China has given the world a lot. The list of Chinese inventions is long and often surprising: gunpowder, paper, printing, the compass, fermentation and alcohol, the banknote, dominoes, fireworks, kites, matches, playing cards, restaurant menus, the stirrup, tea and the teapot, nail polish, hot air balloons, porcelain and, perhaps most critically for Western society, toilet paper. Personally, I’m extremely thankful for the 13th Century invention of the teapot.
To this list must now be added the Flashmob. I know this for sure, because I saw it happen in Beihai Park before the West had even heard of the term.
In my wanderings around Beijing I was constantly surprised by the outdoor activity. Not just the number of people, but by the activities themselves. Go to any public park and you will find people performing the most extraordinary array of activities. Dancing and playing music are popular, but to this you must add: choral singing, flag dancing, birds in cages, Tai Chi and a variety of martial arts with swords and sticks, backwards walking, stretching, bumping your rear-end against a tree and a thousand other weird and wonderful pastimes.
These activities are often done alone, but more often in large groups. As I entered Beihai Park – which legend has it was built by Kublai Khan – I was immediately faced with several hundred people doing a series of coordinated exercises. As I walked further into the park there were dozens of groups of people participating in all sorts of activities. It was brilliant. I have never been so entertained, and the best part was that everyone was really friendly and welcoming.
If you want your perceptions of China and the Chinese to be completely blown away, go to Beihai Park on a weekend morning.