The Singers of Jingshan Park

As I walked through the Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing  a tree covered hill stood in front of me, on top two colourful Pagondas. This seemed like a great place to view the surrounding area and after taking a look at my city map it would be possible to visit.

The Singers of Jingshan Park

The area was known as Jingshan Park. To enter there was a small fee of 2 Yuan, which was very little compared to the 40 Yuan I had just paid to visit the Forbidden City.

Just inside the entrance a crowd had gathered to watch as a woman waved spirals through the air with a long coloured flag. As I watched I realised that a large amount of the crowd weren’t that interested in the woman at all but instead they were watching me and taking photographs.

The Singers of Jingshan Park The Singers of Jingshan ParkAt the top there were great views in all directions, particularly to the south over the forbidden city and then to the north where the city stretched never ending into the distance.

The Singers of Jingshan Park

View to the north from Jingshan Park

As I stood looking over the view I could hear singing coming from below but little sign of people through the trees. I walked down towards the sound and found several large groups of people who had come together to sing.

The Singers of Jingshan Park

The Singers of Jingshan Park

Each group was made up of fifteen or so people, there were no instruments expects for an accordion, and no clear leader. They just sang. When one song finished they were on to the next with little hesitation and with everyone joining in.

The Singers of Jingshan Park

The Singers of Jingshan Park

The groups were very diverse, men and woman, all from what seemed like different backgrounds. One man came dancing towards the crowd in brightly coloured clothes with a speaker as a hat. Another with a cane and a large black military coat, perfect for the winter weather.

But there was one thing they all had in common, they were all of retirement age.

The Singers of Jingshan Park

The Singers of Jingshan ParkDuring my short stay in Beijing I noticed on several occasions groups of the older generation joining  in activities or socialising together. Sometimes in the strangest of places. A large group of women dancing in unison on a busy intersection. More often than not there would just get together in parks or public spaces to play cards or even board games.

The Singers of Jingshan Park

These photos feature in my new zine OFFBEAT along with many others from my time in Beijing. It’s an exploration into a different side of the city. Highlighting daily life, Chinese culture, architecture and of course metro stations. Copies are limited and can be found here:

allabouttheimage.bigcartel.com

Further Reading:

My visit to Tiananmen Square and The Body of Chairman Mao

The Body of Chairman Mao

Getting into Tiananmen Square was hard enough. We joined a large crowd of Chinese people, shuffling slowly forwarded. We waited while people looked at us strangely, pointed at our feet and laughing, not knowing if joining the group was even the right thing to do. Eventually we arrived at a security checkpoint, where our bags were x-rayed and our passports checked.

We were in.

The Body of Chairman Mao

Monument to the People’s Heroes

Tiananmen Square was a large open space where traffic was prohibited and areas roped off from pedestrians with guard posts throughout. At one end Tiananmen Gate, which lead into the Forbidden City, where a large portrait of Chairman Mao hung.

The Body of Chairman Mao

 

At the other, Mao’s Mausoleum, a building built solely for the purpose of housing his embalmed body. Our first port of call.

But first we had to jump through a number of hoops in order to enter.

The Body of Chairman Mao

Guard in front of the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

First we headed to an entirely different building, where we would have to check in any bags or cameras. While I was travelling in Vietnam I was able to visit the body of Ho Chi Minh so I had an idea of what may be required here in order to enter.

Back at the mausoleum we joined another queue, this one had a lot less people in it, and another security check point, this one just a visual inspection. As we approached the entrance there was a vendor selling white flowers. Almost every Chinese visitor in front of us purchased multiple flowers to take in with them.

The Body of Chairman Mao

Revolutionary statue in front of the mausoleum

Once we reached the entrance and went inside we were greeted by a large seated stone statue of Mao. In front of him a table so full of the white flowers they had been piled up on the floor behind. We watched as visitors placed their contribution with the others and then as a man with a large cart collected up the excess and wheeled them back out to the shop.

Moving through the corridors we came to a small room where the glass coffin was held. Inside lay a black haired Mao in a grey suit. It was a very strange moment which lasted less than a minute. We were ushered around the edges of the room before passing out the other side and into the gift shop.

The Body of Chairman Mao

National Museum of China

No one was prepared for Mao’s death. Like Ho Chi Minh he had requested to be cremated but after his death it was decided his body would be embalmed. Accounts vary but it is thought the process was rushed and ill prepared due to rocky relations with the Russians at the time. They were thought to be the experts as they had already used the technique to embalm the bodies of Stalin and Lenin, as well as assisting the Vietnamese with Minh’s body. It is said that instead they had to settle with verbal instructions from the Vietnamese and try their best.

The Body of Chairman Mao

Restricted areas and guard posts

Since 1977 his body has been here, in his purpose built mausoleum for the world to visit, with some days visitor numbers reaching well into the thousands. Today, who really knows if the body that lies there is in fact Mao’s. Rumours persist and it’s often thought that due to the process not being entirely effective the body had been replaced with a wax figure, highly believable as the process leaves the skin looking shinny and even wax like.

Further Reading:

Preserving Chairman Mao: embalming a body to maintain a legacy by The Guardian

A visitors account from 1997 Resting in Peace or in Pieces

System Failure

The last few months have been a whirlwind, devouring all my time and this blog has suffered as a result of that. This is something I want to remedy starting now.

Last year I packed up my life and moved countries, back home to the UK. Before getting completely settled I took a month holiday and went to Australia for a friends wedding, visiting Amsterdam and Beijing along the way.

System Failure

But the one thing I can blame for my silence is the destruction of my computer (largely from my own doing). It has played havoc with my workload and productivity, which is partly my fault as I am still procrastinating over which one to replace it with.

Though, I will not let these problems stand in my way any longer. I have been working on a few ideas in my head and it won’t be long before I put them together for you to see. Because of my recent travels and the change in my living situation I am sitting on a bunch of great content that I need you to see. I hope that I can find the words (and the time) to bring these to life.

I would greatly appreciate that you stick around and see what I have been up to in my absence, as well as what I am will be doing in the future. 2018 has started well and I aim for that to continue.

In the meantime visit my other accounts where I try to post more frequently:

facebook.com/allabouttheimagehelsinki

Instagram.com/tom8enjamin

twitter.com/tom8enjamin