ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT IN CHINA
ArtArt in Beijing is centered around Factory 798, an ex-arms factory in northeastern Beijing that evolved into trendy art complex in the early 2000s and boasts shops, galleries, studios, restaurants, bars, music clubs, offices for architects, designers and advertising agents, and small halls that host exhibitions, live music, performance art and seminars. For most of its life this vast building was home to the 798 Electronic Components Factory, the largest military electronics plant in Asia.
Shanghai’s art district is located around M-50 (50 Moganshan Lu) and embraces several neighborhoods and is expanding. Dujiangyan near Chengdu had a plan to allow eight contemporary artists—including Zhang Xiaogang, Wu Guanzhong and Yue Minjun—to open up their own museums on an 18-acre plot of land. The fate of this is unknown as Dujiangyan was devastated by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. >Web Site:Art Scene China Art Scene China
Acrobats and Circuses
China is famous for its acrobats and circus acts. There are records of acrobatics performances taking place more than 2,000 years ago. In the Han era dance dramas about the adventures of warriors and bandits featured acrobatics. Among urban Chinese today, acrobatics is considered passe and quaint. Most performances in Beijing are attended by foreign tourists or overseas Chinese.
There are over 1,000 acrobatics troupes in China today and many are sponsored by the military, government agencies and factories. Every couple of years, China hosts an “acrobatic Olympics.” The one Dalian in October 2000 featured more than 2,000 performers from 300 acrobatic troupes from all over China. The acrobats competed in 63 events with the winners wining the Golden Lion prize and the runners up getting the Silver Lion prizes. The winners have been organized into a theme-based, music-backed production called the Golden Lions.
A typical top-level acrobatics performance features 10 women riding on a single bicycle, women twirling numerous plates with their hands and their chin, and a man supporting a woman doing a handstand with a bowl sitting on her head.
Popular circus acts include the "mirror men," in which one man supports another man upside on his shoulders. The man on the top imitates everything his partner does even drinking a glass of water. Jumpers do back flips with twists while leaping through four hoops at a time. In the "Pagoda of Bowls Act" a young girl performs an dazzling array of household chores while standing on a partner and balancing a stack of porcelain bowls on her head, feet and hands.
Small traveling circuses troupes still go from town to town in rural China. They travel in beat up buses, erect tent in vacant lots, charge about 35 cents for admission and rely heavily on kung fu monk acts and strongman and fakir acts such as swallowing metal balls and sleeping on sharpened blades. Others feature singing and dancing, Chinese opera and vaudeville style comedy routines.
Acrobatics Shows are held around town. The Beijing Acrobatic Troupe is the capital's best known group. Shows are often listed in the China Daily or Beijing Scene. Acrobatics performances are held at the Wansheng Theater (near the Temple of Heaven Park, 95 Tianqiao Market Beiweidonglu). The show I saw there included plate twirling, unicycle riding, juggling, a slanted high wire act, a bunch of people riding on a single bicycle. The star of the show was a young girl that could do all kinds of difficult contortionist moves. Shows are also held at the Chaoyang Theater (on the eastern side of town just across from the Jing Guang Center, 36 Dong San Huan Bei Lu)
The Shanghai Acrobatics Theater regularly hosts acrobatics performances. It is also a training area for acrobats, magicians and a circus performers for other venues around town. Shows are often listed in local publications. The Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe show features a human ladder eight persons high made up of performers with chairs on theirs head for the people above them and flexible young girls who squeeze into a barrels about half their size. Admission is around $10.
strong>Web Sites: Acrobat Shows in Beijing: The Beijing Guide (CITS) Beijing Guide Virtual Tourist Virtual Tourist ; Acrobat Shows in Shanghai:Shanghai Acrobats Shanghai Acrobats Virtual Review Virtual Review
Peking Opera Ballroom Dancing is very popular in Shanghai. Dancers gather in front of the Shanghai Exhibition Center, across from the Shangri-La Hotel, in Jian'an Park at the end of Nanjing Road, in the People's Park and in the Huangpu Park next to the Bund. People often dance in the early hours of the morning. For a while salsa dancing is also very popular.
Zhengzhou, the capital Henan Province, is regarded as the ballroom dancing capital of China. While many cities feature dancing in parks and pavilions, in Zhengzhou dancing is done almost everywhere.
In the square in front of a former museum crowds gather every night for "al-fresco" waltzes or "32-step" mass dance routines. At the People's Meeting Halls and the adjoining parking lot hundred practice the tango. Clubs and schools around town offer classes for 10 cents a lesson. Dancing became big in the 1980s and no one is sure why it has caught on here with such enthusiasm.
