A media report said that, during evenings in Beijing, one may see yangge (a popular rural folk dance) teams dancing in the street and various activities in the parks like singing, drawing, playing chess and exercising.
The weekend chorus singing in Jingshan Park is one of the recreational activities. People from all parts of the city gather around a pavilion near the east gate of the park, singing Chinese and foreign songs. Among them are old couples, families of three generations, as well as boys and girls. Songs can even be heard outside the park.
In recent years, chorus singing has become one of the most popular cultural activities in Beijing. There are many singing competitions for people of different ages: the May Flower Singing Competition, Senior Chorus Competition, Beijing Chorus Festival, Beijing Student Chorus Festival, etc. In Jingshan Park, chorus singing, first started by ordinary citizens, has now become a special part of the park and is widely known as the Jingshan Phenomenon?
Jingshan is located to the north of the Forbidden City. It was originally an earthen hill formed by the earth dug up from the moat around the imperial palace. During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Emperor Qianlong, a lover of poetry and nature, renamed it Jingshan (the Hill of Grand View) and included it as part of the imperial complex.
After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the government renovated the original five pavilions, planted trees and grass, and turned it into a public park. On a fine day, one may have a panoramic view of Beijing from the Wanchun Pavilion at the top of the hill. The first Jingshan chorus appeared in 1992. One rainy day in summer that year, a group of middle-aged and older people were resting in a pavilion on the hill. It started to rain heavily, so they had to wait there for the rain to stop. As they became impatient, a middle-aged man stood up and volunteered to sing songs for them.
He was named Hou, and was a music teacher. He sang some old popular songs in the 1950s, and was soon joined by others. From that day on, this small group gradually grew into the present-day Jingshan Ziguang Chorus Group, the first chorus group in Jingshan Park.
The Ziguang Chorus Group sings songs mainly in the 1950s and 1960s. On each gathering, The Ode to the Motherland is always the second last song they sing, followed by Unforgettable Evening when all the members wave their hands for farewell. That is the most excited moment. An accordion or a flute is usually played as accompaniment, and words are written on a big piece of paper, hanging on the pavilion pillar. People stand around the pavilion. Some groups have different vocal sections, for instance, male and female duets. Chorus conductors sometimes also teach the group singing skills, arousing the enthusiasm of the singers. They are often surrounded by big audiences who are deeply impressed by their sincerity and enthusiasm. Anyone who likes singing can join in. So the singers are of different levels, affecting the overall effect of chorus. Therefore, some semi-experts volunteered to be chorus conductors. Some bring their own musical instruments. Everybody contributed to the chorus which becomes bigger each day.
Many other chorus groups appeared in other parks following the Jingshan Park chorus group. The original chorus group in Jingshan Park has grown from one to a dozen groups, categorized into different types of songs, such as the songs of the former Soviet Union, bel canto songs, minority ethnic songs and foreign songs. Amateur dancers also volunteer to perform. At present, there are chorus groups in almost all the parks in Beijing, including Beihai, the Temple of Heaven, Yuyuantan, Taoranting and Zizhuyuan. The participants are no longer local residents, and migrant workers and young people have also been members. When a large group sings popular songs such as The Sun in the East or Ode to the Motherland, every-one present at the scene, impressed by their energy and enthusiasm, also joins in.
The Voice of the Temple of Heaven Chorus Group, the first one in the park, used to have 600 to 700 members. Later some of its members left and formed small groups which can now be seen everywhere in the park. The present chorus conductor, Mr. Wang, used to be a salesman before retirement. He has been a music lover since school days, and is now a regular member of the chorus. Every morning, he conducts the chorus of over a hundred people for an hour, before singing with a lady pop song for half an hour. The song is sung to accompany a dance called Sixteen Steps, which gives the group time to relax. The members of the chorus group enjoy moral cultivation as well as physical exercise.
Music can heal inner wounds and bring people together as friends. Music is the medicine for the heart and the cultivation of the mind. During the quick pace of China's economic development, singing can help people recover from psychosis.