Many Chinese art
forms date back hundreds of years, however most strain to survive
following the 1949 Communist revolution. Artists were organised
into associations, meaning that the Party controlled every aspect,
both administrative and creative. Travelling theatre, music and
dance groups were created to deliver the Party's message to the
population together with teams of projectionists screening reels
of ideological films. Plays written prior to the 1950s, films
with human interest and the Beijing Opera were
quelled and their creators persecuted until the end of the Cultural
Revolution in the 1970s. Presently, many pre-Cultural
Revolution art forms are performed on a regular basis, as well
as modern versions, which celebrate current, ancient, and ethnic
As is expected from a capital city, Beijing is the leader of China's
cultural revival, and many teahouses have just recently reappeared
in the capital that present a variety of Beijing Opera, acrobatics
and martial arts and serve delicious tea and cakes.
Western influences have espoused to change traditional Chinese
art forms into contemporary pieces and the theatrical scene is
quickly changing. A recent advancement has been a fashion for
Chinese versions of Western plays, such as (most recently) Whose
Wife is it Anyway, or local dramatists trying foreign
styles, such as Absurdist theatre, or imitating influential playwrights,
such as Samuel Beckett. Also, Western music and dance is now performed,
and also, international acts often visit the city. The Beijing
Concert Hall offers both Chinese and Western music, whereas
the Zhengyici Theatre presents primarily Chinese
Also well worth seeing is traditional Chinese acrobatics, which
have existed in China for over two thousand years and include
anything from gymnastics and animal tricks to juggling and magic.
The style could be vaudeville, but performances are truly amazing,
with awe-inspiring feats.
Tickets for various events can be purchased from Webtix
(tel: (10) 6592-8449 or 6594-9460).
The Beijing Concert Hall, 1 Bei Xinhua Jie (tel:
(10) 6605-5812), just off Xi Chang’an Jie, is devoted to
classical music, with regularly scheduled concerts by Beijing’s
resident orchestra, as well as visiting orchestras from all over
China and overseas.
Beijing Opera is still quite popular and the best place
to see it is Zhengyici Theatre, located at 220
Qian Men Xi He Yan Jie (tel: (10) 6303-3104), an easy walk from
Heping Men subway station. Constructed in the 17th century, the
theatre was originally a Ming Dynasty temple prior to being converted
by some of the founding artists of the Beijing Opera company.
Evening performances are presented place at 1930 at the Liyuan
Theatre in the Jianguo Hotel, 175 Yongan Road.
Spoken drama has only been a part of Chinese theatres during this
century. The People’s Art Theatre in Beijing
became its primary home and, prior to the Cultural Revolution,
presented European plays that had a clear social message. The
past ten years has seen a total turnabout, with the People’s
Art Theatre, reformed in 1979, establishing its reputation with
a presentation of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.
They along with other companies perform at the Beijing
People’s Art Theatre, (in the Capital Theatre),
22 Wangfujing Dajie (tel: (10) 6513-5801).
Theatre will receive a significant boost in Beijing in 2003 when
China’s first National Theatre is scheduled
to open at Xi Chang’an Jie, just west of the Great Hall
of the People.
Traditional theatre, such as story-telling with musical accompaniment,
magic shows and acrobatics, is staged daily at the Lao
She Chaguan, 2nd Floor, Da Wancha Building, 3 Qian Men
Xi Jie (tel: (10) 6303- 6830), and at the Tianqiao Happy
Teahouse, 113 Tianqiao Nandajie (tel: (10) 6303-9013).
The most famous venue is the Wan Sheng Theatre,
Bei Wei Lu, just west of the Tianqiao Happy Teahouse (tel: (10)
6303-7449). Nightly shows are also presented at the Chaoyang
Theatre, 36 Dong San Huan Bei Lu (tel: (10) 6507 2421),
and Universal Theater, 10 Dongzhimennan Dajie
(tel: (10) 6502 3984). Performances at all venues begin at 1915.
