Beijing Yin Or Yang?
Six o’clock, first rays of the sun, dry and fresh air. The armies of cars haven’t yet taken control of the asphalt. It’s so quiet and so bright. Beijing reveals her secrets at dawn. Empty construction sites pointing to the skies, parks full of people practicing taiji quan. It’s an ancient form of energetic gymnastics, like yoga in motion, with martial elements. It has survived revolutions, destructions and modernizations for hundreds of years, and is still going on well.
Every day, long-time Beijingers rise with the sun, slowly ride their bicycles to the only places where nature still rules – the parks – and practice the ancestral movements. It is said to prolong life a lot. Like a everlasting orgasm distilled in little drops. Quiet forces in motion.
Taiji is stillness in movement, movement in stillness. It is the essence of the yin and yang. Day and night. Sharp and blurred. Artificial and natural. It’s easy to forget about these cycles, as they are part of every moment of life. One usually feels it only when it reaches the extreme points. This can be precisely at dawn, when the yin of the night turns into the yang of the day.
A new balance is now taking place. The Olympics are in sight, globalization is in the air, but every morning the red flag is still raised on Tiananmen square and hundreds of years old taiji quan movements are repeated. Seven o’clock. Outside the parks, a few lonely people sit still on the pavement, waiting to go to work. They seem lost, powerless in front of the gigantic city under construction. They are migrant workers, small people, and unemployed farmers coming to the big city to try their luck. With their hands they build the high-rise towers, but they will never own any part of them. All over, large avenues and grey towers are replacing the traditional landscape. Old stones and narrow streets are not welcome any longer. Within a little less than ten years, half of all Beijing built-up areas have been bulldozed to the ground and rebuilt. Some like to say that this is why Chinese civilization has lasted for such a long time: it can bear constant changes, dynasty after dynasty. Some are just proud of some kind of westernization. Others say that this time, the shift is way too radical: something has gone too far and it will come back at their face violently. But most Beijing people just try to flow with the change. If not, they will be left on the side of the road and they know it. Taiji quan helps a lot with flowing with changes. “You don’t have this in your country” says a middle-aged practitioner. “That’s why you are so stressed.” With this in mind, massive erasure of the past has almost become like a natural phenomenon.
Beijing is a city where traffic jams are strangely fluid, where people walk quite slowly, but where no one is late for appointments. “The only thing that doesn’t change is the change itself,” the master said.
Photography by Anais Martane – Text by Abel Segretin