ENTERTAINMENT IN BEIJING

ENTERTAINMENT IN BEIJING

right Culturally, Beijing is a happening place for performance art, film, painting, rock n’ roll, poetry, experimental music, literature, poetry, media, software and the Internet. Most of China’s prominent film makers and writers live in Beijing. There are lots of interesting activities in Beijing: symphonies, operas, acrobatics, theater groups, and sporting events. Bowling is also popular.

Beijing is a far cry from what it was in the Communist era, when there was nothing to do except attend propaganda study session and scripted rallies. Today, there are scores of nightclubs, karaokes and entertainment places. New bars, restaurants and clubs open every day. Kaiser Kuo, a Chinese-American rock star and computer guru told Time magazine, “You get addicted to the excitement, speed and change. There’s nowhere else like it.”

Nancy Trejos wrote in the Washington Post: “Once, Beijing lagged behind Shanghai in the construction of buildings, roads and public transportation. But since the Olympics, the capital has become as cosmopolitan as China’s second city, while still feeling like China in a way that Shanghai does not. On a recent two-week trip, I could see the differences between the two cities as soon as I hopped off the new high-speed train from Beijing to Shanghai. Dining at a Spanish tapas restaurant in the French Concession area, it seemed as though English was being spoken at most of the tables around me. Back in Beijing, I felt that there were as many or more locals as Westerners pretty much everywhere I went.” [Source: Nancy Trejos, Washington Post, October 7, 2011]

The entertainment scene in Beijing also includes giant discotheques with $20 cover charges and bars with darts and Belgian beer, rock' n' roll shows, jazz performances and dancing. Beijing has its own John Bull Pub, complete with Victorian wallpaper and kidney pie as well as has a Hard Rock café and a TGI Fridays.

Some regard the music scene in Beijing as one of the most happening in the world. D-22 was the happening rock club in the summer of 2008. In mosh pit there fans dive from the stage and shower performers with cigarettes. For a while there was a lively alternative music scene in the Tree Village, an illegal migrant community in Haidan. In the early 2000s a music scene hardly existed.

Entertainment Areas and Places

Santilun is the main bar area (see Below). Houhai (See Below) is a gentrified and yuppiefied nightlife area around Qian Hai (front lake). Bars and restaurant here are tightly packed along a boardwalk that overlooks the lake. East Shore on the banks of the lake is a recommended jazz club founded by Liu Yuanm, a saxophonist who played with Cui Jian, the father of Chinese rock. Huajiadi is a Beijing neighborhood notorious for prostitutes and drug dealers.

Running alongside the Lama Temple in Beijing is a 500-meter-long strip known as "The Street of Fortune Tellers", which has become a gathering place for the city's diviners, palm readers and feng shui masters. The sidewalks bristle with people hawking their services and "magic" accessories, including bracelets, necklaces and blessed Buddha figures.[Source: Peng Yining and He Na, China Daily, March 18, 2013 ***]

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Peking Opera
Classical Chinese music can be seen at the new National Center for Performing Arts (the Egg), the Beijing Concert Hall, the Century Theater and the Forbidden City. The Capital Theater (near Xidan) and some of the major hotels host cabaret-style song and dance shows. There are about 60 movie theaters. They show mostly Chinese films. Films are shown in comfortable surroundings at the Japanese Youth Exchange Center. Other theaters and performing arts centers host operas, acrobatics, concerts, recitals, traditional and contemporary dances and plays. Also check the Restaurant and Shopping sections Below.

There are a number weekly and monthly English-language entertainment guides and entertainment websites which will tell you everything you need to know about nightlife, entertainment and events in Beijing. . There is a Beijing edition of Time Out. Entertainment guides and calendar of events are sometimes available from the tourist office, major hotels and newsstands. Also check out the China Daily and Wnglish-language newspapers. the Lonely Planet Books, other guidebooks, and posters put up around town and the universities . Entertainment Web Sites : Beijing Trip Beijing Trip ; Beijing Page ; Beijing Travel Tips ; The Beijinger

Sports in Beijing

Spectator sports in Beijing include basketball, volleyball, ping-pong, badminton, soccer and gymnastics. Tickets may be hard to get.The Worker’s Stadium is the main stadium in Beijing. It hosts soccer games and other major sporting events. Guoan, Beijing’s main team in Chinese soccer league, often plays here on Sunday afternoons at 3:00pm. Chinese league basketball games are played in the arena here. The famous Bird's Nest used for teh 2008 Olympics is primarily a tourist site now. Not so many sporting events are held there.

