a good state of mind. In particular, it is said that when older people sing famous tunes from their youth, this stirs up memories and revives their lust for life.
Furthermore, it seems to me that the many musicians who live long lives are important proof of the health benefits of singing.
Chinese folk instruments Playing cards
Practicing songs Ethnic minority dance
Lastly, this kind of activity provides older people with a place to meet and make friends over a shared hobby. In this way, older people can live happily, avoid falling into isolation, and maybe even go on holiday with their new friends. In addition, older people can learn many things from the rich and diverse content of the songs and the comic stories shared at these meetings. This is why many people have welcomed this phenomenon, and why I believe it will continue for a long time to come.
Some years ago, I spent a year living inNagasakiCity, and became very aware of the aging population situation inJapan. I’ve also noticed that incidents of solitary deaths, that is, people who live alone dying at home without anyone knowing, are often featured in the Japanese media. Generally speaking, in contrast to Chinese people’s taste for a lively atmosphere, Japanese people are said to prefer a quiet life. Despite this supposed difference in national character, surely some degree of human interaction is essential for older Japanese people too. I think it would be wonderful ifJapanfollowed the example of the Jingshan Phenomenon as a step towards tackling problems of isolation among the elderly.
Gao Huabin (Beijing,China)
Time inNagasaki: April 2006 – April 2007 (Former CIR at Nagasaki Prefecture Convention and Visitor’s Bureau)
Guonian hao everyone! (Happy New Year!)
There is a custom inBeijingof holding a Miaohui festival (similar to a Japanese festival day) in the major parks for Chinese New Year. During Miaohui, there are delicious foods and lots of fun games. A lot of people attend and it is very lively.
This year is the Year of the Dragon, so I recommend going toLongtanLakePark, which has the Chinese character for ‘dragon’ in its name. I’d like to introduce some photographs I took of the festival in this park – I hope that through them you’re able to feel even a little of the New Year’s mood inBeijing.
Miaohui at LongtanLakeParkbegan in 1984 and this year is the 29th year it’s been held.
“Mickey,” at the entrance to the park, is very popular!
Chinese decorations, which use an abundant amount of red, are very bright and vivid, aren’t they!
Inside the park there is also an area with artificial snow to play in.
Hundreds of thousands of people visit in one day.
You might need a bit of courage to try these insect dishes – there are chrysalises, scorpions and even centipedes.
Stinky tofu from Changsha is said to have been a favourite food of Hunan Province’s Mao Zedong.
Cha Tang from ancient Longfusi temple vs Japanese takoyaki
Cha Tang is a paste-like sweet drink made from millet mixed with water.
The pineapple and vanilla rice from the Yunnan Dai people look delicious!
It seems that artificial flowers are popular right now. The women look even more beautiful with them.
There are a lot of people surrounding this stall. What are they looking at?
Ah, this person is selling personally-signed kirie – pictures made from cut-out paper.
The tanghulu in the picture look just like the real thing, but you can’t eat them. The man on the right’s dragon hat is very cute!
The girl in the flower palanquin on the left （http://news.cntv.cn/20120126/108872.shtml）was shown a lot on the internet. The palanquin is still there, but I wonder where she went…
It looks like carp streamers have already taken root inChina.
Discovering these Teresa Teng CDs was surprising – and really reminded me of old times!
According to the newspapers, including the Longtan Lake Park Miaohui Festival I’ve talked about above, twenty-six large miaohui and folk events were held inBeijing during this year’s Chinese New year. Between New Year’s Eve and the fifth day of the new lunar year alone, 56,680,000 people apparently visited them.
The miaohui at other places have their own special characteristics. For example, the heaven-worship ritual and dance performances atTiantanPark, Hong Lou Miaohui atGrandViewGarden, and the international festival atChaoyangPark, amongst others, are very popular. If I have the chance to, I hope I can introduce these to you, too.
Gao Huabin (Beijing,China)
Period of stay in Nagasaki: April 2006 – April 2007 (former CIR at Nagasaki Prefecture Convention & Visitors Bureau)
The last time I was in Nagasaki was five years ago.
Between April 2006 and April 2007, I worked for one year as a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) in Nagasaki Prefecture Convention & Visitors Bureau. It was the first time I had lived abroad and I was only there for one year, but Nagasaki’s fresh atmosphere, beautiful nature, delicious food and friendly people left a great impression on me. Even after I had returned to China, I often dreamt of Nagasaki– of Glover Garden; of the long slopes; of Sadamasashi singing Gambaramba in the local dialect. I always thought to myself that I must go back someday.
Then, in late November last year, I was blessed with the opportunity to undergo some training in Japan, and, at long last, was able to visit Nagasaki again. There I spent a very fun and worthwhile two days.
I arrived on a Sunday, right when there was badminton match for Chinese exchange students going on in the gym of Nagasaki University’s medical department. My friend Li asked me to participate in the match and we managed to win the doubles!
I recall the days I practiced badminton in this gym five years ago extremely fondly, even now. Cai, who was the head of the Association for Chinese Exchange Students in Nagasaki a long time ago, is no longer in Nagasaki but in Kyoto. However, I met a new Cai from Taiwan who unfortunately beat me in a singles match. It was great to be able to meet up with some old friends. In the same place as five years ago, with the people around me too as youthful and vivacious as back then, I felt like it was only me who got a little older.
My interest in badminton started here in Nagasaki, and I have nothing but gratitude for Mr. Ushijima of the Chikyuukan and the people at Shiminkaikan, who taught me from scratch. When I left, I made a promise with Li to take him to badminton practice the next time he had a business trip to Beijing.
Award ceremony at the end of the match. On the right is Lee, who received two awards!
In the evening, after I’d gone to the Ringer Hut near DejimaWharf with Li and eaten my beloved champon, I strolled around Mori-machi, where I used to live. Cocowalk, a huge shopping centre, now stands where before there was just a huge empty space – I was surprised to see that there’s a ferris wheel on top of the building! I’m often told that China changes quickly, but Japan is changing, too.
On top of that, before there was only a small port office down at Matsugae wharf, but there’s a beautiful new terminal which has added a lot of charm to the surrounding area. There must be lots of other places that have changed since I was last here, but I didn’t have time to go around everywhere to see.
New shopping facilities near my old area
The port office at Matsugae 5 years ago
The Matsugae wharf terminal now
The next day, after a training lecture at the prefectural government office, I visited the special “Sun Yat-Sen x Umeya Shoukichi xNagasaki” exhibition at the culture and history museum.
Last year marked a century since the Xinhai Revolution in China, so there have been a lot of TV dramas, films and exhibitions recently relating to this, and I was glad to be able to see something related to Sun Yat-Sen in Japan. I think it’s particularly worth seeing because there are so many things assembled together in one space – a statue of three people including Sun Yat-Sen and Umeya Shoukichi donated from China, various valuable items that Japan has preserved, and other artifacts borrowed from China. You should all definitely go and see it.
In front of the statue of Sun and Umeya (on the left is a lovely lady who came with me on training, and on the right is a lovely guide, who explained everything beautifully)
My time in Nagasaki on this trip has been short, but I’m extremely glad that I could meet so many old and new friends and colleagues, and especially the editor of Dejima Network. I look forward to being able to exchange information about Beijing and Nagasaki on the internet from here on.
See you next time on Dejima Network!