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Sword swallower in the 1920s
Villagers entertain themselves with weddings, festivals, games and drinking. Wrestling matches, traveling actors and magicians and cricket fights are popular in some places. Traditional forms of entertainment are increasingly being replaced by television, videos, DVDs and computers.

For many Chinese having a good time revolves around having a big meal and drinking with a close-knit group. The idea of going to bar and mingling with strangers is not something a lot of Chinese do and the idea of it scares a lot of them.

Street nightlife includes carnivals, karaoke contests, acrobatic shows, and free outdoor kung-fu films shown on a white sheet hoisted in front of a truck. Particularly popular are traveling women’s troupes and strip shows. The troupe typically show up in a truck that coverts into a ticket booth. The show is held inside a tent before an audience of 100 to 150 or so men, many of them migrant workers, and climaxes with the women taking off their clothes.

Karaoke contests are easy to stage and draw large crowds. The Harmonious Sound Workers Karoake Contests set up in construction site in a new economic development area drew 12,000 spectators.

The Chinese reportedly spend a larger proportion of their income on entertainment than people in most other countries. Urban Chinese enjoy spending their free time at bowling alleys, karaokes coffee bars, cyber cafes, and McDonalds. One Chinese sociology professor told the Washington Post, "The society has come to a period when we have enough to eat and enough to wear, and now we've begun to think about the enjoyment of life."

Saturday off is relatively new phenomena for middle class Chinese. These Saturdays are now spent doing things like enjoying family picnics and attending recreational basketball clinics. Many urban Chinese spend their free time on the weekends shopping in Western-style shopping malls. Young adults can spend a night out at a restaurant, movie theater and bar with a bubble pool that can easily set them back $150.

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fake Disneyland
People in China are used to going out and eat at night. They’re not used to going out to the theater and buy tickets. For many decades, tickets had been given away by employers or other sources. Changing this expectation of free tickets has been one of the great challenges in the development of the live performance market in China, performing arts promoters have said. [Source:Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, New York Times, July 9, 2010]

“Many cities in China have built a top-notch performing arts centers in the hopes of lifting its cultural credentials and offering new forms of live entertainment to the increasing numbers of middle-class and wealthy Chinese. Yet many arts professionals from the West say China has a long way to go. Audiences remain small. Many of those who attend are not accustomed to paying for tickets. And after years of state-financed performances, the government is increasingly looking to the private sector to support both foreign and domestic arts troupes.”

In imperial times, people flocked to tea houses and public squares to listen to storytellers. They often told multi-part stories that kept audiences coming back for more. In the Mao era, people were forced to attend propaganda meetings and watch propaganda films and participate in the officially-sanctioned yang ge dance gatherings. In the Cultural Revolution there were "model operas" and "loyalty dances" to keep the masses entertained.

The entertainment industry in China is big and profitable. It was projected to generate revenues of around $358.6 billion in 2021, according to a report by consultancy PwC.

Singing and Dancing in China

rightChinese generally are shyer about dancing than singing, whereas the reverse is true with many Westerners. Chinese children generally have few opportunities to dance when they grow up and feel awkward doing it, but they do a lot of singing in school and tend to regard it as a fun activity like recess or sports. Among Chinese adults karaoke is very popular. In parks, people often sit in groups of twenty or thirty and sing songs or put on plays or operas. Chinese singers with good voices of course are admired more than those with bad voices but even bad singers are applauded for their effort.

Some retired people meet every morning in a local park to sing patriotic songs. A retired shipbuilder who leads one such group in Shanghai told the New York Times, “Singing keeps me healthy.”

In the 1990s ballroom dancing was very big. Dozens of couples gather at dawn before work in Shanghai's Peace Park and other parks in China to practice their mambo, tango and cha, cha, cha steps. Most of the dancers were under the age of 25.The activity remains popular. There are over 100 ballroom dance halls in Shanghai. "People say they go to ballroom dancing for their health," American scholar James Farrer told Newsweek. "But it always married people without their spouses."

Entertainment in the Mao Era

leftThere was not a lot of entertainment during the Mao era. There weren’t many bars, nightclubs or restaurants. Even if there were people didn’t have any money to spend at them. People who drank and partied tended to do so quietly at home. Streets were empty at night.