Cycling, hiking, tennis, golf, ice skating and swimming in freezing cold ice-covered water can all be enjoyed in and around Beijing. There are roughly 6 weeks of ice skating in Beijing every year, with outdoor, unimproved rinks at the Summer Palace and Beihai Park. There is an indoor rink at Jinyuan Yansha Shopping Mall Health clubs are available in many of the better hotels, including such facilities as indoor swimming pools, tennis and squash courts, a range of aerobics equipment and weight machines, and sauna, steambath, and locker facilities. National Indoor Stadium (Subway Line 8 to Olympic Park or Olympic Sports Center) is part of the Olympic Park along with the Bird's Nest stadium and the Water Cube. It is nicknamed the Fan, (Chinese: "shanzi"), due to its design resembling a traditional Chinese folding fan. The steel roof of the National Indoor Stadium is 144 meters long from north to south and 114 meters wide from east to west, consisting of 2,800 tons of steel. After two and a half years of construction, the indoor stadium opened in 2007. At the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, it hosted gymnastics, trampoline, handball, and volleyball competitions. Now, it is used for sports competitions, cultural and entertainment events, and as a multifunctional exercise center for local residents Open Hours: only for events.

Water Cube (accross from the Birds Nest) is the used for swimming and diving events. By night the water cube changes colour and shape. With seating up to 17,000 the Watercube was the site of 25 new world records during the Olympic Games. See factsanddetails.com

Bird’s Nest Stadium

Olympic‘Birds Nest’ Stadium: According to the Chinese government: “It all began on 08.08.08 at precisely 08:08:00pm and was regarded as the greatest Olympics in modern history. Now, there is the opportunity to enjoy a visit to some of the incredible venues built specifically for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.” The Birds Nest was the centre piece of the Olymipc Games hosting amongst others the Opening and Closing ceremonies with a capacity of 91,000. The stadium has a unique look and takes centre stage amongst the key Olympic venues. With over 100,000 tons of steel the stadium is the largest steel structure in the world. See Modern Architecture. Location: No.3 A Anding Road, Chaoyang District, Tel: +86 10 8437 2992 Websites: n-s.cn/cn ; bopac.gov.cn

After the Olympics about 10,000 tourists a day paid $7 for a tour of the stadium and a chance to walk on the stadium floor and climb through the expensive seats. Within a few months the paint was already starting to peel. The only event booked for 2009 was a staging of Puccini’s opera Turandot, directed by Zhang Yimou, on the one-year anniversary of the Olympics opening ceremony.

The stadium costs $19 million a year to maintain and finance. It has no permanent tenant after the Beijing Guoan Football Club backed out, saying it would be embarrassing in a 91,000-seat stadium with only 10,000 spectators. In February 2009, it was announced the area around the Bird’s Stadium would be turned into shopping and entertainment complex over the next three to five years.

The original plan called the Bird’s Nest stadium to have about 10,000 seats taken out to make way for shops and restaurants and a hotel to be placed in the upper concourse. A shopping mall already sits below the stadium that is reached by broad ramps. There are also plans to market the Bird’s Nest name. Already it has raised $14.5 million from sponsors such as 3M and Bayer. Some have suggest having rock concerts there. It will difficult to recoup the cost. Web Sites: Official site ; Beijing 2008 ; Wikipedia ;

Ice Swimming and Shooting an AK-47 in Beijing

Some Beijingers take regular wintertime dips in holes broken through the ice in Sichahai Lake north of Beihai Park, Houhai, the Summer Palace's Kunming Lake, the Kunyu Canal and the bodies of water in Yuyuantan and Longtanhu parks.. The swimmers contend that taking a daily dip in the icy water is good for one's health. In Harbin, swimmers do the same cut holes in the ice in the river. The custom was introduced by Russians. See Places.

