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#AndrewSingerChina Newsletter Vol. 2, Issue 10

History is the inevitable result of the passage of time. History is everywhere and in everything. How we react to history itself makes more history. The past seven days have been an emphatic week in China that saw the country officially return to a new era of Mao Zedong-style governance. A new era that is now flush with money and technology. With coverage of this weighty China news at the forefront, sometimes, like this Issue, viewing the lighter side of history can provide a helpful respite. History always has a lesson to teach.


 

The Entertaining Side of History


Qingming Riverside Landscape Garden


History has a lighter side. History as entertainment. A chance to unwind and play. In this, China and America each offer a historical entry that share many overlaps. China has the Qingming Riverside Landscape Garden (中国清明文化名园), a year-round theme park in Kaifeng, Central China. America has King Richard’s Faire, a seasonal, Renaissance festival in Carver, Southeastern Massachusetts.


Qingming Riverside Landscape Garden


The Qingming Riverside Landscape Garden is a re-creation of bustling urban life in twelfth century, Song Dynasty China based on an iconic Zhang Zeduan landscape handscroll entitled “Qingming Shanghe Tu” (“Along the River During the Qingming Festival” or “Peace Reigns Over the River”). This intricate, ten-inch-tall by seventeen-plus-foot-long painting was created 900 years ago. The handscroll depicts 800+ people (fewer than 20 are women), 8 dozen livestock, 110 dozen houses, 5 bridges, 2 dozen boats, 14 dozen trees, and a myriad more. Song China was the leading society in the world at that time (circa 1100 CE), with a flourishing economy, strong population growth, advanced technology, and rich philosophy, arts, and culture.


King Richard’s Faire


King Richard’s Faire is a re-creation of a boisterous market town in sixteenth century Tudor England, a fantastical kingdom today ruled by King Richard, the Eleventh (and his Queen). The latter part of this period in English history (circa late 1500’s CE) saw an economically prosperous and globally powerful England. Famous personages included Queen Elizabeth I, William Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, and Francis Drake. Interestingly (for my purposes here today), the Tudor Dynasty (1485-1603) came into being when Henry VII defeated King Richard III. The Faire’s Kingly namesake is not related. The original King was Richard Shapiro (Richard I). He once wrote that “’If my name had been Irving, it would have been called ‘King Irving’s Faire.’”


Qingming Riverside Landscape Garden

King Richard’s Faire


Behind the Song Kaifeng city gate, the Qingming Riverside Landscape Garden opens into a world of musicians, singers, fortunetelling, storytelling, cockfighting, shadow puppets, paper-cuttings, dough sculpture, porcelain workshops, sideshows, and pawnshops. There is 3,800-meter, manmade river spanned by bridges just as in the painting. There is a tournament field for horsemanship and battles, gaming venues for children (darts, archery, rope climbing, swings, and slides), and a marketplace for shopping, drinking, and eating. There are themed events as well as numerous stages for performances, including fire breathing, acrobats, elaborate light shows, and musical theater with singing and dancing.


[Warning, the following is going to sound like I copied much of the preceding paragraph – which I did, because it is true.] Behind the Tudor Kingdom gate, King Richard’s Faire presents a realm with musicians, singers, dancers, storytellers, minstrels, mimes, jugglers, magicians, comedians, puppeteers, acrobats, and mud beggars. Members of the Royal Court roam the grounds, as do knights, beggars, and wenches. There is a tournament field for horsemanship and jousting, gaming venues for children (darts, axe and knife throwing, archery, rope climbing, swings, and slides), and a marketplace for shopping, drinking, and eating. There are themed events as well as numerous stages for performances, including fire breathing, unicycle riding, whip shows, and musical theater with singing and dancing.


Qingming Riverside Landscape Garden

King Richard’s Faire


While somewhat similar in overall size (99 acres v. 80 acres), the former in Kaifeng is constructed to a whole other level than the simpler, sylvan setting in Carver (of which approximately half is a large, dirt field for parking). The Qingming Riverside Landscape Garden borders a large lake and contains functional, full-scale boats in its more than two-mile-long river. Of the 400+ buildings, there are hotels, mansions, houses, shops, the 100-ft.-tall Fuyun Pavilion, two substantial palaces, and a large imperial-style garden.


King Richard’s market town is built with a few dozen modest buildings housing shops, eating establishments, and entertainment venues. The China theme park employs more than 1,000 costume-wearing staff; the American Renaissance faire employs a few handfuls more than 100 costume-wearing staff. Audience participation is part of both attractions. In Tudor England, there is a live chess game with human players. In Song China guests can take the top spot in the Imperial exam or marry into a landlord’s family.


Qingming Riverside Landscape Garden

King Richard’s Faire


Even when history is of the entertainment variety, there can be subtler layers as well. While King Richard’s Faire is role playing and almost pure escapism (with a nod to life in Elizabethan England), Qingming Riverside Landscape Garden serves a deeper purpose. The Garden celebrates a high point in China’s ancient history. The theme park encourages an appreciation of the sophistication of the Song Dynasty. A quiet message of the Qingming Riverside Landscape Garden is pride in China and being Chinese.


King Richard’s Faire is personal for me. When my children were young, I brought them there every year for a decade. I was a participant (once) in the human chess game standing on the wide-open stage in the center of the forest. Much to my great embarrassment, when my move was to recite and act out “I’m a Little Teapot,” I forgot some of the words! I have been back since and attended again this year with one of my adult sons. There is something to be said about traditions (of both the light and more weighty variety). Maybe I will have an opportunity to visit Qingming Riverside Landscape Garden in the future in a city that was once an ancient capital of China.


Qingming Riverside Landscape Garden

King Richard’s faire