Dean Betz Staff writer
Section: LOCAL,  Page: B5

Date: Sunday, May 20, 1990

It is a daily ritual that can be seen in any city in China.

Small groups of older people get together outdoors in the mornings to go through the slow, graceful motions that make up the exercise called tai chi. It can also be seen in Lincoln Park, where a small group of elderly Chinese gathers daily on an empty tennis court to, as they say in their rudimentary English, "play tai chi."

"In China, really only the people who are over 50 years old, they play tai chi," said Xaiowei Guo, a tall, thin young woman from the city of Lanzhou who is finishing her Ph.D. in physics at the State University at Albany.

Her mother, Shangming Yan, is nearing the end of a yearlong leave she took from her job as a chemist at a government research institute to visit her daughter.

"Actually, before she came here she cannot do tai chi," said Guo, who, following tradition, has her father's surname.

"She just learned from her friends. All of those just came here to live with their daughter or son because they are also graduate students here."

She said there are many Chinese graduate students in Albany, with 25 in the physics department alone.

Last week, Yan was practicing with Zhenyuan Che and Yueqin Bao from Shanghai, who are in Albany to help their daughter Mingzin Che, a biology student, with her new baby.

It was more a social occasion than workout, with a group of elderly friends, their children and grandchildren chatting on the park benches by the court.

"You will find this very slow. Young people probably cannot stand this," said Guo, laughing, while watching the group go through exercises. "Like me, I cannot play this. Tai chi is very slow and very relaxed. For young people, it's not so exciting to play this. It's not a very strenuous exercise."

The young, just like their contemporaries in America, prefer competitive sports like soccer, she said.

Tai chi is mainly practiced by the elderly for its health benefits. "It can be very helpful for treating disease like high blood pressure or heart attack. And also it's very good for the muscle system and the nervous system and the metabolism," Guo said.

"If you go to China and went to a park or someplace like a garden, you will find a lot of people play this, in mornings especially. This is not limited to a place. You can play it anywhere, even it home. That's why it's so popular."

As temporary visitors in the United States, they didn't want to discuss China's political events of the past year, including the pro-democracy movement that was crushed in the bloody military crackdown on student protesters in and around Tiananmen Square last June.

When she returns to China next month, Yan plans to take home some scientific knowledge she gained here. She worked for three months in the state Health Department chemistry laboratory at the Empire State Plaza, researching the quality of the Hudson River and how waste water is treated.

"We treat some waste water in the Yellow River. I hope in China we can treat water as well as the United States."

She will also take with her a little knowledge of tai chi, learned not in a Lanzhou garden but in Albany's Lincoln Park.