China Daily reported: “Wintertime visitors to Beijing or northeastern China can join locals diving in icy lakes, clad only in pairs of Speedos....Peking's penguins flock to holes chiseled in the glacial crusts of ice pocking Houhai, the Summer Palace's Kunming Lake, the Kunyu Canal and the bodies of water in Yuyuantan and Longtanhu parks. [Source: China Daily March 19, 2009]

“Beijing Winter Swimming Club (BWSC) chairman Li Ling says the activity boosts energy levels, improves circulation and prolongs longevity. But perhaps best of all, he insists taking a dip in icy waters reignites the fire in one's loins. So much for the cold shower theory, eh?BWSC estimates that in addition to its 3,000 members, another 3,000-plus Beijingers are winter swimmers. The trick for newbies, it seems, is getting over cold feet and taking the plunge.

China International Shooting Range (Changping district's Nankou town) allows patrons to to shoot all kinds of military-grade weaponry, including AK-47 and M-16 automatic machine guns, mortars and even anti-aircraft cannons. The operators charge by the bullet, with larger ballistics costing more. The former military barracks feature displays of about 100 weapons from around the world and a paintball course. [Source: China Daily March 19, 2009]

Sanlitun

Sanlitun (Subway Line 10, Tuanjiehu Station. Exit A) is Beijing’s best-known nightlife area. Also known as Bar Street, it is located in northeast Beijing around Sanlitun Lu. Has a yuppie district with Western-style restaurants, and dozens of cafes, bars, rock clubs, discos, and jazz clubs with names like Jazz-Ya, and Public Space and Café. There are even some gay bars here. Santlitun has only recently emerged as a nightlife hub. The story goes that in the mid 1990s there was only one bar in the area and it was losing money. A new owner purchased it and discovered that the root of it problems was poor feng shui---namely that the toilet was next to a door and money was disappearing down it . The bar was fixed and the toilet was moved to correspond with feng shui principals and business began to take off.

Santlitun has a reputation for drug use. In a raid of the Phoenix Café and Pure Girl Bar police detained 20 people, including eight foreigners, for drug use and sized marijuana ecstacy and methamphetamines. Sanlitun Web Site: Beijing Travel Tips

On the Sanlitun bar scene, Nancy Trejos wrote in the Washington Post: “The Filipino band was doing its best to channel the Black Eyed Peas. The lead singer’s locks were as long as Fergie’s, and her dance moves just as animated. Though she was tiny, her voice was big enough to boomerang across the Beijing nightclub. Her red-rimmed sunglasses added to her mystique. All eyes were upon her. [Source: Nancy Trejos, Washington Post, October 7, 2011]

“Well, all eyes except mine. I was more entertained by the audience. On the dance floor, a heavyset Westerner was trying to moonwalk. A man in lederhosen and two women dressed like Heidi walked in and immediately joined him. Another man wearing a sombrero was ordering shots at the bar. No one seemed to think that their attire was odd. Nor did anyone seem flummoxed by the middle-aged couple gyrating on top of a table against a pole, not even when one of the pair took a tumble.

“It was Friday night at Swing, a club on Sanlitun Bar Street. And the party was certainly in full swing. Strolling through Sanlitun, one of Beijing’s most popular destinations for shopping, drinking and dancing, you wouldn’t think that you were in the capital of a country considered one of the most rigid and xenophobic in the world.”

Another night, “my friend Keith and I returned to Nali to check out the rooftop bar at Migas Restaurant and Lounge. The view of the city was spectacular. But it started to rain, so we escaped to a bar on the third floor called Apothecary, which Keith, who’s The Post’s Beijing correspondent, thinks has one of the most creative cocktail lists in the city. The menu was extensive, and each cocktail came with a long description. It was no surprise that a bar in Beijing would have cocktails named the Millionaire Cocktail and the Bazillionaire Cocktail. I ordered the Corpse Reviver No. 2, “named for its purported ability to bring the achingly hung―over back from the precipice of lifelessness. I wasn’t hung over, but I was intrigued. The concoction, made of gin, Lillet Blanc, Cointreau, lemon juice and absinthe, was light and delicious. I’d drink it any day, hung over or not.”

