Last week I was excited to receive an invitation to meet with Mr Guan Zhanxiu, the Director of Zhengyangmen Gate (the southern gate of Tiananmen Square) and to view the exhibition about the Beijing Swift currently on show to the public. Mr Guan made arrangements for me to visit on Tuesday afternoon and so, at around 1400 I made my way to Zhengyangmen via Qianmen, at the southern end of Tiananmen Square.
Zhengyangmen gate, right at the heart of Beijing, is certainly one of the best places in the capital to view the Beijing Swift with several hundred pairs breeding amongst the beams of this historic building. On warm summer evenings from mid-April until late July, the Beijing Swifts’ spectacular sociable and noisy flights, wheeling around the rafters, are a sight to behold and an example of how wildlife can thrive even in the heart of our capital cities. From now until September this historic venue is hosting a stunning public exhibition dedicated to the Beijing Swift.
The exhibition is a wonderful mix of science, culture and history. There is a 25-minute video, including the history of the Beijing Swift in China, spectacular footage of the birds in flight and at their nests, and an animation of their migration.
Did you know, for example, that the first known visual representation of the Beijing Swift (see below) dates back more than 3,000 years to artefacts found in an ancient royal tomb? At that time, Chinese people believed their ancestors were transformed into Swifts after death, and these birds have had a special place in their culture ever since.
The video follows a pair of Beijing Swifts being studied by local academics. Incredibly, and shockingly, one of the nests contains a significant amount of plastic, a reflection of the omnipresence of this manmade material in our environment today.
Of course, the story of the Beijing Swift would not be complete without showcasing the Beijing Swift Project and the tracking of birds from the Summer Palace. Their incredible migration to southern Africa for the northern winter is depicted by a magnificent map showing the countries through which they pass on their way to and from southern Africa.
The exhibition will run until September and is open daily from 1000 to 1600. If you’re going to be in Beijing during this time, don’t miss it!
We’re hopeful that, after September, the exhibition will be available to schools and public spaces around the capital and beyond.
A big thanks to Director Guan Zhanxiu and his wonderful staff – Yuan Xuejun, Zhao Penghua, Li Lianshun, Jiang Junyi and Wang Jichao – for showing me around and explaining their personal connections with, and commitment to protecting, the Beijing Swift.