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Beijing Calendar and Events

Many Chinese art forms date back centuries but most struggled to survive following the Communist revolution of 1949. Artists were organised into associations, which meant that the Party controlled every phpect, both creative and administrative. Travelling theatre, music and dance groups were created to take the Party message to the masses together with teams of projectionists showing reels of ideological films. Plays written before the 1950s, films with human interest and the Beijing Opera were suppressed and their creators persecuted until the end of the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s. Now many pre-Cultural Revolution art forms are performed regularly, as well as modern versions, which celebrate ancient and current culture, as well as ethnic differences.

As to be expected from a capital city, Beijing is leading the country’s cultural revival, and a crop of teahouses have recently reappeared in the capital that show a variety of Beijing Opera, martial arts and acrobatics and serve delicious selections of tea and cakes.

Western influences have been embraced to transform traditional Chinese art forms into contemporary pieces and the theatrical scene is changing fast. A recent development has been a fashion for Chinese translations of Western plays, such as (most recently) Whose Wife is it Anyway, or home-grown dramatists experimenting with foreign styles, such as Absurdist theatre, or emulating influential playwrights, such as Samuel Beckett. In addition, Western music and dance is now performed, and the city often receives visits from international acts. The Beijing Concert Hall has a mix of Chinese and Western music, whereas the Zhengyici Theatre has mainly Chinese productions.

Also worth seeing is traditional Chinese acrobatics, which have existed in China for two thousand years and cover anything from gymnastics and animal tricks to magic and juggling. The style may be vaudeville, but performances are spectacular, with truly awe-inspiring feats.

Tickets for some events can now be purchased from Webtix (tel: (10) 6592 8449 or 6594 9460; website: www.webtix.com.cn).

Music: The Beijing Concert Hall, 1 Bei Xinhua Jie (tel: (10) 6605 5812), just off Xi Chang’an Jie, is dedicated to classical music, with regular concerts by Beijing’s resident orchestra, as well as visiting orchestras from the rest of China and overseas. Beijing Opera is still very popular and the best place to see it is Zhengyici Theatre, 220 Qian Men Xi He Yan Jie (tel: (10) 6303 3104), a short walk from Heping Men subway station. Built in the 17th century, the theatre was originally a Ming Dynasty temple before being converted by some of the founding artists of the Beijing Opera company. Nightly performances also take place at 1930 at the Liyuan Theatre in the Jianguo Hotel, 175 Yongan Road.

Theatre: Spoken drama was only introduced into Chinese theatres this century. The People’s Art Theatre in Beijing became its best-known home and, before the Cultural Revolution, staged European plays that had a clear social message. The last decade has seen a total turnabout, with the People’s Art Theatre, reassembled in 1979, establishing its reputation with a performance of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. They and 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 big boost in Beijing in 2003 when China’s first National Theatre will open at Xi Chang’an Jie, just west of the Great Hall of the People.

Teahouses: Traditional theatre, such as story-telling to musical accompaniment, magic shows and acrobatics, takes place daily at the Lao She Chaguan, 2nd Floor, Da Wancha Building, 3 Qian Men Xi Jie (tel: (10) 6