Web Site: China.org China.org ;
Beijing Opera can be seen at the Liyuan Theater (inside the Qiamen Hotel), the China Grand Theater (near the Shangri-La Hotel), Jixiang Theater (east of Wangfujing on Jinyu Hutong), Capital Theater (near the Sara Hotel), and Tianqiao Theater (west of Tiantan Park). Huguang Theater is a good place to see Beijing Opera. Formally a warehouse, it reopened in 1996. Most performances are shortened tourist shows. On Saturday mornings there are amateur shows for elderly opera fans. Shortened versions are also held Qianmen Hotel. Tea houses that offer Beijing opera and Chinese classical music shows includes the Lao She Tea House (Qianmen area), the Tanhai Tea House (off Sanlitun).
strong>Web Sites: Fodors Fodors
Billiards, Snooker and Pool
Pocket billiards is very popular and it seems to have replaced ping pong in many areas as the major pass time. Women often play as well as men. Sidewalk billiards is popular in many places. In rural areas half-size pool tables are a common sight along the roads. Many towns have small time entrepreneurs that make money rolling wheel-mounted outdoor pool tables around from neighborhood to neighborhood and charging customers around 20 cents per game.
Snooker is also very popular. More than 60 Chinese million play the game regularly, and 66 million tune in to watch major televised tournaments such as the British Open. By contrast around 40 to 50 million watch Formula One races and European soccer games. There are 5,000 places in China where people can play snooker, including 800 snooker clubs in Beijing and 250 super clubs that have more than 50 tables. Huge crowds come to watch snooker tournaments. At a world snooker tournament held in China in April 2005 fans had to be repeatedly told to pipe down, turn off their cell phones and display proper manners.
Bowling is very big in China these days. Beijing and Shanghai have 24-hour bowling alleys like the Golden Altar complex, which boasts 50 lanes, a health club, VIP lanes, a hotel and private rooms. A Taiwanese businessman built a 100-lane facility on the grounds of the Workers Stadium in Beijing.
The bowling craze began in earnest in the 1990s in southern China, after being introduced from Hong Kong and Taiwan, and then spread north. Between 1993 and 1995, 30 bowling alleys with 1,000 lanes was built in Shanghai. The Golden Altar sometimes has a waiting list of 200 people waiting for lanes.
Many young couples go bowling for a date. It has replaced karaoke for a while as the latest fad. Well-healed customers play any time they feel like it. Many ordinary Chinese without a lot of cash take advantage of special rates offered for people who play after midnight. Sometimes they play with special "cosmic balls" that glow in the dark.
Bowling is expected to become a $10-billion-a-year business. In Japan, South Korea and Taiwan the bowling craze peaked, crashed and then stabilized. The same will probably happen in China.
Cricket Fighting dates back at least until the 14th century and has traditionally been a gambler's sport. The fights are often held in miniature arenas where determined punters fight for views, judges watch through magnifying glasses and most people watch on closed circuit television.
The cricket fighting season begins in September when the crickets are about a month old. Bets frequently top $1,000 and sometimes exceed $10,000. Because the stakes are so high and gambling is technically illegal, many of the fights are held in private homes or discreet corners of parks. Chinese are particularly fond of crickets because they are said to bring good luck and wealth.
Cricket fights take place in eight-inch-wide plastic containers. The owners of the crickets poke them with little hairs attached to a chopstick-like devise or some other instrument and the crickets butt heads, toss each other out of the ring, with the winner chirping lodly as the loser slinks away. .
Describing a fight, Mia Turner wrote in International Herald Tribune, "Once in the ring the competitors are then tickled with a rabbit-hair brush or a stick of grass to incite them. In the most vicious matches, which last about five minutes, the crickets, who fight with their jaws, can tear the claws off their opponents...A fighter who runs away automatically loses."
The annual Chinese national cricket-fighting tournament is held in Beijing. Held on the grounds of a large temple, the matches are shot with video tape and observers can get a good look at the fighting on big screens. The crickets have names like Red General and Prple Tooth King. In Macau, crickets are matched according to their size. Before a fight the are stirred up by brushing a mouse whisker on their antennae.
The strongest and fiercest crickets are said to come from Shandong province in northeast China. Wild ones are said to be best. Attempt at breeding have only resulted weak fighters. there are several lively cricket markets in Shandong. The ones in Ningyang are particularly famous. Here it not uncommon for people to spend over a $10,000 for a single cricket.
