Tel. 010/6303-7449; Business Hours - nightly shows at 7:15pm
Pricing (2006 November last check) ¥100-¥200/$12-$25
rest and have some entertainment. In this way, the whole of the Tianqiao Area served as a distribution point for people to gather and then find their way to their destinations within the city.
With the growing of Xuanwu into the commercial center of the City, but also home of the lower casts and recipient of camel caravans from afar, the legion of street artists among the mix of cultures in Xuanwu and around Tian Qiao grew to large numbers. Although, over time some of the audience gentrified - and later even internationalized to some extent, the Tianqiao area always retained its cultural vibrancy right up until its near demise in the dark days of the Mao Zedong Era (1949-1976) in politics.
Soon in the early developments after the re-organization of the City by Emperor Yongle during the third reign of the Ming Dynasty, being situated along the major and obligatory thoroughfare for traffic traveling up from south to north into the most important parts of the city, the Tianqiao Area between the poor dwellings in the southern districts became the main center of street performance in Beijing. With the large Qianmen Avenue naturally shaping the border of Xuanwu and Chongwen Districts on the road to the Main Gate of the Imperial City, the Tianqiao Area supplied a sort of convenient halfway point for everyone to stop, replenish,
This page was last updated on: June 15, 2017
The Theater - Exterior
As briefly summarized above, it is not by chance that the Tianqiao market is located along the main artery to the front gate (QianMen) of the Imperial City. On the contrary, the existence of the wide road up to the front main gate spawned the existence of the Tianqiao Theatres, its traditions and its many artists throughout the decades.
On this commercially strategic location, which were also the grounds for a market, the many performers found plenty of flock passing in and out of the city, buying at the local market and the like. Many were travelers from out of town and from faraway places, some hungry and tired,
The best commercial spots to "own" were of course those nearest the corner of QianMen Dajie, the main street leading up to the Front Gate and outer walls of the City of Beijing which today, revived pre-2008 Olympics, is still home to some famous and historic restaurants. The best restaurants and the best theatre performances managed to secure the best spots, while other lesser theatres and less civilized forms of entertainment were more or less pushed away, dispersed into the many side streets and little alleys in the near vicinity.
In the wider surrounding area yet other thriving community activities and also abundant markets developed.
(Please refer to adjacent available map of old Beijing in 1936 for further details and other locations to visit).
The Tianqiao area, due to it's long
history and tradition of the various
kinds of Chinese folk arts performed, slowly grew into the cradle of Chinese folk culture and art in Beijing (and North China).
Here, where many original folk performances such as acrobatics, Peking Opera and music were performed daily, new methods, techniques and styles were constantly being devised. Competition among the artists often was great, and the ever-critical Chinese public demanded a high level of skill. Thus, the Tianqiao area repeatedly gave birth to the best and most famous of performers in Chinese history.
Techniques and styles here developed and cultivated were caried by others along the central grand canal and other trade routes and radiated out over China, becoming part of all of Chinese culture in all Provinces, towns and villages.
Music, dance, street acrobatics and Peking Opera were the mainstay of performances in the Tianqiao Area of Beijing and throughout the cities of China through the centuries and millennia. As described in short, these folk arts have survived and lived throughout time developing into the Chinese stage arts we know today. These stage arts that are so typical for Chinese culture have long been part of the Chinese soul and identity and currently remain at the heart of Chinese identity.
As official state endorsed Chinese History recalls it; due to this important role of folk arts in Chinese culture, and of course the important contributions of many artists and performers to the Chinese Revolution
(Many (street-)artists flocked to the revolutionary HQ in Yenan, Shaanxi, after which the folk arts became an intrinsic part of the revolutions media machine spreading the word on goals and disciplines),
since 1949 these various folk art forms have gained new respectability and were instituted as such by the New State.
Ensuring their continued role in Chinese culture, after the revolution, so called "Acrobatic Troupes" have been established in the provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities such as Beijing and Shanghai.
Although this is indeed true on paper, factually the arts suffered greatly from the nihilism and political persecutions which ebbed and waved across the Chinese Nation from 1949 onwards, especially in Cultural Revolution Era which made up the last decade before the death of Mao Zedong in 1976.
