Spotlight on History: the Wangfujing Mound
by Reg Micklewhite
Not too far from Wangfujing, now perhaps the world's most famous shopping street, you can find one of Beijing's most delightful - and historically significant - park-related items.
In 1980, Deng Xiaoping decreed the creation of the Wangfujing Mound, saying "Just as the new China shall rise, so indeed shall an artificial hill rise just over there", as he pointed out of his car window with an elegantly gloved hand.
Deng was searching for a new emblem of communal spirit at that time, after the failure in the previous year of the much-vaunted Five Star Big Kite Project. Inaugurated in 1979, the quest to build a really large kite as an emblem of the country had run into one problem after another.
"When you get right down to it," says Lu Fulin, the retired tractor cleaner who now curates the Five Star Big Kite Project Museum in Shijiazhuang, "although it was a very big kite, it was still just a kite." Many critics of the project argued at the time that the kite's size in itself made it less impressive than it should be, as due to its largeness it frequently appeared to be flying much lower than it actually was.
With the flying contraption shelved, Deng gave orders for the commencement of the Wangfujing Mound construction. Work began immediately three months later, with soil brought in specially by shovel from the immediate vicinity. When the main body of mound was complete, rocks were placed on top of it in a largely slapdash fashion, having been specially chosen to be reminiscent of rocks of the Tang and Song dynasties.
The Mound was further beautified in 1993 with the addition of a row of five bright blue chemical toilets, lending an air of wistful melancholia to the south-west corner, as opposed to the cheerful gadabout spirit the rest of the Mound infuses in visitors. Today, the Wangfujing Mound provides a pleasant refuge from the hustle and bustle of the nearby shopping district, with elegant trees and paths, and also benches.
The Wangfujing Mound also marked a minor turning point in Sino-American relations, as its adoption meant a full move away from the Five Star Big Kite Project, especially loathed by President Reagan. "If you want to rile up President Reagan," said then White House press secretary Larry Speakes in a statement to a group of Scandinavian ice hockey journalists, "you can't go wrong with kites. He hates them. That's what this whole "Star Wars" system thing is about - shooting down kites."