In recent years cricket singing contests have become popular in Beijing Describing one event Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The performers are lined up on glass bottles that look like big salt shakers. Some have socks around them to keep out the late December chill, because its well known that cold crickets don’t sing. Hovering over the bottles, a judge wields a hand-held sound meter.”
strong>Web Sites:Google “Cricket Fighting in China” and many sites come up.
Dragon Boat Racing
Dragon Boat Racing is practiced in China and other places where Chinese are found and is particularly popular in Hong Kong, where the dragon boat festival is a public holiday. Dragon boat races are run over 250, 500 and 1,000 meter courses. Describing a 250-meter dragon-boat race, Sandee Brawarsky wrote in the New York Times, "The race doesn't take much more than a minute. In a long, narrow boat...18 paddlers, seated two by two, dig their wooden paddles into the murky waters...Forcefully they pull back...They aim to move in perfect sync, propelling the boat across the finish line like an arrow."
Dragon boat races honor the patriotic poet Qu Yuan, the first of China's great poets. Qu, a minister in the Chinese kingdom of Chu, was popular with the people but was banished from his home land by a king who didn't like him. For years he wandered the countryside, writing poetry and expressing his love for the country he missed.
Qu committed suicide in 278 B.C. by who drowning himself in the Milou River after hearing that Chu had been invaded and conquered. The dragon boat races symbolize the desire to bring Qu Yuan back to life. According to legend, local fishermen raced out to try save him and whipped their paddle in the water and beat drums so that the fish would not devour his body. The races are also tied to dragons which the Chinese believe originate in the water and bring good luck.
To honor Qu Tuan's death during the Dragon Boat Festival zongzi (traditional glutinous rice cakes wrapped in bamboo leaves) are wrapped in colorful silk and thrown into the river as an offering to the poet's spirit. The silk is used to keep away the flood dragon, who is afraid of silk. There are a number of rituals aimed at preventing floods. The festival tries to appease the god of the streams—the Dragon—so that rivers will not overflow their banks and cause floods.
Dragon boats are 35 feet long and weigh about 2,000 pounds each and cost between $3,000 and $14,000. Most are made by hand from teak in Hong Kong and modeled after centuries-old fishing boats. On the bow is a dragon head. On the stern is a tail, both of which are colorful and elaborately carved. The boats are often painted the day before a race, sometimes with dragon scales.
A dragon boat team consists of 20 members: 18 paddlers, one member, who seating at the bow pounds out a rhythm on a drum so the paddlers can stay in sync, and another one member who sits at the back and steer with a rudder. Big boats may have as many a 100 paddlers.
The largest and grandest boat races are held on the Milou River and Yueyang in Hunan and Leshan in Sichuan. In Guangxi there are men's and women's boating competitions in which no paddles are used (there is one race in which the participants use their hands and another in which they use their feet). At the end of each race in Leshan and in Zhangzhou and Xiamen in Fujian Province ducks are thrown into the water and the rowers jump in the water and try to catch them. The team and individuals that catches the most ducks get to keep them.
strong>Web Sites: Wikipedia Wikipedia
Health Clubs are usually found at expensive hotels. Sometimes guest memberships are available for visitors at local health clubs. By small parks there are exercise stations with bars, swiveling ground-level lazy suzans, pendulums and hoops and things like that, where older people like to gather and hang out and occasionally do a couple or exercises. Chinese jogger sometimes wear black slacks, white dress shirts and cloth shoes or plastic sandals.
As of 2004, there around 2,000 health clubs of various sizes in China, including some fancy ones with advanced machines in Shanghai. When the fancy clubs first opened up, demand was high among Chinese yuppies and they were able to get away with charging members about $1,200 a year. Competition later drove the price down to about $360 a year, still a considerable sum for the average Chinese.
Health clubs are viewed more as places to socialize, hang out and be seen than places to exercise. One regular customer ay the Total Fitness Club in Shanghai told the Los Angeles Times, the main reason he goes to his club is to play Internet war games for free at the bar. The owner of the three-story Megafit club told the Los Angeles Times, “Joining a gym isstill a very new concept in China. Most of our members see it as a kind of fashion statement, not necessarily linked to their health.”
At festivals in Tibet and Inner Mongolia you can see people racing horses and playing polo. New Year's celebrations there features horse racing.
In January 2008, the Chinese government announced the start of regular horse racing in the central city of Wuhan and said it was considering introducing betting on races there on an experimental basis in 2009. If the plan is approved it would mark the first time since the Communist Party took power in 1949 that real gambling on horse racing in China would be legal. Wuhan already has a “horse racing lottery.” Gambling is being introduced as a way to generate state revenues and create new jobs.