For entertainment people attended soccer matches, films and local concerts and theatrical productions. Young couples used to dance to fox trots and tangos played by amateur orchestras. Jazz and rock were frowned upon. Occasionally a circus with "monkeys and small dogs, ponies, jugglers, acrobats on bicycles, clowns and Hula Hoops" came into town.

Most schools, factories and municipalities encouraged people to join clubs. Parades on major Communist holidays were big events. They featured portraits of Mao, Lenin, Marx and national leaders held aloft on forklifts and girls with hula-hoops and gymnasts forming Spartikaid formations (See Below). In the stands spectators formed designs with placards.

Even in the 1980s the streets of Shanghai were quiet at 8:00pm after street vendors selling dumplings, poached eggs and green tea closed down for the night, By 9:00pm everyone was in bed. A date consisted of going to public park and walking around and possibly necking behind some bushes.

Karaoke in China

rightKaraokes are popular and guests at parties are often required to sing a song. The first karaoke bars appeared around 1990. By the mid 1990s they were arguably the number one fad in many parts of China. Today, you can find karaokes 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 the number of cinemas in China. 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.

Every pop video produced in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan now has a karaoke version. By contrast karoake versions of English pop songs tend tp be crudely made. The government, karoake and KTV bars, and record companies are in battle over copyright fees from the KTV video requests from customers.

Some people trace Chinese love of karaoke to a love of singing lyrics that dates back to Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907) when poems were sung. These day the karaoke features on computers and televisions are important selling points. After demonstrating a multi-media computer with karaoke capabilities before some customers, one computer company representative told Reuter, "Most of the people are attracted at first by the movies, but the karaoke is what they are really interested in."

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 with drinks in their hands and stuck with an outrageous bill.

In 2006, the Chinese government banned karaoke bars from downloading overseas songs with unhealthy content ostensibly as part of a drive to protect copyright holders rights.

Nightclubbing in China

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Woman at a bar in Shanghai
Describing the scene at a nightclub in Bund 18 in Shanghai, Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian: “The crowd in the club is made up mostly of expat western men and their Chinese girlfriends. In the cigar lounge, Emily introduces me to a French food and beverage manager, Julian Desmettre, who describes how the nouveau riche from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore have made the city their playground: “Shanghai is like Paris during la belle époque. This is the city of wealth and style, where people must show their money, where they are judged by how they dress, where they look down on those with less than themselves.”[Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, June 26, 2010, , edited from “When A Billion Chinese Jump” by Jonathan Watts Faber, 2010 ]

“Most revellers in the lounge are European. “Where can I meet Chinese partygoers? “I ask Emily, but she is reluctant to recommend anywhere: “There are clubs, but they are the type of place you'd find in a second-tier city. The music and decor are not as good, but Chinese men prefer them because they don't want to be near foreigners. Chinese women are different. They are more open. They go where the quality is.”

“Wandering around local bars and restaurants, I meet bar owners who organize prostitutes for customers and set up trips to karaoke parlours, where hostesses strip off to sing. Shanghai seems to be emulating the consumer sex industry of Tokyo; the hostess bar scene is reminiscent of Japan at the height of its “bubble economy”.”


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Cultural Revolution Restaurant
Cosplay — dressing up as favorite video game or manga characters and acting like those character — is becoming increasingly popular in China. Dozens of performers and hundreds of fans show up at events like Chinajoy Cosplay Carnival in Beijing, where cosplay groups pose in tableaux and are rated by a panel of four judges — government officials and website editors — who award points based on style, performance and similarity to the original characters. The groups can have several dozen cosplayers.

Describing the action at a Chinajoy event in 2009, Jules Quartly wrote in the China Daily, “The group Pink Monkey Heaven’s elaborate role playing performance based on the online game Ragnarok, is one of the highlights. It begins with five girls dressed in Arabian Nights-themed costumes, gauzy skirts and golden bras, posing under golden wings...Organizers tried to eject the amateurs, insisting they need a media pass, but they gave up. A fresh set of cosplayers troop onto the stage, wave their weapons and strike a poses...Pink Monkey Heaven scores 85.6 and comes in second, just 0.4 of a percentage points behind the eventual winner Yi You Comic Club.”