Sanlitun North

Sanlitun North is one the latest mega-shopping-and-entertainment complexes in Beijing. Nancy Trejos wrote in the Washington Post: “Not far from us was a “coming soon” sign advertising Alexander McQueen, Christian Louboutin, Juicy Couture and Marni stores. A wine shop called the Wine Gallery — the fruit of the vine has become more popular in Beijing in recent years — had a second floor for “members only.” Inside were rows of bottles from more than a dozen countries ranging in price from $30 to several hundred. I was tempted to sneak a peek at the members-only floor, but I knew that the salesman following me around the shop would never allow it. “Seedy bars, that’s what this place used to be,” Chandler said. “Just in the last three years, they’ve made all this.” [Source: Nancy Trejos, Washington Post, October 7, 2011]

“All this is Sanlitun Village,a prime example of Beijing’s evolution from dowdy to dynamic. It’s made up of Sanlitun North and South, and since its construction a few years ago, it has become a playground for expats and hip, young and fashionable Chinese. The Village’s bold buildings were designed by Japanese and American architects, including Kengo Kuma, SHoP and Lot-ek, and they tower over everything else in the neighborhood. The architects arranged the colorful glass structures in a maze to evoke the feeling of the old Chinese hutongs, traditional neighborhoods made up of alleyways and courtyards that are quickly disappearing all over the city.

“As I walked from Sanlitun North to Sanlitun South, I could see what Chandler meant. In between the complexes is a street that has somehow managed to escape the cranes. The buildings are dirty and gray and house a sex shop, a tattoo parlor, a video store called A Little High and takeout shops. Crates of empty beer bottles lay on the ground. Some windows displayed hookahs. A man sold yams from the basket of his bicycle. I felt as though I’d gone back in time. But just a few minutes later, I was in Sanlitun South, with its glistening two-story Apple store. I’d returned to the future.

“...For dinner another night, we hit the elegant new Sichuan restaurant Transit in Sanlitun North. A few friends had told me not to expect to eat well in Beijing. I suspect they’d been to Beijing a decade ago, before the city’s culinary scene exploded with new restaurants and world-class chefs. Transit’s modern Sichuan menu included a spicy prawn dish with chocolate sauce, which worked surprisingly well. The service was impeccable, and I loved the soothing decor with its plush banquettes, gray-cushioned chairs and bonsai trees.

“Just as swanky was the nearby boutique hotel called the Opposite House, which attracts the hip and even the famous: One Thursday night, we spotted Chelsea Clinton there. The hotel also boasts a nightclub, high-end restaurants and a revolving art installation.“When you enter the 99-room Opposite House, you can’t help looking up. That’s because of a dramatic six-story atrium with curtains of steel mesh hanging from the ceiling. The lighting is dark and moody, somehow making the whole place seem intimate.”

Sanlitun South

Sanlitun South seems to have been set up around its popular two-story Apple store. Nancy Trejos wrote in the Washington Post: “I was craving a salad. I’d spent a week eating delicious Hunan, Sichuan and Cantonese fare, but all I wanted for lunch this afternoon was lettuce and chicken. I was exploring Sanlitun South, the Village complex that attracts a younger crowd, as attested by stores such as Mango, Dr. Martens, Steve Madden and the wildly popular, always crowded Apple store. [Source: Nancy Trejos, Washington Post, October 7, 2011]

“I had dozens of dining options serving cuisine from all over the world, but I went into the very American-sounding Element Fresh, which specializes in salads and sandwiches. It even offers a California Hippie sandwich made with avocado, cucumbers and tomatoes. I sat on the patio, even though it was windy, enjoying the view of the ultramodern complex. At one table, a group of foreigners was discussing a presentation in English and busily tapping away on their laptops. At another, two Chinese girls were drinking tea.

“When I finished my salad of grilled vegetables and chicken, I stopped to talk to manager Andy Minoie, who’s originally from Massachusetts. His brother co-founded the chain in Shanghai and opened a location in Sanlitun three years ago because the place was booming, he told me. Business has been brisk, with a good mix of locals and tourists. In fact, 60 percent of his clients are Chinese, Minoie estimated. “Before the Village opened, there was really nothing that people would go to,” he said.

“Afterward, I stopped by the piazza for some people-watching. A fountain in the center spewed water in dramatic fashion every few minutes. Parents let their toddlers run around and splash in the water. A screen against one of the buildings beamed commercials for the Village’s businesses. I chatted with Olga Zeldina and Galina Velichko, two Ukrainians studying in Beijing. “It’s our second home,” Olga said of the Village. “It’s an international place. You can come here and forget you’re in China, meet with friends, go shopping, eat at international restaurants.” “Every month, there’s something new here,” added Galina. She was right. On my way to Sanlitun South, I stumbled upon a little courtyard, with smaller shops and even more restaurants, called Nali Patio, not technically part of the Village but tucked inside it.