Beijing Tongshu Jockey Club—for a time China’s only legal racecourse—opened in 2002. In 2004 it was home to 2,800 horses, of which about 900 actually raced. Located outside Beijing, it covers 395 acres and embraces two grass and one dirt track. The facility had seating for 40,000 but only drew around 100 people per day its first season and once had about 1,500 per day.
As the law pertaining to horse racing stood in 2004, Chinese were not allowed to bet on horses but were allowed to “guess” which horse would win. Punters bought a “view-and-admire ticket” predicting an either odd or even numbered winner. Only members of the Jockey Club could bet bet and there were no bookies.
In 2004, the track conducted races twice a week during the racing season with a handful of races each of those days. Punters complained that the returns were too low to make betting worthwhile. The sport got around the laws banning gambling because the government refered to it as an “intelligence contest” not gambling. In 2005, Tongshun was closed down by a court order after betters who lost money complained that gambling was taking place at the track.
There were some other horse tracks but they were closed down. A race course opened in Guangzhou in 1992 was closed down in 1999 and labeled an unsatisfactory experiment because authorities could not prevent people from placing bets on the horses. There are currently plans to open tracks in Hangzhou and Nanjing.
Like other Asians, the Chinese enjoy singing. Karaokes are popular and guest at parties are often required to sing a song. The first karaoke bars appeared around 1990. In 1995, they began replacing bowling as the number one fad in many parts of China.
Today, you can find them in the tourist hotels and downtown areas of every major city and even small towns. Even tourist boats and hill tribe villages have them. There is also the Japanese-produced "Karaoke TV" and KTV joints in which customers sing in private rooms with their friends. Popular karaoke tunes include revolutionary song from the Communist days and the latest Cantopop hits.
As of 2007, there were 100,000 karaoke bars in China—10 times more than there are cinemas. Half of all Chinese say they visit karaoke or KTV joints. The customers include teenagers out for a night of partying, businessmen trying to seal an important deal and families going to a KTV chain the same way American families go to Chunky Cheese. The karoake industry in China is said to be worth $1.3 billion.
Prostitution and karaoke often go hand and hand. Karaoke parlors such as the Enjoy Business Club in Shenzhen have singing rooms in the downstairs rooms and sex upstairs in private rooms. Foreigners should be careful at some karaokes. They are nothing more than hostess bars where male patrons are surrounded by young women who after a few drinks sticks the customer with an outrageous bill. Drugs are also often scored at karaokes.
The martial arts in China are sometimes divided into the "hard school" martial arts and the "soft school" martial arts. Among the "hard school" martial arts are hau kuen ("monkey fist"), associated with a Tang dynasty legend about how the goddess of mercy ordered the monkey god to accompany the Buddhist monk, Tong Sam Chong, to Tibet to collect Buddhist scriptures; hung Kuen ("red fist"), adapted by the Japanese to become karate. "Soft school" martial arts include paat kaw and luk hop paat faat.
One of the basic premises of all martial arts to use the strength of an opponent against them rather than relying on your own individual strength. The form of martial arts practiced by Bruce Lee is jeet kune do.
Many Chinese martial arts forms use weapons such as swords and staffs see to have more in common with dance and acrobatics than sword fighting or fencing, or for that matter boxing or wrestling. or writing. A.C. Scott wrote in the International Encyclopedia of Dance, “Dancing with weapons has always been an admired art in China....There are dozens of style demanding skill with long swords, scimitars, pr spears, which originated in ancient calisthenic exercises. There are two broad categories of movements: one stresses relaxation and flexibility, providing the means to counter violence through resilience; the second style emphasizes speed and strength. Both utilize weapons play and have their own variations of crouching, twists, turns and leaps.”
Kung Fu (gong fu) is a Chinese word that means "expertise." It is used in the West to describe a family of martial arts, whose weapon-based form, using swords and staffs, is known as wushu in China. Kung fu and wushu are considered a branch of qi gong. Kung fu is believed to have its roots in India. The story goes it was developed by monks who restored their circulation after long periods of meditating by imitating animals and flying birds after meditating for days on end. It became a martial art when the movements were adapted by the monks into a form of combat used to protect the temple from intruders.
