parks and squares


parks and squares
Squares, faux-public spaces, were constructed in cities throughout China after the 1949 revolution in imitation of Red Square in Moscow for the holding of officially orchestrated mass parades, reviews and political rallies (although they later came to be used by anti-government protesters). They were not supposed to be places of leisure or entertainment, except on state-ordained holidays when the skies overhead would fill with extravagant firework displays. Public parks, created on the basis of Western and Japanese models from the early twentieth century, were provided for individual and family diversion, and education. On holidays they are also used as entertainment sites, or for improving moral or patriotic displays.
After the Cultural Revolution, older parks, like the Beihai Park in central Beijing, were reopened to the public; and from the mid 1980s places like the Altar of the Earth (Ditan) and similar sites were allowed once more to hold fairs (miaohui), as were many temples (see temple fairs). New parks have proliferated in recent decades. Many of these incorporate designs that imitate the private demesnes of the old scholar-gentry.
The famous Ming-Qing gardens in the Lower Yangtze region, in particular those in Suzhou and Hangzhou, with their craggy scholar rocks, writhen trees, intricate stone walkways, pavilions, loggia, ponds, lakes and poetic mini-landscapes, provide inspiration to those who craft their parks out of modern materials. Concrete balustrades, bumpy ill-mowed lawns, clumps of trees, topiary and Taihu stones mark the people’s parks, and they are often also crowded with game stalls, souvenir stands and fair rides.
Older parks converted for public use during the Republic (1912–49), like the former imperial Summer Hunting Villa in Chengde, or the Yuanming yuan in northwest Beijing, have also inspired contemporary park designers. Lakes and ponds in parks, be they new or old, are popular for boating (and theme-boats—dragon-headed skiffs, duck-, swan- or goose-headed vessels—often course through the waters with snap-happy visitors disporting themselves to the music of the latest Cantopop songs that blare from ubiquitous loudspeakers). And, finally, despite the rise of club and bar culture in the cities, for the less upwardly mobile the public park remains a place for trysts, be they hetero- or homosexual.
Kraus, Richard (1999). ‘Public Monuments and Private Pleasures in the Parks of Nanjing: A Tango in the Ruins of the Ming Emperor’s Palace’. In Deborah Davis (ed.), China’s Consumer Revolution. Berkeley: University of California Press.
GEREMIE R.BARMÉ

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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