In the meantime, much of the real reason that the Wansheng Theatre and other such institutes were established after the Revolution was mainly to have an easy to grasp diplomatic tool which would be sure to enthrall any foreign audience. And so, the many hard working acrobats who finally were selected to join the Beijing Acrobatics Troupe were really the top of the best, as they came available through the years. Most of the acrobats have now
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An elderly lady in traditional Hutong Dress sits outside the Wansheng Theatre. The entrance to the Theatre is through the small gate and lantern-hung alley.
Handpainted Wall Posters call the old days of history into remembrance. As depicted for many centuries the Xuanwu District was basicallly a collection of slums, shacks and tents. Although at many times major arrangements in the city were made, the sprawling blocks of Hutong and their main traditions persisted until the advent of the Peples Republic which eventually put a ban on traditional folk arts because they supposedly represented feudalism and old thoughts no longer needed in the nvisioned socialist paradise. By the end of the 1980s when a new light dawned traditional street arts had almost died out but had not been forgotten.
Front of the Wansheng Theatre during daytime. Established in 1949 AD at the advent of the new China today the building of the theatre is considered a natural Cultural and Architectural relic, unique due its conception in a new period. It stands as a reminder of the survival of the arts through an otherwise dark period.
Details of the front of the Wansheng Theatre, established in 1949 AD.
An inscribed in Stone - the text declares "Wan Sheng Theatre".
Scene from Beijing Execution grounds at the advent of photography. A prisoner is sliced to death in public. The particularly gruesome and vengeful punishment of death-by-a-1000-cuttings was considered one of the worst penalties possible.
Origins of Chinese Acrobatics
As may be read from the preserved earliest remaining forms of paper writing in the world and from various ancient art works left to posterity by generations of Chinese artists, in China, acrobatics (an art initally known as "Hundred Plays") have been a part of the culture since the Western Han Dynasty over 2500 years ago.
In those earliest of days when "China" was much smaller and most of the population were farmers, acrobatics were part of village harvest festivals. The earliest acrobatic feats performed in ancient Han China and also later on, all involved general tools for daily use on a farm. In part due to necessity, the original tradition of using daily implements in the creation of acrobatics shows is still alive today as it continues in the remote and mountainous western inland parts of the China.
Already during the years of the Han Dynasty (221 BC - 220 AD), acrobatic shows, often played at luxury stages, had developed various branches of speciality.
View of the Tianqiao Theatre Front across from the Wansheng Theatre. The home and podium of the National Ballet of China which is another theatre organization and National Institute which made grand contributions to Chinese International Diplomacy and soft power, during the cold war and Chinas long self chosen period of isolation from the world, and is continuing to do so today.
As one may see in the Tang Era Mural named "an outing by the Lady of Song", a rare art work found at the UNESCO world cultural heritage Mogao Caves near Dunhuang in Gansu Province along the Silk Road, and other preserved art works of later date, at the time acrobats had become part of the mix of artisans that
The main entrance to the Wan Sheng Theatre in view of modern appartments. Today, many years later, it is all a lot more glamorous at the Theatre.
A large Neon Sign with bright dancing acrobats announces the Theatre in Evenings.
The main entrance to the Wan Sheng Theatre oddly is not found at the Front at Beiwei Lu but at the East-side of the building.
As thus described above, variety arts in China, which includes tightrope walking and acrobatics, but initally also animal acts with horses and less frequently tigers, as well as sleight of hand (juggling, magic shows and the like) date back at least as far as the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) and similarly later became very popular as entertainment in the imperial courts.
In later history many of these various art-forms and feats were incorporated into the traditional theater and they continued to be performed by itinerant troupes traveling the country. As these troupes traveled around they developed, copied and learned from eachother and enriched their repertoir and Chinese culture as a whole.
One of the places where this process was taking place was the Tianqiao Area of the Imperial Capital of Beijing.
Fresh and Modern Appartments have arisen in and around the Tianqiao Area, reviving the neighborhood and adding considerable glamour to the previously rather destitude hutong surroundings. While much of Beijing history has been lost with the going of the Hutong, some traditions will remain.
Morning passersby at Wansheng Theatre in 2002.
Most of the passing tourist audience will remain oblivious to the rich history of the theatre as its true and complete facts are to say the least under advertised to the international tourist public.
As in days past - today's tourists and locals further enjoy variations on the stage acts who's foundations were laid so long ago.
Traditional acts such as "balancing on the long pole", "jumping through hoops" and "breathing fire" are still in use, but Beijing and China have modernized too.
