Galleries, Shows & Theaters
Beijing is the political and cultural capital of China and is renowned for its fine Chinese arts, most famously the Beijing Opera and the acrobatics, which can be seen throughout the capital. Cultural arts aren’t only historic, though, and these days the city has trendy modern art districts like Dashanzi and is also the best place in China to hear local musical talent, from Beijing rock to bands using traditional Chinese instruments.
If you’re a fan of contemporary art, a trip out to the formerly industrial suburb of Dashanzi offers a chance to see some of China’s hippest (and strangest) exhibits. There are also plenty of trendy cafés where you can soak up the bohemian atmosphere.
Recommended galleries include the Beijing Tokyo Art Projects (www.tokyo-gallery.com), the Chinese Contemporary (www.chinesecontemporary.com) and the Hart Center of Arts, which are all on 4 Jiuxianqiao Lu. To get to Dashanzi, take bus #915, #918 or #934 from Dongzhimen.
If you don’t want to trek out to Dashanzi, there are also some contemporary art houses closer to town and the Red Gate Gallery, at Levels 1 & 4, Dongbianmen Watchtower, Chongwenmen (daily ) is one of the best. This hip modern gallery occupies two levels of a huge Ming dynasty watchtower and prides itself on being Beijing’s first contemporary art gallery.
Another gem is the Courtyard Gallery at 95 Donghuamen Dajie, Dongcheng (tel. 010-6526-8883), where you can combine a passion for good art with good food.
Beijing has a long acrobatic history and the mindboggling assortment of juggling, cycling, contortion and balancing acts will keep you on the edge of your seat. Ahost of acrobatics troupes operate in the capital and a show either here or in Shanghai is a must-see.
Of the various offerings the best in Beijing at the moment are:
_ Chaoyang Theater, 36 Dongsanhuan Bei Lu (www.acrobatics.com.cn; ¥180-380). They have nightly one-hour performances by acrobats ( and ) and by Beijing Opera at . This is definitely Beijing’s biggest and slickest acrobatics performance. Highlights include 12 girls on one bicycle and a stunning lion dance.
_ Tianqiao Acrobatics Theater, at 95 Tianqiao Market Street, Xuanwu (¥100-200), also offers nightly performances by the Beijing Acrobatic Troupe and, although the performance is similar to the aforementioned, there’s some excellent contortionism and unicycle stunts, and the smaller size of the theater allows you to get closer to the action. Nightly performances start at .
Beijing offers a number of exciting martial arts displays where the deathdefying stunts might even persuade you to take up kung fu! Legend of Kung Fu at the Red Theater, 44 Xing Fu Da Jie, in Chongwen (tel. 010-6714-2473; daily ; ¥180 to ¥680 with dinner) offers a number of dramatic displays, including some nail-biting spear maneuvers, although it is a little heavy on the sound and light, and that’s not even mentioning the fog or bubbles!
The Shaolin Warriors at 17 Jintaili, Xiaozhuang in Chaoyang (tel. 010-6404-8781; daily ; ¥180-¥380) have just returned from a World Tour, and their show features beautifully choreographed performances alongside edge-of-your-seat moves.
See also : Martial arts and acrobatics in China
Beijing Opera is a love-or-loathe experience and many visitors find they don’t have the patience, understanding (or earplugs) for a full-scale Beijing Opera performance, which can last for hours, and, in the past, even days. Thus the tourist-friendly, shortened, often subtitled versions available at some theaters around the capital present an easy introduction to the art. Many of these places also offer the chance to see the performers before the show, which allows you to really appreciate the detail of the makeup and costumes worn as well as to get some close-up photos.
One of the best of the tourist choices is at the Liyuan Theater (tel. 010-6301-6688, ext. 8860) in the Qianmen Hotel at 175 Yong’an Lu, which has evening performance at 7:30 pm. If you arrive an hour or so before the show’s start, you’ll find the performers out in the lobby, all ready for photographs and light conversation. Ticket prices start from ¥40 and go up to ¥280, which will give you a table near the stage where you’ll be served tea and light snacks to enjoy during the performance.
There are also shows at the Chaoyang Theater where standard seats again start from ¥40 or you can indulge in front-row tables and a full Beijing duck dinner for ¥800. Shows last an hour or two and it’s worth booking in advance for both of these options during the peak season.
Other places to experience opera while you eat include Jingcai Roasted Duck Restaurant in Wangfujing and the Laoshe Teahouse in Qianmen.
If you want to see opera in its original form, away from the subtitles and shortened tourist theater versions, take a stroll around Shichahai or the Temple of Heaven’s grounds in the early evening and you might well see crowds of elderly folk clustered around the local park star, enjoying a free performance.
For a more intimate opera experience, try visiting the Academy of Chinese Traditional Opera (tel. 010-6333-7672), at 400 Wanquan Si in Fengtai district. Here, the public is invited to watch the academy’s students rehearse once a week and, although the performances won’t be flawless (they are students after all), it’s a laid-back environment and provides a more personal experience. If you arrive early, you may even get the chance to go backstage and see the actors preparing their make-up. Rehearsals usually start at about on Fridays and only happen in semester time.
See also : Music, opera and song in China
Beijing’s Music Scene
Beijing has a long history of music and even a stroll through the Temple of Heaven is often enlivened by performances using traditional instruments. But, more surprisingly, the capital city, so close to the prying eye of the government, has also developed a thriving live music scene, which is dominated by Beijing .
If rock’s not your thing, there are also jazz bars and, for classical music, there are concert halls spread throughout Beijing, offering a wide range of performances – check City Weekend and that’s Beijing for upcoming events.
_ Beijing Concert Hall, 1 Beixinhuajie, Xicheng (tel. 010-6605-7006)
_ Forbidden City Concert Hall, Zhongshan Park, Xi Chang’an Jie, Xicheng (tel. 010-6559-8285)
_ Great Hall of the People, Tian’anmen Square west side, Dongcheng (tel. 010-6309-6156)
If you’re stuck on a rainy day, or simply want some time out from noisy Beijing, then Star City (Oriental Plaza, 1 Dongchang’an Jie, Dongcheng; _ 010-8518-5399) and Sun Dong An Cinema City (5F Sun Dong’an, 138 Wangfujing Dajie; _ 010-6528-1838) movie theaters have regular screenings in English.
There are those who argue that Shanghai’s nightlife is where it’s at, but anyone who’s spent a few nights on the tiles in Beijing recently might have reason to contest this. New bars and whole new bar districts
are popping up all over the place and the only way to keep track is by keeping an eye on the ever-changing listings and reviews in City Weekend and that’s beijing.
Beijing’s nightlife traditionally revolved around the expat embassy district of San Litun Lu, a fact so strongly embedded that if you get in a taxi and say jiuba lu (bar street), this is where you’ll find yourself.
What was just one street expanded to fill the surrounding alleys and has recently been extensively remodeled, but you have to pick and choose to avoid the characterless tourist bars of the main strip. However, these days San Litun Lu is by no means the only nightlife zone found in the city – other worthwhile districts include the nearby Worker’s Stadium, Shichahai where you can drink overlooking the lake, Nanluoguxiang nestled in the hutongs, and Haidian out in the suburbs.
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