From heritage to health – Ritan Park, Beijing

Just along from our current hotel in the centre of Beijing, is Ritan Park, situated in the Jianguomenwai area very close to the British Embassy. The park is one of the oldest in Beijing, dating from 1530 and was built as a temple to the sun god.  Chinese emperors would make ritual offerings at the central altar.  It was a place of worship for the Chinese imperial court of the Qing (1644-1911) and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties.  On a previous visit to the park, I watched a live action reinterpretation of the ceremonies in the central reconstructed ritual area. This seemed to involve local school children, all decked out in period costume with relevant accessories – what a memorable history field trip and doubt successful at reinforcing cultural identity and history!

Given the park’s centrality in a densely packed city, it has been re-designated as a Health and Wellbeing facility, with many exercise, walking and activity stations, as well as perimeter paths laid out with distance benchmarks for fitness and recreation measurement.

There is a comprehensive interpretation and orientation scheme through the park, with plenty of signage to inform and amuse this Western eye which is slightly obsessed with signage as my #heritagesigns tweets regularly suggest.

Author: Ian Baxter

Heritage management / historic preservation academic at Heriot-Watt University; Vice-Chair of the Built Environment Forum Scotland (BEFS); Trustee of The Heritage Alliance. Obsessed by administrative histories of heritage organisations, heritage signs, and the design of site guidebooks.

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