Most of the participants are teenage girls or young women. One of the female members of Pink Monkey Heaven told the China Daily. “Its about putting on a good show, doing the best we can and enjoying ourselves.” A male member said, “I like fantasies, it’s fashionable and lively.”


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Cultural Revolution Restaurant
The IKEA outside of Beijing has become a popular outing destination of local residents, who often don’t buy anything but are not shy about making themselves comfortable with a good book on the sofa and climbing under the covers of the beds and taking a nap. [Source: Los Angeles Times]

Some Chinese drive an hour and a half to soak up the IKEA vibes. One 34-year-old officer who took his family to the store told the Los Angeles Times, “We just came here for fun. I suppose we could have gone somewhere else, but it wouldn’t have been a complete experience.” A 23-year-old woman who came with her boyfriend, mother and sister said, “We’ve heard a lot about IKEA but never came, I like the simplicity. My mon likes the food. We’ll hang out for a while.”

Many visitors enjoy cheap lunches at the IKEA cafeteria and pose for group pictures in front of the most eye-catching displays in the store. Some bring carpenters to take careful measurements of the furniture so they can make copies of them. Some mother bring toys for their kids to play with and let their kids jump on the couches. Others, resting on the beds, tell people passing by things like bed are “soft and a great buy for the price.”

The mangers at IKEA endure the freeloading behavior to build a positive brand image, with the hope that in future when these freeloaders have money they will use it to buy IKEA products.

Bars and Discos in China

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Cultural Revolution Restaurant

There were only two bars in Beijing in the early 1990s. The entertainment scene there at that time consisted mainly of late-night restaurants, cramped hotel discos and apartment parties held by foreigners. Rock concerts were usually banned or heavily policed. Chinese woman were sometimes interrogated by secret police if they were seen dancing with foreign men.

Now there are scores of bars. Trendy nightspots in Beijing feature retro performances of Mao-era revolutionary operas in front of Chinese yuppies text messaging on their cell phones. Shanghai has a branch of Hooters. A plan to open a Playboy “lifestyle” club in Shanghai was nixed by the Shanghai government.

Discos like NASA, J.J.'s and Nightman in Beijing and Shanghai were big in the late 1990s. They had strobe lights, mirror balls, transvestites, dancing women in cages and, at one place, a helicopter jutting out of the wall. On busy nights, they packed in 2,000 people who paid cover charges between $3 and $17. One regular customer at J.J.'s told the Washington Post, "After I go home, I think about how coming here costs a lot of money. But then the next day, I want to come again." Other bars in Beijing feature darts competition, rock' n' roll shows, and jazz performances.

Men and women often don't dance as couples. Friends usually dance in a group. Often you are more likely to see people of the same sex dancing together than people of the opposite sex. Sometimes men even slow dance together. The activity is not necessarily seen as gay.

Discos usually begin their night with fairly mellow dance music and often feature a raffle and crooning session lead by a singer, with couples pairing off for slow dances. Serious partiers, if there are any, arrive late when the atmosphere and the music is a little wilder.

Book: “China High: My Fast Times in the 010: A Beijing Memoir” by ZZ (St. Martins 2009) offers an inside look into the Beijing party and clubbing scene by a high-flying, American-educated, Shanghai-born lawyer-entrepreneur who ends up in jail on drug charges.

Oxygen Bars in China

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fake Beach

Oxygen bars, where patrons put on a mask and breath mouthfuls of pure oxygen, are popular in China. Customers at the Flying Dragon Oxygen Recreation center in Kunming, in Yunnan province, for example, pay $15.40 per hour to sit on black leather loveseats in a private room lit with red light and drink, eat and sing karaoke songs while breathing in 99.58 percent pure oxygen.

Chinese patronize oxygen bars for a variety of reasons: improved health, relief from smog, clear skin, long life. The customers say it helps them relax, clears their lungs of pollution, feeds their brain and skin, and makes them feel "more likely to make money." Asked what he thought about oxygen bars, a pulmonary specialist in New York, told the Wall Street Journal, "I can't imagine it would do much of anything."