Houhai Lake Bar and Restaurant Scene

Nancy Trejos wrote in the Washington Post: “Perhaps nowhere was that more apparent than in the capital’s Houhai lake district, where many traditional hutongs still remain. Lots of Chinese complain that too many foreigners have opened up restaurants, bars and shops in the hutongs. But Houhai’s residents have managed to embrace modernity while holding on to parts of their past. As fascinating as I found the new, sleek Sanlitun area, I was happy to explore a part of Beijing that still retained elements of the old China. [Source: Nancy Trejos, Washington Post, October 7, 2011]

“One night, a group of us, expats and tourists, strolled through the district’s narrow cobblestone passageways, some lined with small restaurants with Chinese-only menus, where locals dined on food I didn’t recognize. Just a few blocks away, we walked past restaurants advertising American and other non-Chinese fare. Shops sold antique tea sets alongside contemporary clothing.

“We visited a siheyuan, a traditional Beijing-style dwelling consisting of four structures surrounding a courtyard. In the past, these belonged to working- or middle-class Chinese families. Now, Chinese live in these homes alongside foreigners and wealthy locals.

“After sipping Italian wine in the courtyard of one siheyuan, we stopped by a food stand for stinky tofu, which was a bit too stinky for my taste buds. Then we crossed the bridge over the lake to satisfy a craving for Peking Duck, passing by many restaurants with outdoor seating that overlooked the water to settle on the tucked-away Quan Ju De, which had no outdoor seating and lacked the ambiance of the other restaurants. But the duck, steamed broccoli and bok choy made up for that. Most of the diners were locals speaking Chinese. Not even the waiter spoke English.

Peking Opera in Beijing

Peking Opera is a traditional form of entertainment in China that was quite popular in the old days and still has a following today. Most stories come from Chinese history and legends. Peking Opera is sometimes described as a dance drama genre in which actors often wear make up to highlight their facial features. It is said the focus of the art form is spectacle and athleticism and, like Japanese kabuki, all the actors, even those playing female roles, are male. Lao She Tea House (Qianmen area, Subway Line 2, Qianmen Station) offer Beijing opera and Chinese classical music shows with tea and food.

Prince Gong’s Residence (Xicheng District, just north of Shichahai Lake, Subway Line 6, Beihai North station, Exit B) is the largest quadrangle in the world. The Beijing opera house inside the mansion not only stages Beijing operas, but also other prominent forms of Chinese opera. In August 2008, the kunqu performance group from the "Jiangsu Kunqu House" performed their program Floating Dreams at Prince Gong's Mansion for a week.

Liyuan Theater (in Jianguo Hotel Qianmen, Hufangqiao Subway Station on line 7) is the most famous Peking Opera theater in Beijing but is a little touristy. There are performances at 7:30 – 8:30pm every day except for the Chinese New Year Eve. At this theater, you can sit around a Ba Xi'an Zhuo (old fashioned square table for eight people) and drink Chinese Tea while watching the show. If you are interested, you can go backstage and check out the dressing room to how the face painting is applied to the actors. Shows include Farewell My Concubine (Death of Yu Ji), The Crossroads, Autumn River and Pick up the Jade Bracelet. Most performances are shortened tourist shows.
Ticket Fare: CNY 380/480/580
Address: 1F, Jianguo Hotel Qianmen Beijing, No. 175, Yong'an Road, Xicheng District
[Source: Travel China Guide travelchinaguide.com

Chang'an Grand Theater (Xidan Business Street, near Beijing Railway Station) opened in 1996 and has modern facilities such as a multi-functional stage and computer-controlled sound and light systems. The interior features a Ming Dynasty design and traditional Peking Opera theatre decorations. It is regarded as one of the best Peking Opera theatres for acoustics and it has English subtitles above the stage. The theatre's second floor contains a museum which exhibits Peking Opera costumes, make-up and artifacts.
Ticket Fare: CNY80/100/180/280/380
Address: No.7, Jianguomen Inner Street, Dongcheng District