There are over 400 different kung-fu-style martial arts, both with and without weapons. Most were originally handed down through families and some sill bear family names. There are two main generally kung fu forms: the southern style and northern style. Southern Chinese kung fu forms such as Hop Gar and Hung Gar kung fu are like what Jackie Chan does in his movies. Hung Gar kung fu is often called "five animal" kung fu because is movements are like those of five animals: the tiger, snake, leopard, crane and dragon. People often like southern Chinese style more than northern Chinese styles because they look quicker and more powerful.
Kung fu emphasizes lightning reflexes and elastic flexibility. It uses movements similar to those in tai chi, many of which are named after animals: the praying mantis, monkey style, or white crane style. Unlike Japanese karate and Korean tae kwon do movements, which tend to be straight ahead and direct, kung fu and judo movements tend to be circular and "gentler." The combative forms of kung fu incorporates clawing, standing blows as well as direct Karate-like hand and foot blows.
The main divisions of kung fu and the numerous subdivisions favor certain kinds of blows and movements, training methods and attitude. The southern styles emphasize strength, power, hand conditioning and kicks. The northern style employs softer, slower movements that stress the lower body, graceful-ballet-like movements, agile foot techniques and hand blows delivered in combinations. The Shaolin school emphasizes working in a small space, keeping movements compact.
wushu Wushu is a modern, dance-like acrobatic form of kung fu. The martial arts featured n Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are regarded as forms of wushu. Wushu will debut a sport at the 2008 Olympic in Beijing but no medals will be awarded.
Wushu as an organized sport has been around for some time. In the Han era the rules of wu shu were written don in manuals used to train military conscripts The first Chinese Olympics team government—sent to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin—included a wushu team that performed before Hitler. Seven-year-old Jet Li was a member of a junior wushu team that performed on the White House lawn in front of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger in 1974.
Unlike kung fu which aims to remain close its traditional forms, wushu is constantly evolving, and adding new stunts and movements. Advanced moves include running up a wall and flipping backwards, spinning 720 degrees while doing a tornado kick, and performing a twisting butterfly kick, which looks like something performed by an Olympic diver
Basic wushu emphasizes doing movements and kicks with a straight back and extended arms or from crouching position, like Jet Li often does, with the right arm and the palm held up. There are basic straight leg kicks, such as the front and side stretching kick and the outside and inside crescent kicks. Gifted students began leaning how to do butterfly kicks at around six months or so.
Wu means “military”and indicates skill with combat forms and weapons. In the old days it was a form of military training and a kind of calisthenics. Some form were designed for physical exercise while others helped train men for hand-to-hand combat or fighting with a weapons.
Tai Chi: See Tai Chi
Kung Fu and Shaolin Temple: What is generally regarded as kung fu today is the martial art originally practiced at Shaolin Temple—a temple founded in the Songshan mountains in Henan province in China 1,500 years ago and regarded as the birthplace of kung fu. The film Shaolin Temple (1982) with Jet Li, one of the most popular kung fu films ever, helped put Jet Li and Shaolin Temple on the on the map.
Shaolin is not only the birthplace of Kung Fu it also a place of importance in the history of religion in China. In A.D. 527, the Indian monk named Bodhhidarma founded the precursor of Zen Buddhism after spending nine years staring at a wall and achieved enlightenment. He also is credited with creating the basic movement of Shaolin kung fu by imitating the movements of animals and birds.
How did kung fu evolve and why a supposed peace-loving Buddhist sect became involved with the martial arts? Scholars speculate that monks learned to defend themselves at time when banditry was rampant and there was a lot of fighting between local warlords. The origins of kung fu are somewhat murky. There are accounts in ancient texts of monks performing feats of physical skill and strength such as two-finger handstands, breaking iron blades with their heads and sleeping while standing on one leg.
Shaolin Temple became associated with martial arts in the 7th century when 13 Shaolin monks, trained in kung fu, rescued prince Li Shimin, the founder of the Tang dynasty. After this Shaolin expanded into a large complex. At its peak it housed 2,000 monks. In the 20th century it fell on hard times. In the 1920s, warlords burnt down much of the monastery. When the Communists came to power in 1949, Buddhism, like other religions was discouraged. Land owned by the temple was distributed among farmers. Monks fled. In recent years Shaolin has come back to life.
Pagoda Forest at Shaolin-Temple Shaolin Temple (80 kilometers west of Zhengzhou) is where many Hong Kong action movies have been set and where the "Grasshopper" character played by David Carradine in the 1970s Kung Fu television series reportedly learned his tricks.
Shaolin is not only the birthplace of Kung Fu it also a place of importance in the history of religion in China. In A.D. 527, the Indian monk named Bodhhidarma founded the precursor of Zen Buddhism after spending nine years staring at a wall and achieving enlightenment. He also is credited with creating the basic movement of Shaolin kung fu by imitating the movements of animals and birds. According to one he invented kung fu to counteract the effects of extended periods of meditation.
