Thus far, I have not mentioned my weekly walk to church and back, even though the distance covered is about 5 kilometres return. The place of worship is known as Haidian Christian Church, a parish in the Three-Self Patriotic Movement churches. This is the officially recognised Protestant Church in China, which was established in 1951 in close cooperation with the new communist government. Indeed, one of its key founders, Wu Yaozong, was a Christian communist theologian, and his successor, Ding Guangxun, was also a Christian communist and the church’s first Chinese bishop.
Since then, the church has flourished, with its focus on self-government, self-support and self-propagation. At the local parish, there are seven services every Sunday, with more than 1,000 worshippers at each service. Yes, that makes more than 7,000 in total every Sunday. No wonder the ministerial staff is almost 20, with a significant number of assistants. Nationwide, there are 24 million members nationwide, making it one of the largest Christian churches in the world.
This Sunday, I did not walk home after church, but continued walking on a warm spring day. My hike took me back to Haidian Park, which I had discovered less than a week ago on my walk to the Summer Palace. Then, it was still relatively quiet, for people seemed to prefer the spring flowers elsewhere. Today was a complete contrast, for it was packed.
Why? It was the Qingming festival weekend. On the first day (Friday this year), people go and ‘sweep the tombs’ of ancestors, that is clean them and pay respects. Then on Saturday and Sunday, it is time to head out for a picnic, enjoy the spring weather … and fly kites. There were hundreds of kites, somehow avoiding becoming tangled in each other’s lines. On the ground were tents galore, with children running about, grandparents putting out food for a picnic, and parents doing whatever.
By comparison, my favourite western Green Belt was a haven of peace and quiet. Of course, it was only a section of the Green Belt, for this one in its full extent runs all the way from the multiple Summer Palace grounds through to the big parks in the south of the city. But what a section it was: at some point in the reasonably distant past, it been an area of rice paddy fields. So, as part of the creation the Green Belt, some of the paddy fields had been restored to give the area a distinct feel. I lingered long, walking along the raises edges of the fields, viewing them from different angles, pondering how their spread in ancient times had transformed the landscape of China – and provided the nutritional basis for its large population.
Too soon was this walk over. I had become used to longer distances, so the 12 kilometres felt more like a stroll.