Nowadays spectacular costumes abound and are the norm. Space Age features have replaced more traditional dress, stages are enlarged, very colorful and eye-catching, and more much more impressive.
Since the earliest recoveries of the Beijing cultural scene and building upon the initial success of the Beijing Acrobatic Troupe, the Chaoyang Theatre has opened with an additional Chinese Acrobatics show also performed with members of the some 150
Another bastion of the art of acrobatics was considered Wuqiao County of Hebei Province.
As with stage developments, over time scenery near the Wansheng Theatre and in the Tianqiao Area have also changed considerably.
Where before the nighttime activity in the Tianqiao Area was extremely low for western standards, the situation has much improved since the year 2002. With more affluence in China's large cities, long overdue renovations have taken place and the nearby area is now dotted with upscale apartments home to young families with an above average income. In turn the downtrodden sections of Tianqiao have blossomed in a sense putting the historic part of the city back on the cultural map where it belonged. Thus, today Tianqiao is definitely to be considered a real estate success.
As a result of the influx of Capital and tourist around the year 2008 Olympics the entire Tianqiao cultural zone has once again be revamped, with new bars, shops, boutiques and entertainment restaurants appearing nearby. The nearby Tianqiaole Tea House even features traditional martial arts performances, always a hit among foreign visitors and other places offer a variety of other stage shows.
In the current day situation, the art of Chinese Acrobatics is alive and well, finding renewed crowds of enthusiastic and often awestruck fans among the many visitors to all acrobatic theatres spread across the city of Beijing.
View of the Wansheng Theatre from the Tianqiao Theatre in 2002. Already in this early stage the are was incorporated in renewal plans for life in a more modern city.
Rickshaw and Hutong snacks at Beiwei Lu and the Wansheng Theatre.
This page was last updated on: June 15, 2017
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others in waiting with plenty of time to kill during. Visitors here were thus easy to seduce to some leisure time and watching the acrobatics, martial arts, opera or other artistic performances going on all the time in the immediate vicinity.
Although by now Chinese Acrobatics have been made popular the world over, with its techniques copied in famous stage shows such as the "Cirque du Soleil", in todays Beijing the options for catching a good show are still limited to but 3 addresses.
First and foremost, due to its post 1949 status and its official Government sponsorship, is the show at the Wansheng Theatre. The Wansheng Theatre is the home of the initially Government sponsored Beijing Acrobatics Troupe.
Notably, not a very long way to the west from Tianqiao but yet at enough distance, in a large open field, the (public) execution grounds of the city were located. Local ruffians with a taste for the cruder kind of entertainment could further satisfy themselves there, as public executions, with or without torture involved, were routine almost until the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1911.
Pick-pockets and others frequenting this spot in the Tianqiao Area with its convenient crowds and watering holes, could already take a warning from this alternative ongoing activity.
Today, thankfully the Caishikou execution no longer exists with the space filled in with apartment highrises which replaced yet other structures which had been built there. Only its name and memory continue as it is still the designation for a neighborhood in the Xuanwu- western half of the southern districts of Beijing and the sight is remembered through its appearance on maps of the old city left by the cartography sections attached to the various "Embassies" held by invading European Nations in Beijing after 1860.
Returning to the more enlightened sides of the Tianqiao Area in the previous centuries, about one and a half city block beyond and to the north of the location of the Wansheng Theatre, one may find another spawn of the arts and cultural central that the area formed. The building in case is the Huguang Guild Hall, which is another worthwhile place to visit.
The Huguang Guild Hall is a famous historic location, among things because it was once the location of the founding of the Kuomintang Nationalist Party of China. Its main function however is as a Peking Opera Theatre. It was constructed in the relatively late year of 1807 AD, at a time when the Tianqiao area had long established its name as the magic center of folk arts, in that specific location because there it could serve the needs of the critical public market which had long since been established through the hard work of countless artists passing through the establishments and schools of art in the Tianqiao area. For some it was indeed a heavenly bridge.