Huguang Guild Hall (Hufangqiao Subway Station, Subway line 7 ) is one of Beijing's most renowned Peking Opera theaters. Built in 1807, it was one of the "Four Great Theaters" in all of Beijing. Many famous past and present opera performers have performed here. Huguang Theater reopened in 1996. On Saturday mornings there may be amateur shows for elderly opera fans.
Show Time 6:30 – 7:30pm but shows are not everyday.
Address: Huguang Guild Hall 3 Hufang Road, Xicheng District, Beijing 100050, China
Tel: +86 135-52527373 (English)
E-mail: contact@travelbeijingguide.com
Website: huguangguildhall.com

Mei Lanfang Theater (Subway line 2, Chegongzhuang station exit B) is named by the outstanding opera master—Mei Lanfang (1894~1961). The building is a mix of traditional opera theater and modern construction style. It can seat 1,008 people on four floors so that everyone has a good viewing on the performance.
Ticket Fare: CNY50~2080
Address: No.32, West Ping'anli Street, Xicheng District

Acrobatics Shows in Beijing

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Acrobatics Shows are held around town. The Beijing Acrobatic Troupe is the capital's best known group. The troupe has (or had) 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.

Tianqiao Acrobatics Theater ( 95 Tianqiao Shichang Lu east end of Beiwei Lu, opposite Tianqiao Theater) is a small, century-old theater that is rarely full. According to The Beijinger: you can get frighteningly close to the action. The costumes and surroundings are a little threadbare, but the kids (and they are definitely kids) on stage are the real deal and the show’s great....Buy the cheap tickets – you can usually move closer to the stage once you’re in. RMB 180, 280, 380..

Chaoyang Theater (Subway line 6 or line 13 to Hujialou Station) is the most popular acrobatic venue with tourists. It has three shows most days: 4:00pm-5:00pm. 5:30-6:30pm and 7:00-8:00pm and features stunts like like pagoda of bowls, trick-cycling by girls, hoops jumping and skipping by men, plate spinning by girls, ball playing, balancing on the high chair and playing the umbrella and so on. The theater at the is on the eastern side of town at No. 36, East Third Ring North Road, Chaoyang District

According to theatrebeijing.com: The acrobatic shows is characterized by feats of strength and daring performed cleverly, precisely and accurately, and the ability of retaining balance in motion. To become a competent acrobat, students must has long stressed the basic training of the waist and legs from the time they are only 6 or 7 years old. Because the techniques employed in acrobatics are extremely difficult and risky, students must endure a good deal of pains for their gain.”

Dongtu Theatre (Subway line 5 to Beixinqiao Station, exit from A) features “Star Dream”, a long-term Beijing acrobatic show revolving an adventure story of exploring treasure lead by a clown character.

Red Theatre (subway line 5 to Taitanmen East Station, exit from B and walk about a kilometer) features “The Legend of Kung Fu”, martial arts acrobatics show that is different from the traditional Kung Fu show of the exhibition style, “The legend of Kung Fu” successfully introduces the drama into the Kung Fu performance. It tells the story of a young monk Chun Yi. He left his mother and went through many obstacles of enlighting, learning and thinking, and eventually became a grandmaster.

Shows are often listed in local English-language entertainment magazines, newspapers or websites. I saw a show in the mid 2000s at Wansheng Theater (near the Temple of Heaven Park, 95 Tianqiao Market Beiweidonglu) that featured 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. That theater is now closed.

Factory 798

Factory 798 (Subway Line 14, Wangjing Nan Station) is one of the most happening places in Beijing. An ex-arms factory in northeastern Beijing that evolved into trendy art complex in the early 2000s, it 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. It is located at an intersection of a busy road and the highway to the airport, just inside the Fifth Ring Road, in northeastern Beijing.

For most of its life this vast building was home to the 798 Electronic Components Factory, the largest military electronics plant in Asia. Built by the Bauhaus-influenced East Germans in the 1950s, it once employed 10,000 workers and produced components for nuclear bombs and missiles. In the 1990s the factory closed down and a real estate company took it over and began renting out spaces with some of the money from the rents going to pensions and allowances to former workers.