How did kung fu evolve and why was it founded by a bunch of supposed peace-loving Buddhist monks. Scholars speculate that monks learned to defend themselves at a time when banditry was rampant and there was a lot of fighting between local warlords. The origins of kung fu are somewhat murky. There are accounts in ancient texts of monks performing feats of physical skill and strength such as two-finger handstands, breaking iron blades with their heads and sleeping while standing one leg.
Shaolin Temple became associated with martial arts in the 7th century when 13 Shaolin monks, trained in kung fu, rescued prince Li Shimin, the founder of the Tang dynasty. After this Shaolin expanded into a large complex. At its peak it housed 2,000 monks. In the 20th century it fell on hard times. In the 1920s, warlords burnt down much of the monastery. When the Communists came to power in 1949, Buddhism, like other religions was discouraged. Land owned by the temple was distributed among farmers. Monks fled.
Many of the temples that remained at Shaolin in the 1960s were destroyed or defaced during the Cultural Revolution. All but four of the temple's monks were driven off by the Red Guards. The remaining monks survived by making their own tofu and bartering it for food. In 1981 there were only 12 elderly monks at the temple and they spent much of their time farming. Their religious activities were performed discretely or in secret.
Shaolin Temple —the film that made the temple famous and launched Jet Li’s career—was released in 1982. It remains one of the most popular kung fu films ever. After its success the government and entrepreneurs realized there was money to made exploiting the temple. Old monks were asked to come back and new ones were recruited. Today about 200 students study directly with the masters who live in the temple. Many take a vow of chastity though the government forbids them from receiving jie ba , a Kung Fu ritual in which scars are made on their head and wrist with burning incense.
About 2 million visitors a year visit Shaolin Temple, which today is a bit of a tourist trap. Few original buildings remain. In their palace are tacky martial arts schools; dragon-headed trams hauling around Chinese tourists; monks who wear Harley Davidson T-shirts and sit around watching Kung Fu movies; foreign tourists who have their picture taken with Claude van Damme look-alikes; and Kung Fu wannabes who come from the four corners of the world, aspiring to learn how to jump 20 feet in the air before delivering a kick. There are even karaoke hostess bars.
In the area around the temple are dozens of private martial schools that teach around 30,000 young children the fine arts of kung fu. The schools opened up in the 1980s after the success of the Shaolin kung fu films. Students from some of the schools have given demonstrations in Italy and the United States.
Tagou Martial School(down the road from Shaolin) is the largest kung fu academy in the world. Founded in 1978, it has 25,000 students and 3,000 teachers, Referred to sometimes as Kung Fu U., it attracts young people, hoping to be the next Jet Li or Jackie Chan, from all over China. Graduates have gone on to be actors, stuntmen, athletes, sports teachers, soldiers and bodyguards.
Students study Chinese, history and algebra. Each day begins with a run around a statute of a fighting monks, followed by long sessions of stretching. The kung fu training includes punching bags, doing cartwheel flips known as cekongfan, Each year teams compete in the huge courtyard exhibiting kung fu forms such as the Dragon, Praying Mantis and Eagle.
Describing the school life there, Ching-Ching Ni wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "At sunrise, entire hillsides are alive with the sound of children, many with shaved heads, hiking and training next to fields of peach blossoms and budding willows.
“After breakfast, the town quiets down as the student retreat to their studies, often in shabby classrooms with broken windows. By afternoon the silence is broken again. Children line up on the yellow earth, squatting, stretching, flipping and flying, until dinner is served in a large tin mugs. They sleep 10 to a room in dingy bunk beds and soak their bruised feet and bloodied elbows in plastic tubs."
Ta Gou is home to 8,700 students, many of them children of poor farmers, who send their children to the schools because they are often cheaper (around $20 a month) than public schools and they at least teach some disciple. The hope is the training the children receive will ultimately land them land jobs as security officers, policemen, physical education teachers, soldiers or maybe even a kung fu action movie star.
strong>Web Sites: Google “Martial arts in China,” “Martial arts tours in China,” “Shaolin Monastery.”
China hosted its first Formula One race in 2004 and has a contact for seven years until 2010. The race was held in Shanghai on a 3.24 mile (5.4 kilometer), $244 million. track designed by renowned circuit designer Hermann Tilke to have curves like a Chinese dragon and accommodate 200,000 spectators, with a main grandstand for 50,000 people. Tickets for the event cost up to $500. To be able to attend is a sign of wealth and prestige.
