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.