Many movie theatres in Beijing are devoted to satisfying a seemingly
insatiable appetite for kung fu movies, although there is plenty
of occasion to enjoy the serious and fairly controversial movies
emerging from a new breed of younger film-makers. Foreign films
are primarily dubbed and carefully censored by the authorities
prior to being released to the public. A well known, central cinema
is the Capital Cinema, 46 Xi Chang’an Jie
(tel: (10) 6605-5510). The Sun Dong An Cinema City,
138 Wangfujing Dajie (tel: (10) 6528-1988), shows major American
Beijing’s appeal for movie directors as a sweeping, cinematic
panorama was most exquisitely demonstrated by Bernardo Bertolucci
in his famous 1987 epic, The Last Emperor. Set
in an old Beijing bathhouse, which is in danger by developers
who want to convert it into a shopping complex, Zhang Yang’s
1999 film, Shower, depicts the tension between
tradition and the dictates of commerce in modern Beijing. Farewell
My Concubine (1993) is an amazing epic spanning 50 years
of modern Chinese history including the Cultural Revolution and
depicts the relationship between two friends coming of age in
the world of Beijing Opera. It was an international success for
the director Chen Kaige. A very funny film set in modern-day Beijing
is Sorry Baby (1999) directed by Feng Xiao Gang,
a story about a feud between a rich businessman and his driver.
The Chinese New Year, ( late January or early
February), is the most important holiday of the year. The anticipation
and build up to the festival is as frantic as Christmas is in
the West, with parties, the exchanging of presents, and houses
and streets decorated with lights. Most Chinese celebrate the
beginning of the New Year with their families.
The Mid-Autumn Festival takes place in September
or early October and is celebrated by displaying lanterns in many
different shapes, such as animals, and by eating the traditional
moon cakes made of ground lotus, sesame and egg.
a funny joke in the most recent novel by the Chinese-American
writer, Amy Tan – The Bonesetter’s
Daughter (2001). A Chinese character from the book gives
the following dismissive appraisal to a Westerner who is captivated
by Beijing’s Forbidden City: ‘In those day, so many
thing forbidden, can’t see. Now everyone pay money see forbidden
thing. You say this forbidden that forbidden, charge extra.’
This says it all about current Chinese attitude towards Beijing
where reverence towards the city because its history and tradition
is geared very much to the effort of earning money.
acclaimed contemporary works of fiction that explore China’s
turbulent history and the effect of the Cultural Revolution have
become international bestsellers, most notably Half of
Man is Woman (1985), an autobiographical depiction of
life in a labour camp by Zhang Xiangliang. Lauded
as the Chinese Milan Kundera, Xianliang was born in Nanjing in
1936 and educated in Beijing.
celebrated novels include Wild Swans (1991) by
Jung Chan and Amy Tan’s The Joy
Luck Club (1989).
Xun (1881-1936) is well known as the father of
modern Chinese literature. His story, A Madman’s
Diary (1918), is noted as the first story written in
modern, colloquial Chinese – particularly in the language
spoken by the masses instead of the classic literary language.
Lu Xun embellished the early Communist movement and continues
to be regarded as a hero by the authorities. The small house he
lived in from 1912 to 1926 in beijing can still be seen near a
museum (open Tues-Sun 09:00-15:30) devoted to his life and work
at a hutong just off Fucheng Men Dajie, close
to Fucheng Men subway station.
for a modern Beijing-based writer who marks a change from the
serious tradition of social and political responsibility embraced
by the Communist Party, there is Wang Shuo. Dubbed
the ‘Chinese Jack Kerouac’ for his
mockery of almost every facet of Chinese life, delivered in a
savvy Beijing slang, his novel Please Don’t Call
Me Human (1989) is probably the finest introduction to
his work for foreign readers. Written following the Tiananmen
massacre, the book wickedly lampoons the state security machine
and its need to mold the individual into serving the interests
of the nation.