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China's 'park life', the importance of being active

17:12, January 21, 2010

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By Gavin Jon Mowat, People's Daily Online

For anyone who wants to come to China and experience the traditional elements of the nation's culture while at the same time not completely neglecting the busy cities and all they have to offer, one must see destination is the country's wonderful parks.

Many of Beijing's parks were created as ancient places of worship and sacrifice for by-gone Emperors, while others have been more recent additions to the city. The wide open grass of western parks is more often than not replaced by elaborate 'Feng Shui' designs; including hills of various sizes, at least one water feature, an abundance of trees and of course some splendid Chinese architecture.

In the UK it usually takes a heat wave to fill the country's parks, with people generally opting to stay at home watching TV, playing computer games or socializing in bars instead. But I've noticed that despite the bitter cold of a Beijing winter some healthy Chinese citizens are not deterred from going out to exercise in the city's parks.

Even if a few Brits do brave the weather and visit the local parks, their exercise is usually restricted to a slow amble or a brisk jog. In contrast, parks in China are filled with an amazing variety of colors, sounds and movements that typify the wealth of Chinese culture.

Being put through his paces in a park

Here in Beijing's parks I've see everything from people playing cards to old ladies dancing with colored ribbons. The wonderful sights and sounds are not only a reflection of a culture rich in diversity but they also demonstrate the healthy lifestyle that many Chinese people still choose to lead.

In the west there is a tendency to rely heavily on our fully developed healthcare systems and the extensive supply of medicines that come with it to protect our health. And perhaps as a result, we sometimes over-indulge in life's unhealthy pleasures like binge drinking, thinking only of healthcare as a reactive measure to be utilized after we fall ill.

This is a stark contrast to China. Here there seems to be a broad understanding particularly among older generations, that our muscles and every other organ in our body need exercise to maintain health.

People do tai chi, qi gong, and many other martial arts, people meditate, pray, shout at the top of their voice, they play badminton, fly kites and use the free outdoor gyms… In Chinese parks you will always come across people giving their mind, body and souls a good workout.

Tai chi in the parks

With this understanding comes a freedom of expression the like of which we would be at a push to see in the UK. People gather in the parks to play musical instruments even if they can't play, they sing opera even if they can't sing, and they gather to dance with strangers and friends alike. It is all so carefree.

In particular there seems to be an abundance of older generations and families with young children making good use of China's parks. Different generations are still brought together in China by traditional games and pastimes that require a bit of movement in the great outdoors.

Locals pray in the parks

Testament to this, I recently stumbled on some rather amusing cartoons depicting the differences between Chinese and western society. In one picture an old westerner is accompanied by his dog, while his Chinese counterpart is accompanied by his grandchild. Humorously reinforcing the close-knit family orientated lifestyle that still prevails for many in China today.
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The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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Gavin Jon Mowat

Gavin Jon Mowat, editor and columnist for People's Daily Online.

As a graduate from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK, Gavin came to Beijing 2 years ago to study Chinese.

Enjoying the culture and traditions of the orient so much, Gavin has since left his home in Scotland and is now living and working in China.

Gavin uses his background in writing to share his experiences of China with you at People's Daily Online.


Li HongmeiLi Hongmei

Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of PD Online.

Li HongLi Hong

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.