Songbird owners traditionally take their caged birds for walks, hanging cages from trees in parks and gardens so the birds can socialize.

IT’S SOMETHING old, something new in Beijing, where the city blends ancient Chinese and Western cultures and modernizes at warp speed.

At a cinema decorated with vintage Hollywood posters, two giggling girls snap photos and chatter on their cellphones. Dangling in front of them are decorative bird cages filled with electric lights, not the captive songbirds that have been beloved pets in China for centuries.

Songbird owners traditionally take their bamboo-caged birds for walks, hanging the cages from tree branches in parks and gardens so the birds — larks, mynas, thrushes — can socialize.

In the heart of thickly populated cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, where wild songbirds have fled the concrete-and-steel jungle, the song of the caged birds is an antidote to the urban roar, a remembrance of China past.

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Kristin R. Jackson is The Seattle Times NWTraveler editor. Contact her at