Foreigner: People used to think that the Chinese are not as healthy and fit as the people in the west, but I find that’s far from the case. I suppose that’s another example of our prejudices of western superiority.
Chinese: No, I wouldn’t say that’s a case of prejudice. We were indeed poor in health and weak in physique in the old days. In fact we were known as the sick men of Asia.
Foreigner: That’s certainly insultingly derogatory. No one, not even those prejudiced and unfriendly, would dare to use such a term to describe the Chinese people now. Just look at all those gold medals you’ve won at the Olympics!
Chinese: Yes, I must admit our performances at the Games are something we’ve reasons to be proud of, especially when we think of our miserable past performances. In the few games we participated in, we not only won no medals at all, but also put up very poor show even at the trials.
Foreigner: Impressive as your sports performances have been, it’s the general improvement in people’s health and fitness that impressed me most. China is still supposed to be a developing country, so I was surprised when I saw all the people looking as strong and healthy as people in any developed country.
Chinese: It’s all due to the general improvement of living conditions and the concern of the government. How could you expect people to be healthy and fit when they were having a hard time to keep body and soul together? In fact life has become so good and easy that now we face the danger of over-nourishment, especially for the children. Go to any classroom in a school and you are sure to see at least two or three little fatties in a class of say fifty children.
Foreigner: But I don’t see so many overly fat people in China as I see in the west, though there are quite a lot of fat children, as you’ve just mentioned. How do you explain that?
Chinese: As I see it, the difference in our style of living explains it. Your food is too rich and fattening and you don’t take enough exercises.
Foreigner: Ah yes, I see people of all ages taking exercises both in the mornings and also in the evenings. The parks every morning are always full of people doing all sorts of exercises. Younger people mostly do jogging, which is most popular in the west too because it’s so simple to do. The older people do taiji, which has been introduced to the west recently, but not many people can do it yet.
Chinese: Yes, it’s originally a school of Chinese martial arts. It differs from all other schools of martial arts in that it relies not on one's own physical strength, but on the physical strength of one's opponent. Its famous maxim is: “With my four liang I’ll remove your thousand jin.” Of course most people do taiji today not as a martial art, but as a form of physical exercise. It calls for synchronization of deep breathing and slow rhythmic movements, and requires high concentration. Its slow pace makes it specially suited to older people.
Foreigner: Yes, I find it fascinating to watch them. Another sight that impresses me greatly is to watch those colorfully dressed elderly ladies doing the yangge dance to the loud rhythmic music of cymbals and drums. Their lively spirit is very catching.