As is today recalled, the Huguang Guild Hall went on to become one of three main stages for Peking Opera in the city of Beijing, its lights lasting well beyond the fall of the Qing Dynasty and the theatre revived and alive again today. Other, lesser theatres have long since disappeared, and the cultural life in the Tianqiao Area was nearly extinguished during the dark anti-capitalist and anti-traditional decades of the early Peoples Republic of China. In fact, although today this is never mentioned - presumably because this is found to be embarrassing information - if not for its use as a tool in International Diplomacy, Tianqiao and with it probably the most elevated forms of Chinese Acrobatics, would likely not have survived. Specifically during the Cultural Revolution Era under the direct leadership of the wife of Mao Zedong, Jiang Qing, cultural life - especially in the Capital City - came to grinding halt as virtually all forms of entertainment, be they books, radio, cinema or theatre were banned wholesale, its practitioners persecuted, sent to labor camps and forced to go underground in the countryside, either losing their skills or secretly practicing to keep the arts alive. Unsung heroes thus allowed for the survival of and a yearning for Chinese Acrobatics in reaches far beyond the locality of this one theatre.
Sad as these facts are, because of them today the Wansheng Theatre, the surrounding Tianqiao neighborhood and Chinese Acrobatics itself are even greater gems shining into the world of today than many of the worlds spectators will realize.
as European acrobatics did in the Middle Ages as highly skilled artists moved upscale and away from street performances.
In this particularly prosperous period for the Chinese Nation, its culture and its arts, acrobats and artists increasingly performed at courts and palaces and parties of the feudal elite. This situation further developed through the 7th to 10th century, making court performances for a highly critical audience the dominating practice in this original folk art.
elite persona would take along as announcement of their impending arrival.
Another Tang Dynasty Era Mural usually identified under the name of "Lacquered Slingshot" (Qishi Dangong) vividly depicts the various aspects of a full acrobatic show in 7 scenes, thus revealing that by the end of the Tang Era, acrobatics had become as diverse as todays performances, having equal
Map of Beijing in 1936 AD - 1936 AD Beijing City Plan
Schematic Map of the the Walled City of Beijing in the year 1936 AD produced for tourist purposes and as souvenir. The Map highlights the various Palaces, Main Temples and other monuments of interest within the city, as well various other spots of historic or commercial interest. Apart from a number of minor Temples and the still famous Hong Qiao thieves market, this map further depicts the various landmarks found just outside of the city walls, as well as the all important Grand Canal and the trajectory of the first railroad to service the city of Beijing and the first circular railway line that stood at the birth of today's hypermodern city-wide public transportation.
Click the various locations and elemnts on the map to go through and find more information, backgrounds and photo's on each location of your interest.
CLICK MAP IMAGE TO GO TO FULL VERSION !!
been forgotten but the international events which they complimented with their performance are recorded and often still remembered today. Notably, most of not all diplomatic crews traveling to Beiiing were taken to see an acrobatics show and the one main address was the Wansheng Theatre. For long Chinese groups however were shunned from deploying their charm offensive in the United States. That is until, the National Acrobatics Troupe of the Peoples Republic, since its official establishment in 1953 the National Representative Group, was invited by President Nixon to perform at the White House in Washington, D.C. The event, now remembered as but a minor part of the major events in international diplomacy that culminated soon after and have been developing to this day, made the art of Chinese Acrobatics instant world news and its glorious existence therefor became knowledge among a broader world public for the very first time. At least in China and the United States, the members of the Beijing Acrobatic Troupe which formed the core of the National selection, are credited with pulling off a major feat of International Diplomacy, the effects of which will long be remembered.
Thus, much owing to the International Diplomatic core and the need for clean, attractive and representative entertainment in order to impress and woo foreign audiences, in post-revolutionary Beijing the Wansheng Theatre became the successful home and base of the Beijing Acrobatic Troupe.
elements to shows performed among things at the Wansheng Theatre in Beijing such as group stunts as building a human pyramid, and the the balancing of poles with and without other objects or even people balancing on top. In one of the scenes in this ancient art work a small girl is balanced in a cup which itself is placed atop a long pole reminiscent of traditional tricks still performed today at the Wansheng Theatre and other Beijing Venues.
A brief review of the art of Chinese Acrobatics cannot go without the mention that factually during most of the Tang Dynasty Era there was no such thing as a city of Beijing. The rich tradition of having high level acrobatics available for the publics entertainment was however transmitted via the Khitan Liao Dynasty, who first founded a Capital at the location of Beijing (read more in the chapter: "History of Beijing"), and more over, later during the Yuan and Ming Dynasties, at which time Beijing became the National Capital and traditions and city lay out were set much as they can be found today.