There has constantly been rumors that Factory 798 would be closed down. The owner of the site has said he wants to tear it down and build an industrial park or an apartment complex, a move the artist community of Beijing has vigorously opposed. For a while there was talk that a Hong Kong developer was going to buy the site, save art galleries and build of high rises around the factory. One ironic thing about the struggle is that capitalists and neoliberals want to tear the factory down to make way for developments and conservative in the government that want to save it. In January 2006, the Beijing government designated Factory 798 a cultural landmark in a “historic district,” protecting it at least for the near future. People now complain it is too commercial and is being overrun with tourists

Factory 798 is located in an area called the Dashanzi Art District, which has become home to a lively art community and has been compared to Soho in New York. The artists who work here are excited about the scene and say there are relatively free to do what they want as long as they don’t directly attack the government. Suohiacan was another area that attracted artists with large warehouse-like studios and low rents, but in November 2005 it was leveled by bulldozers after residents were given a 24 hour warning to evacuate.

Today Factory 798 is regarded by many as too touristy. Because 798 is a tourist place---one that turns everything into a tourist souvenir, regardless of what it was in the first place, regardless of what it might be in another space. When culture enters this framework it comes out as a product. When culture enters a space like 798 it becomes a part of a productive system, so what becomes more important is understanding the logic behind that process. Web Sites: Official Factory 798 site ; Wikipedia

Galleries and Spaces at Factory 798

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Factory 798
Factory 798 contains glass windows, massive arched open spaces and dozens of galleries and private art studios. Among the noteworthy occupants are the 798 Space, the largest art gallery in the facility and organizer of the Dashanzi International Art Festival; the Beijing-Tokyo Art Projects, which has hosted exhibits with some China’s coolest artists; the Yan Club, which hosts music and theater events in the old factory kitchen; and the Dayaolu Workshop, a vast, high-ceilinged space with dirt floors and vestiges of old machinery. The most notable gallery at factory 798 is the Beijing Commune founded by collector and curator Leng Lin, who has known artist like Zhang Xiaogang and Yue Minjun throughout their careers. Some a new spaces are in the East Art Zone A.

Nancy Trejos wrote in the Washington Post: “The 798 Arts District, once an industrial complex for the production of military electronics designed by East German architects in the 1950s, now boasts dozens of contemporary art galleries, coffeehouses, bookstores and boutiques selling quirky Mao T-shirts alongside motorcycle helmets. [Source: Nancy Trejos, Washington Post, October 7, 2011]

“More than 300 Chinese and foreign contemporary artists are in residence or showcased at 798. We walked along several of the tree-lined streets, popping in and out of the galleries. I particularly liked the cavernous 798 Space, which featured arches painted with Maoist slogans and an amusing painting of a man’s hairy back on one wall. There was art on the sidewalks, too. Local teenagers posed before a massive bronze statue of a grossly overweight naked man. A dirty London telephone booth, which I assumed was meant to be a work of art, stood outside one of the boutiques. Several stores hawked postcard paintings of President Obama dressed as Mao. Here was something I hadn’t expected to find in Beijing: a sense of humor.”

A 26,000-square-meter space — the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art — was opened in November 2007 by the Belgian baron Guy Ullens, and his wife Myriam, with $21 million they made from selling some Turner watercolors. Designed by the French museum-renovation-specialist Jean-Michel Wilmotte, it features computer-controlled natural and artificial lighting and well-thought our exhibits, showcasing Chinese artists from the key 1980s period. The facility has its own restaurants, library, bookstore, auditorium and multimedia installations. The admission price is $4 for adults. The presence of a high-profile art gallery like the Ullens Center has put an end rumors that 798 might be torn down.

National Center for Performing Arts

National Center for Performing Arts (opposite the Forbidden City, Subway Line 1, Tiananmen Xi Station) is an opera house with a controversial design by the French architect Paul Andreu that its supporters hope will leave a Sydney-Opera-House like stamp on Beijing. Situated somewhat incongruously among massive Stalinist buildings at Tiananmen Square and larger than New York’s Lincoln Center, it features a massive bubble-like titanium shell, 149,500 square meters of floor space and three halls: a 2,416-seat opera house, a 2,017-seat concert hall, and a 1,040-seat theater, plus a small experimental theater.