Including associated costs, the Formula One track cost $350 million, making it the world’s most expensive Formula One raceway. Shanghai Formula One was part of massive corruption scandal involving the use of Shanghai’s multi-billion-dollar pension find. The head of Shanghai’s Formula One, Yu Zifei, was fired in 2007 for his connection with the misuse the pension funds. See Corruption
The China Grand Prix is held in September, late in the season when either the driver’s title is already decided or it is a neck and neck race. The race in 56 laps around the course. About 40 million to 50 Chinese million watch Formula One races when they are broadcast on television.
strong>Web Sites: Formula One in China Formula One
Skateboarding has not really caught on in China even though American skateboard companies like Quicksilver are trying hard to promote the sport, Shanghai claims boasts the world’s largest skateboard park and an American skateboarders leapt over the Gerat Wall.. As of the mid 2000s, skateboarding websites scored lots of hits and extreme sports were ranked in surveys among middle school students of “the top five coolest things to do” but still you don’t see many skateboarder on the streets.
For many young urban Chinese skateboarding is just a fashion. Skateboarding events are often well attending but the spectator never think of doing the stunts or even riding a skateboard themselves. Quicksilver initially had great ambitions to make big money in China but like foreign companies in all sectors of the economy, the company has found the going can be quite slow trying to introduce a new idea to China.
In many ways American skateboarding companies are trying to sell the American skateboarder lifestyle. If they end up selling it as a fashion rather than a sport so be it as as along as merchandise moves off the shelves. One of the biggest obstacle to popularizing skateboarding in China is the lack of free time among young people. There is also an inherent shyness among young Chinese to do anything really radical or out of step with the demands of the their culture. The skateboarder you do see are often in the parking lots of empty stadiums. strong>Web Sites: PSFK PSFK ; China Youthology China Youthology . There are other listings if you google “skateboarding in China>”
Skating: There are nearly 30 summer ice rinks in resorts and cities. Ice skating is a popular winter activity in Beijing, Harbin and other northern Chinese cities..
Soccer is regarded as the country's No. 1 spectator sport in China. Large crowds attend live games and large audiences tune in for televised games for both local Chinese teams and famous foreign ones. Buy one count 3.5 million of China’s roughly 600 million soccer fans regularly attended soccer matches at local stadiums.
The matches themselves can be quite rowdy. At home and in restaurants and tea houses, men spend a lot of time sitting around the radio or television tuning in to soccer matches.
The Chinese Professional Football League was launched in 1994. The demand was such that eventuality two professional soccer leagues were created. Almost every province has at least one team and a wide variety of state-owned and private enterprises sponsor them. The August First team, named after the day of the founding of the People's Liberation army, is sponsored by the People's Liberation army and underwritten by Nike.
The Wanda Soccer Club from Dalian has traditionally been one of China’s top teams Dalian fans are famous for their boisterousness and obnoxious behavior. They have been shown on nationally televised matches shouting obscenities involving animal genitalia. In 2002, Chinese B-League team Gansu Tianma in Lanzhou hired the famous English soccer player Paul Gasciogne.
Songbird Competitions are often held on Sunday mornings, with the winners being the bird that can sing most different songs in 15 minutes. The country of Suriname is said to have the best singing birds. The birds are usually Twa-twas or Picolets and the record is 189 different songs by birds named Flinto owned by Jong Kiem. Kiem told Reuter" "The best birds do what you want them to do...Sometimes the bird doesn't want to sing so you have to check where the problem is. You have to be very patient."
Song birds are kept in bamboo cages. It is very common to see Chinese with cloth-covered cages in parks taking their birds for "walks." Travel writer Paul Money once remarked that "China is probably the only place where people walk their birds and eat their dogs." Oriental magpie robins are among the species kept as pets. Younger birds are trained by carefully placing them near older birds.
Some Chinese pay large sums of money for rare birds and keep them in tiny ornate cages. The best birds cost as much as $2,000 and are kept in teak cages. Among the singing birds found in city bird markets are rose finches, plovers, and Mongolian larks. Keeping song birds has long been a favorite hobby of the rich and powerful. Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale The Nightingale is about an Emperor obsessed with the song of a nightingale. Keeping song birds was frowned by the Communists and viewed it as crime in the Cultural Revolution.
