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Dancing around a sensitive issue in The Beijing News

JDM061130dongdan.jpg
The Beijing News runs a twice-weekly "Beijing Geography" feature that introduces some part of the city with local color - a different neighborhood, park, or local business in each installment. On Tuesday, part #562 in the series, Dongdan Park was profiled.

This former airfield became one of the city's first free parks in 1955, and earth excavated from later subway construction was used to build a hill topped with a pavilion that gazes over downtown Beijing. The history and current atmosphere of Dongdan Park is covered fairly comprehensively in the feature, but blogger "aside" notes a more interesting social phenomenon that TBN hints at but does not state outright. From the feature:

In Their World by the late writer Wang Xiaobo and Li Yinhe, Dongdan Park was mentioned many times. In addition, Wang Xiaobo's other works also have events repeatedly occurring at Dongdan Park. Dongdan Park in Wang Xiaobo's writing, regardless of how raucously he described the noise of the city, always gave off a feeling of otherworldly silence. The author's adaptation is seen as a failure in the eyes of older park visitors; Old Mr. Yang, who has taken strolls here for more than 70 years, said that as he sees it, the park was never like that, but rather was a place where all kinds of people mixed.

Some park visitors said that the advantage of spots like public toilets, streets, and parks is that they are free, so they are excellent venues for social interaction; people here can get a sense of camaraderie. Because of the appearance here of special populations, the gender identification of this park began to get confused. But regardless, it still is going strong, and has the strong lines of a former army base. To the south are other similar public green spaces, but most of them are associated with other kinds of words: damp, gloomy, and tepid. As long as they don't interfere with other people, visitors can sit here and observe other visitors. They will quickly discover, however, that those talking in low voices act quite natural, while those looking for novelty out of questionable motives are the ones who slink around.

An interviewee said that people here more or less can take the pressure of public opinion; their legal status is also vague - they've had to submit to this humiliation. Perhaps this is a timeless, cross-cultural phenomenon, but timelessness does not imply that something must continue, nor does universality mean fairness. Fortunately, we saw that, there was no friction in the park between this group of people and other visitors; whether this is because they've seen it all, or because they truly have come to an understanding, it still is an example of social progress.

From an interview with a 28-year-old man from Nanjing:

This is my first time here. I'm on business, and I arranged to meet an online friend from Beijing here. In a bit, when the person comes, I'll ask you to leave, since the person is shy. It wasn't that we had to select this place; just that that neither of us had been here before. I've heard that many people don't come here anymore - when a place gets too well-known, then it doesn't feel right to come have fun anymore. I don't go to those bars very often in Nanjing. I like meeting in parks better, especially those places that have grass and trees. I intentionally arrived early - it's nice to talk with other people, too.

And a conversation with a police officer:

Wang Liang is from the Dongcheng PSB and has worked in the park for three years on special duties. During the course of the interview, he would nod in greeting to the surrounding visitors walking in pairs. He said that this place is different from Zizhuyuan Park - since a special sort of people congregate here, criminal activity is present. To carry out his work, when he first arrived at Dongdan Park he concealed his identity and familiarized himself with the rules of interaction in this group of people, on many occasions busting and bringing to a swift halt pernicious events that might have occurred. Wang Liang said that a person like him has no desire to intrude on anyone's privacy, but things that had to do with illegal disturbances are within their administrative jurisdiction. Wang Liang explained that the restrooms did not used to charge a fee, but because of management headaches they started to charge. Later, because visitor complained, they cancelled the fees again and now have a dedicated cleaner. Wang Liang said that not many people conduct their activities here these days - they typically meet up in the park and then go to a close-by hotel to connect.

This isn't the first time that a TBN report has been coy about its subject matter. In September, Muzi Mei was interviewed by the newspaper for a full-page feature on her search for a husband. In the article, however, she was only identified by her real name, Li Li, and no mention was made of her online persona or her fame as a "sex blogger."

Links and Sources
  • Note: The Beijing News has collected earlier installments of its "Beijing Geography" feature into stand-alone books; this is likely the reason why the articles are not on the TBN website. See Aside for images from the PDF.
  • Aside blog (Chinese): So careful it's cute
  • The Beijing News (Chinese): The man who marries me is worthy of respect
There are currently 4 Comments for Dancing around a sensitive issue in The Beijing News.

Comments on Dancing around a sensitive issue in The Beijing News

That might be the most cautiously worded article I've ever read.

I am an idiot. It's a park for gay people to meet, or just any horny folks? Why be as cryptic as your sources?

Fair criticism, Tigger.

The full title of Wang Xiaobo and Li Yinhe's book is Their World: A Perspective on the male homosexual population in China. Homosexuality, and particularly the park's function as a site for cruising, is the sensitive issue that The Beijing News is carefully avoiding mentioning directly.

Very interesting article. I visited the Park several times just to get way from the heat and noise, and would have never guessed.
You cant notice during daytime.

Thanks for the remarks about Dongdan Park being an airfield before, but what is the story on that?

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