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Blogging Beijing

The 2008 Summer Olympics will punctuate three decades of development and test China's global legitimacy. They've already transformed the way millions of people think and live. Seattleite and Fulbright researcher Daniel Beekman brings you Beijing.

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May 26, 2008 3:54 PM

Beijing's Fragrant Hills (& earthquake update)

Posted by Daniel Beekman

Earthquake update

A violent aftershock - registering magnitude 6.0 by the Richter scale - shook China Sunday, killing six people. At least 1,000 people were injured in the earthquake and more than 70,000 homes were destroyed.

Second-tier tremors have rippled through Sichuan province since May 12, when a tremendous earthquake - registering magnitude 8.0 - hit. Sunday's aftershock was the most powerful yet, hindering relief work in the city of Chengdu. The quake damaged as many as 200,000 homes in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi.

Aftershocks - real and rumored - have frightened many people here, especially in rural Sichuan. The May 12 disaster left hundreds of thousands homeless and 300,000 injured. Just half of the 59,394 who needed hospital treatment had been discharged last Wednesday, according to a Chinese health ministry. China's government has issued an international appeal for tents.

On May 12, entire mountainsides shuddered loose - blocking rivers across Sichuan. Thirty-five new lakes have formed; Chinese soldiers rushed Monday to dynamite several waterways free. Thousands of people have been evacuated from the area below Tangjiashan - a 'quake lake' in Sichuan's Beichuan County.

Officials warned that Tangjiashan could flood, submerging villages and threatening 700,000 earthquake victims.

Earthquake newslinks (more newslinks below story):

'Powerful aftershock hits China' (Seattle Times)

'China Sends Troops as Quake Waters Threaten 700,000' (Bloomberg)

'China races to dynamite 'quake lake'' (CNN)

'Soldiers race to prevent floods in quake zone in China' (International Herald Tribune)

'China moving the injured from earthquake zone' (L.A. Times)

'China quake survivors show signs of post-traumatic stress' (L.A. Times)

'China aftershock heightens fears' (Aljazeera)

'Facts and figures about China quake and relief' (People's Daily)

'Earthquake Death Toll Tops 65,000; China Makes Child Policy Exception' (Wall Street Journal)



When the smog descends. When the crowds press in. When the sun beats down. When the politics heat up.

When Beijing's 2008 Games become unbearable, repair to the Fragrant Hills. There you’ll rest below a breezy cypress, listen to mazhong tiles softly clack and gulp fresh air.

The Fragrant Hills - in Chinese, Xiangshan - are accessibly located an hour by public bus northwest of Beijing.

For nearly a thousand years, city-worn Beijingers have found sanctuary here. Jin Dynasty officials commissioned the park in 1186. China's Qianglong emperor - a renowned calligrapher - scattered temples, pavilions and gardens up and down its slopes.

Today, Xiangshan Park occupies 400 wooded acres. Stone-paved trails and stairs twist 1,800 feet to Xianglu ('Incense Burner') Peak. Follow one past Yanjing ('Spectacles') Lake and an 18th-century Tibetan lamasery - the sixth Panchen Lama's Beijing abode. Or stroll by Shuangqing Villa, the Communist Party of China's onetime headquarters.

Xianglu is hardly a quiet climb - tired toddlers whine, high-heeled hikers screech, elderly lushes bellow encouragement, while sweaty teenagers blast Taiwanese pop.

Dirt paths lead to abandoned outlooks and dappled groves, however. Xiangshan is worth a half-day trip. Smart visitors pack bags of fresh fruit - sold by the jin below the park's east and north gates.

Biyun Si (Azure Clouds Temple) is Xiangshan's most intriguing edifice. First constructed as a nunnery during Kublai Khan's Yuan dynasty and thrice-enlarged since, Biyun Si boasts six courtyards, stacked one by one up the mountain.

Heng and Ha, Buddhism's fearsome gate-guards, snarl ahead of Biyun Si. Inside the temple, lithesome cats explore courtyards, goldfish pools and prayer halls.

One wing has been dedicated to Dr. Sun Yat Sen (Sun Zhongshan) - the 'Father of Modern China.' Mourners carried the revolutionary, unifier and political leader to Biyun Si on March 12, 1925, the same day he died. Four years later, Sun's body was moved to a mausoleum in Nanjing.

Foreign troops - the Anglo-French Allied Forces and the Eight-Powers Allied Forces - burned and plundered the park in 1860 and 1900 respectively, diminishing Xiangshan's historical allure.

The Fragrant Hills rise, gentle and verdant, within sight of Beijing's Summer Palace. But - as a modern tourist site - Xiangshan plays second fiddle to that world-famous imperial retreat.

Which is to say: German back-packers, Japanese photographers and American sightseers haven't overrun the park yet. Admission is only 10 yuan, 5 yuan during the winter (prices may increase temporarily during the Olympic Games).

Chinese flock to Xiangshan once a year to appreciate the mountain's stunning foliage.

A Tang dynasty poet, Du Mu, once wrote of the Fragrant Hills:

Stopping in my sedan chair in the evening, I sit admiring the maples/ The frost-covered leaves are redder than the flowers of spring

Cable cars, rather than sedan chairs, ferry leaf-seekers up Xianglu Peak today. On a sunny day - summer, winter, spring or fall - the views are beautiful.

Beijing squats on a flat, dusty plain. Perched astride the Fragrant Hills, you'll measure the city's gray sprawl against shadowy mountains, puffing smokestacks and lonely factories.

Yellow winds from Inner Mongolia whip over Xianglu on their way to the sea; hold on to your camera and cap.

Beijing is so large, so dense, so full of bureaucracy, car exhaust and history - it's easy to feel swallowed-up, overwhelmed.

When the Olympics hit town this August, head for the Fragrant Hills. Atop Xianglu, smoggy Beijing swings back into focus.

More earthquake newslinks:

'China to build 1.5 million houses'

'Compassion, logistics, and nerves begin to fray in Chengdu'

'China quake zone draws 550 journalists from overseas media'

'More letters form Sichuan (Peter Hessler)'

'Rapid Response to Quake Enhances Beijing's Image'

'China leaders grapple with political aftershocks'

'Rapid Response to Quake Enhances Beijing's Image'

'A shadow is cast on a hopeful scene'

'Quake threatens ancient Qiang culture'

Non-earthquake newslinks:

'Slow starting gun worries China's Liu: coach'

'Eight pandas from Sichuan head for Beijing -- and Olympics'

'In Beijing, Learning to Speak Olympics'

'The Ticket That Knows Who You Are'

'What kind of relationship should China have with the West?'

'Exclusive: Leona Lewis and David Beckham to close Beijing Olympics'

'Beijing: Games will sell out'

'Olympics = Dialogue'

'China shortens torch relay's Tibet leg'

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