Table Tennis is the most popular sport in China and the most popular racket sport in world. It is the perfect sport for cramped China. A ping pong table is easy enough to make—if nothing else is available a piece of plywood with a row of bricks as a net will do—and its doesn't take up much space. Nearly all schools, factories and office building have a few tables ensconced somewhere. Ping pong is not a Chinese word. It is a term coined by the game company Parker Brothers, which owns the rights to the name.
Tai Chi (known as taijiquan or tai chi chuan in China) means "slow motion shadow dancing" or "supreme ultimate fist." Practiced for more than 2,500 years, it is form of exercise and calisthenics that incorporates elements of the martial arts, dance and Eastern mysticism. It is an effortless and rhythmical art that stresses slow breathing, balanced and relaxed postures and absolute calmness of mind. It requires no equipment and no special place to practice and is associated with northern China.
In the early morning, when positive ions are said to at their highest concentrations, many old Chinese can be seen in parks in the cities performing tai chi. Young women often do tai chi to keep slim and fit and large groups sometimes do in unison to a disco beat. Tai chi is also promoted as way to improve breathing, digestion and muscle tone. Some people do two hours of tai chi every day.
Although tai chi is secular its spiritual underpinnings are deeply Taoist. The gentle, slow movements and abdominal breathing all come from Taoist health and longevity exercises. The slow movements are believed to stimulate the flow of qi ("vital energy"), control the balance of yin and yang and produce harmony with the universe.
The origins of tai chi are unclear. It wasn't widely practiced by the Chinese public until the mid-19th century when the master Yang Lu Chan taught the martial art to the Manchu Imperial Guard and later to mandarin scholars.
Tai chi was promoted by the Communists as means of improving the health of ordinary Chinese. In efforts to reduce the likelihood of "comrades fighting comrades" the combative aspects of the activity were downplayed. Tai chi was very popular among old people in the 1970s and early 1980s. It is still popular but has since lost participants to ballroom dancing, yang ge dance, Falun Gong and other practices.
Practitioners of tai chi concentrate on maintaining perfect balance while flexing their muscles and shifting from one stylized position to another. The movements are fluid and circular and are often inspired by animals such as cranes, praying mantises and monkeys.
Describing an elderly Chinese man practicing tai chi, Andrew Salmon wrote in the Korean Times: He "is moving through a series of slow, graceful movements. At one point his posture—with arms outstretched and balanced on in leg—resembles a crane spreading its wings, at another—in a low stance close to the ground—he appears to be snake winding its way along a branch."
There are two main tai chi forms: 1) the Yang style features extended, graceful movements. 2) Chen style featuring coiling, spiraling and sudden explosive stamps, kicks and punches and sometimes showcases the traditional tai chi weapons, the straight sword and saber. strong>Web Sites: Google “tai chi” in China
Tennis: Most resorts and large hotels have their own courts. There are also indoor and outdoor courts in almost every city and large town. A good place to look for an available court is a university. Most of the time the court surface is cement or even dirt..
Theme Parks are viewed by many Chinese and investors as a way to get rich quick. The only problem is that many people had the same idea. The result: some 2,000 parks, many of dubious quality, were built in a five year period and many people lost their shirt. American Dream, a theme park that cost $50 million to build, expected 30,000 visitors a day when opened. On some days it welcomed only 12 people, who paid $2.50 for tickets (one fifth of the original price).
If there is place of great beauty the Chinese have unbridled urge to embellish it with rides, karaokes, cable cars and resorts At the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China, for example, there are amusement rides, a run-down zoo, cheesy museums, antique shops and the Great Wall Circle-Vision theater. Tourists can have their picture taken on the back of a camel, or dressed in the robes of Manchu prince. There is also an auditorium that shows films about the Great Wall. At Badaling Wildlife World safari park visitors can pay $3.60 to watch a live chicken thrown to the lions. The price for a sheep is $36.
There is a Disneyland in Hong Kong (See Hong Kong) and plans to build one near Shanghai.. Videndi signed a deal to build a Universal Studios in Beijing and Shanghai.
Image Sources: Province maps from the Nolls China Web site. Photographs of places from 1) CNTO (China National Tourist Organization; 2) Nolls China Web site; 3) Perrochon photo site; 4) Beifan.com; 5) tourist and government offices linked with the place shown; 6) Mongabey.com; 7) University of Washington, Purdue University, Ohio State University; 8) UNESCO; 9) Wikipedia; 10) Julie Chao photo site; 11) Acrobatics, Chinese Merchants Association of San Francisco; 12) Roadtrip.com ; 13) cricket, taiwan school.net; 14) U.S. wushu academy; 15) tai chi, China Hiking
Text Sources: CNTO, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays