Last weekend a friend and I grabbed our brand new cameras and headed off to wander through the neighborhoods between her house and mine. We ended up in a quiet park here on the west side of Beijing. The park’s main claim to fame is a giant pagoda, dating back to the 1300’s. But like all parks in China, there are always lots of interesting things going on.
Near a small lake in the park, we stumbled across a group of retirees gathered in a small gazebo, singing at the tops of their lungs. There were instrumentalists, with their accordians, violins, and assortment of traditional Chinese instruments. Altogether there must have been a couple dozen people standing around on this sultry Saturday morning singing their hearts out.
For a westerner, that in itself was a curious sight, but what made it even more interesting was that they were singing revolutionary songs in praise of Mao. And while it’s a little bit jarring in 2005 to hear songs being sung in praise of the chairman, one has to remember that for the people singing, these were the only songs they knew growing up. There were no other songs allowed to be sung here. If they want to sing songs from their childhood, these are them.
Even though I wasn’t a fan of their choice of music, I was reminded that it’s one of the things I love about China — that friends and neighbors gather in parks to sing and dance. I wonder if our society might be better off if we gathered more often in our parks to sing and dance together.