Beijing's Zhongshan Park is a stone's throw away from the Forbidden City. [Radio86/Zhanna Rogozhina]
Beauty is all around us… One just needs to learn to see it. Luckily, when you're in China, the task gets easier.
Green places of tranquillity, known as 'Zhongshan Parks' are not unusual in China.
Named in honour of the "Father of Modern China" Sun Yat-sen (Sun Zhongshan), Zhongshan Parks can be found in more than 40 Chinese cities, including Shanghai, Hong Kong, Dalian, Shenyang and Shenzhen.
However, Beijing's Zhongshan Park stands out from them all. For a place with many centuries of history, there could be a plethora of reasons why, but the three major ones are: location, location, and location.
Wonderworld at the heart of the country
Zhongshan Park is perfect for a romantic date. [Radio86/Zhanna Rogozhina]
Beijing Zhongshan Park has everything it takes to draw your attention and lure you to spend a day there. It lies right in the heart and soul of China, just a few metres south-west of the Forbidden City.
The park embraces you with the most welcome atmosphere. It leads you to a wonderworld of quiet alleys with peculiar-looking old trees, secluded benches perfect for a romantic date with your beloved and even a peaceful pond. Boating on the glassy waters of the Forbidden City moat may even inspire you to begin meditating on life.
Be it sun or rain
Zhongshan Hall is better known as the Hall of Worship. [Radio86/Zhanna Rogozhina]
Zhongshan Park is also famous for its numerous pavilions, corridors and temples in which you can find pleasant shade on a baking-hot summer day or shelter if the skies start crying down on earth.
One of the most skilfully made and picturesque of them all is the Zhongshan Hall, built in 1421 and originally called the Hall of Worship (Baidian). For many emperors, it was a perfect resting place during the sacrificial ceremony and unbeaten shelter when caught in the wind and rain.
When a man meets Nature... [Radio86/Zhanna Rogozhina]
However, if you prefer action over meditation, come to the park early in the morning or later in the evening. During these hours, almost every park in China turns into a gym or a dance studio – often, you can't really say whether people around you are dancing or exercising.
In Beijing's Zhongshan Park, you don't even need to be especially lucky to bump into a group of women and men performing elegant dance-like movements while manipulating something that looks like a small ball on a racket. Dressed in comfortable sport clothes, these women and men seem to be floating above the ground.
Breathe out, it's not a mirage. It's Rou Li Qiu (literally: flexible power ball), also known in Europe as Taiji Bailong Ball.
Sport and philosophy
Rou Li Qiu is a graceful combination of sport, music and philosophy. [Radio86/Zhanna Rogozhina]
Taiji Bailong Ball exercise was first created by Professor Bai Rong and, as it often happens with great inventions, it was made by chance.
During a physical exercise lesson, Rong had the idea of using Taijiquan theory for a ball game. Having spent time on research, adapting some badminton and tennis techniques and later modifying his findings, Rong developed Taiji Bailong Ball exercise into a special sport and musical performance that you can witness in many Chinese parks.
Taiji Bailong Ball could easily serve as a good example of Chinese philosophy penetrating all aspects of human life. It's all about striving for harmony and seeking balance. The Chinese believe that while you're practising Rou Li Qiu, it's not only the ball and racket that should be in harmony. The body and thoughts of both the player and his partner should also form a unified whole.
Your body will react gratefully, your health and mental well-being will improve, as Taiji Bailong Ball is believed to develop the functions of all the body's organs, while clearing your head as you need to forget about the troublesome environment and concentrate on your own movements.
Don't be shy – just try
Rou Li Qiu: It is not as easy as it seems. [Radio86/Mads Schmidt]
If you want to try Rou Li Qiu exercise, you don't necessarily need to have the equipment ready. Just come to Zhongshan Park when the work day is over and the place starts filling with its practitioners.
Be charming, smile and show your genuine interest in this peculiar kind of sport that does indeed look like an art form. You'll definitely get a master class in Rou Li Qiu from someone in the graceful crowd.
In a situation like this, a language barrier doesn't exist. Just try to copy the cat-like movements and try to balance your body. With a little bit of effort you're going to make it.
Don't forget to take a bottle of green tea with you. After the intense master class, you'll surely be thirsty.
Just a few steps away from the glorious Tiananmen Square and pompous Forbidden City, Zhongshan Park is the place where you can find peace of mind and body harmony.
Beijing's Zhongshan Park is open daily from 06.30 till 20.30. The entrance fee is only 5 RMB.