As one may find reflected in an art work dated to the year 1485 AD and named "Emperor Xianzong makes Merry" and various other paintings and scrolls found in the extensive collection of the "Forbidden City" Palace Museum, during the Ming Dynasty (1368 AD - 1644 AD) and the subsequent Qing Dynasty Era (1644 AD - 1911 AD), altogether for about 6 centuries, Chinese acrobatics continued to develop in sophistication and thanks to a continuing pool of fans became a mainstay of cultural life for the normal people in the great Capital City. Where in Peking Opera women were banned from the stage entirely, in acrobatics men and women cooperated closely in each show.
A human pyramid performed during a show at the Wansheng Theatre.
souls strong Beijing Acrobatic Troupe. In addition, the Tiandi Heaven and Earth Theatre has its own show performed by the China Acrobatic Troupe, also of sizeable membership.
Theatre and Acrobatics schools in the city are once again thriving and, at least since the 2008 Olympics, an Acrobatic Show by the China Acrobatic Troupe and Acrobatics are once again among the Top Attractions must-see attractions in the City. Although deemed a traditional art, Chinese Acrobatics today are by no means traditionalist, and a visit to any acrobatics show truly is a guarantee for memorable experience.
Since then, the troupe has received many awards in Chinese acrobatic competitions on a National and International Level. In 2007 it was awarded the first prize at Moscow’s 3rd International Circus Arts Festival for yet another imaginative stage act, in case a remarkable Chinese Pole act, which was later also featured at Circus Krone in Munich in 2011. As one may find, various international acrobatics and circus shows have copied routines and elements there of from the original Chinese Show. Among things, one may recall the fabulous butterfly act, in Beijing a classic, which
The butterfly act is a an originally Chinese Acrobatic performance the elements and techniques have now been borrowed by international shows.
has been used extensively by the Cirque Du Soleil in order to thrill and stun its audiences.
The Beijing Acrobatic Troupe has over 150 performers and apprentices, who train in a compound in the Xuanwu District of Beijing, where they have a gymnasium, offices, workshops, and living quarters for the members of the troupe. They perform all-year round in the historic, century-old Tianqiao Acrobatics Theater.
Second in line is the later competitor but also befriended show at the Chaoyang Theatre in Beijing. Where the Wansheng Theatre is the absolute classic with absolutely stunning performances, the Chaoyang Theatre has found the cutting edge in bringing the latest dare-devil techniques, inventions and also the flashiest and most modern outfits.
Last address is the Beijing Tiandi Theatre (北京天地剧场) or Universal Theatre (also known as "Heaven and Earth Theatre") at Dongzhimen South Avenue No.10. This theatre sits close to the more well-known Poly Theatre and alike the Wansheng Theatre offers a smaller sized hall which allows for a closer experience and better view of the acrobats at work performing their amazing feats. Tiandi Heaven and Earth Theatre is the home of the China Acrobatics Troupe (of Beijing).
Other opportunities to catch glimpses of Acrobatics Performances in Beijing are at the various official Chinese Acrobatics Schools found in the historic parts of the Xicheng District and other parts of the city. Be curious and arrange to see what few get to see ! You will never forget the day you first went to see a Chinese Acrobatics show.
Be one of the audience and join a show at the Wansheng Theatre in Xuanwu Beijing.
Furthermore, theaters specifically dedicated to the variety arts were built in major cities, among these the Wansheng Theatre and the adjacent Tianqiao Theatre for the National Ballet (and Traditional Chinese Dance). Since then, in over 50 years of rich performances at home and abroad, some troupes have become world famous, playing to packed houses at home and even more frequently on foreign tours across all continents.
Throughout the 1970s, the 1980s and well into the current day, Chinese Acrobats and now also Peking Opera Groups have toured international stages in all world cities representing the best sides of all of Chinese Culture. Only in recent years are they joined on the international stage by Chinese Cinema actors, another art earlier treasured in the southern districts, but also temporarily lost to this world Capital due to earlier political developments.
A full and complete overview of the highlights in the history of the Wansheng Theatre and its Beijing Acrobatic Troupe could not be complete without relating that in the auspicious year of 1995, the Beijing Acrobatic Troupe won a Gold Medal at the internationally acclaimed Paris’s Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain with a (group) diabolo act. Subsequently, in the following year, this act was presented at Cirque du Soleil—thus beginning a long association with this world famous Canadian circus.
China's highest political leaders visit, congratulate and honor the often very young athletes of the Beijing Acrobatic Troupe at the Wansheng Theatre.