Situated in the heart of the capital, next to Tian'anmen Square, the National Center for Performing Arts is Beijing's foremost cultural center. The theater has been one of the most talked-about architectural projects for years, because of Andreu's audacious and innovative design and the project's grand scope. The curved building's titanium and emerges like an island at the center of a lake.

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National Center for Performing Arts
The site for the center was designated in 1950s. The original plan called for a Stalinist building built with Soviet help but that plan was scrapped when relation between China and the Soviet Union became strained in the 1960s. The structure that Adeau designed is very complex and took seven years to build. Among Andreu’s other works is a terminal at Charles de Gaulle International Airport that partially collapsed shortly after it was inaugurated, killing four people, including two Chinese, and a terminal at the Dubai airport which collapsed during construction.

As for music performed in the national theater, Alex Ross wrote in The New Yorker, “the concert hall has reasonably clear acoustics but lacks warmth. In the top corner of the opera house where the sound should be best, the orchestra comes across as tinny and colorless. There is little evidence that musical considerations played a role in the design. No serious acoustician would have approve the halls’ pocket of extra space , where sound bounces around and gets lost.”

During the first weeks after the center opened in 2007 it welcomed soprano Kiri Te Kanawa, tenor Jose Carrereas, conductors Kurt Masur and Seiji Ozawa and the Kirov Ballet. The tickets for events and even tours are expensive and beyond the reach of ordinary Chinese. A cheap seat in the uppermost gallery of the opera hose goes for about $70, considerably higher than an equivalent seat at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Many seats are set aside for politicians, diplomats and corporate VIPs, which inevitably means that many seats are empty at sold out events as these people fail to show up. Open Hours: 9:00 to 5:00pm (closed on Monday); Admission: 30 yuan for adults; 15 yuan for children, Tel: +86-010-6655 0989; +86-010-6655 0000 (ticket reservation) Getting There: Bus 1, 4, 10, 20, 37, 52, 726, 728 and 802 to Tian'anmen West; or take subway Line 1 to Tian’anmen West Station, Exit C. Web Sites: China National Center for Performing Arts ; Wikipedia ; Guardian Slideshow

Architecture and Design of the National Center for Performing Arts

The design for National Center has been compared to a flying saucer, a hatching dinosaur egg and a giant blob. For many Chinese it looks like an egg set in a pot of boiling water, and the name “The Egg” has stuck. Its total cost: $365 million, which works out to about $90,000 a seat.

Critics, complain the new structure is too costly and ugly and has been built with no considerations to its surroundings or China’s history. One blogger wrote: “It looks like a quasi-foreign devil in the historical palace area. If you weren’t told it was the national theater you would probably think it was an oil tank or a huge warehouse.” Some say the modernist design disrupts the feng shui of Beijing and therefore threatens the entire nation. Many dismiss it a ben dan (“stupid egg”) or huai dan (“rotten egg”).

The 56-meter-high elliptical shell, which Andreu said is “a symbol of rebirth,” is designed to look as if it is floating on water. It sits in the middle of a lake, with 16,000 cubic meters of water, enough to fill 42 Olympic-size swimming pools. At night the titanium and glass structure glows and is reflecting in the water, some say, like a pearl or a rising sun. The dome in the pool is intended to represent the Chinese concept of a round sky and square earth.

There are no doors. People enter through a glass-roofed venue and staircase situated below the reflecting pool. Some critics have said that the entrance comes off as “silly and cumbersome” rather than dramatic and make the building difficult to evacuate in an emergency (one has to cover a distance of 250 meter to reach freedom).

The box office, main lobby and exhibition hall in the theater are on the basement level. A long corridor leads to the center of the complex, a large atrium enclosed by the dome. The view from here is quite spectacular. Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Slender escalators that look like they’re suspended in the air crisscross the atrium, climbing to balconies that lead to the upper levels of the theaters. The vast ceiling under the dome is lined with slats of Brazilian redwood. The effect is something between a 21st century airport and the innards of a piano.”

One of the biggest problems with the structure is keeping the titanium shell shining brightly. Dust and pollution can be washed off but removing bird droppings is not so easy. An army of cleaners has been employed to keep the shell clean and a nanotechnology film has been applied to the glass to dissolve the dropping and dust.

Image Sources: 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.

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), UNESCO, Rough Guide for Beijing, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in May 2020

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