In smoggy, polluted Beijing customers stick tubes up their nostrils like emphysema patients and inhale oxygen for around 20 minutes. In Nanjing there is a “crying bar,” where customers pay 50 yuan an hour to get out their frustrations. Service include tissues and methanol drops, dolls that customers can aggressively throw around and onions, red peppers and depressing background music to stimulate tears.

Shanghai Disneyland and Theme Parks in China

Bumper boats in Changsa

Theme parks are viewed by many Chinese and investors as a way to get rich quick. The only problem is that many people have had the same idea. The result: some 2,000 parks, many of dubious quality, were built in a five year period in the 1990s and 2000s and many people lost their shirt. American Dream, a theme park that cost $50 million to build, expected 30,000 visitors a day when it opened. On some days it welcomes only 12 people, who pay $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 karaokes, cable cars, resorts and rides such as children’s roller coaster with cars shaped like MiG fighter planes. Such is the case with some of the most popular spots on the Great Wall of China. See Great Wall of China, Places

Ground was broken on Shanghai Disneyland in April 2011 on a former farm and factory ground southwest of the city. The theme park will cost $3.7 million and take more than 10 years to be fully realized. It will be part of an “international tourism resort” zone located near the main international airport in Pudong. Disney has a 43 percent stake in the endeavor. A consortium of government-backed local companies owns the majority 57 percent. the first phase of Shanghai Disneyland is scheduled to open in Shanghai in 2016 In November 2009, the Chinese government approved Disney’s request to build a theme park in Shanghai. Disney had been trying for years to get approval for the park. There is a Disneyland in Hong Kong (See Hong Kong) .

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fake Disneyland
Videndi is building Universal Studios amusement parks in Shanghai and Beijing.The Pasadena-based Hettema Group is designing a Hello Kitty park set to open southwest of Shanghai in 2014. Burbank-based Thinkwell Group is working on a Monkey Kingdom park near Beijing based on the classical Chinese epic novel also scheduled for 2014. [Source: Kelvin Chan, AP, July 27, 2011]

Legions of newly affluent Chinese making more trips around the country is one big factor driving China’s resort building boom, said Christian Aaen, a principal at consultancy Entertainment+Cultural Advisors. There’s also a large pool of young people who are “looking for new things to do and are starved for entertainment,” he said. Phil Hettema, president of The Hettema Group, said he’s in talks “probably every week about additional projects upcoming in China. There’s a growing market there. There’s a huge class of people looking for family entertainment.”

China’s government is also trying to promote tourism as part of a push to boost domestic consumption. Regional governments have been partnering with private companies to build property developments anchored by theme parks that also include hotels, shops, restaurants or other services, said Aaen.

But there are no guarantees of an easy ride. Hong Kong’s Disneyland has never turned a profit since it opened in 2005 despite being popular with mainland Chinese visitors. The park is the smallest Disney property, which many blame for its poor performance. Asia also has its share of abandoned amusement parks, many of which suffered because of lack of investment.

“Ninety percent of theme parks in China that are designed by Chinese companies fail,” Goddard said. He tells this to potential clients before asking them if they really want to proceed. Part of the problem is that some developers want to do it on the cheap. Sometimes that means they want to clone famous existing parks even though they don’t have enough money, said Goddard. He has been working on and off in China for about 15 years and has had to talk potential clients out of trying to copy Disneyland or Universal Studios. “You’re never going to be as good as the real thing. You want to do something original and different,” he says.

When projects do get under way, designers need to adapt attractions to Asian tastes. Many Asian park visitors consist of families that may include a young child and one or even two sets of grandparents. That means extreme rides are out, said Kevin Barbee, of KB Creative Advisors. For these families, “if you have a roller coaster, the youngest is probably too short to go on and oldest ones don’t want to be spun and twisted,” said Barbee, who recently moved his office from Los Angeles to Singapore. He’s working on several new Universal Studios attractions there and is close to signing a deal on a theme park renovation in China.

Designers say another big difference is the food. In China, theme park visitors just aren’t as gastronomically adventurous as their counterparts at parks in North America. “You can’t really have themed food. They don’t want French food or Italian food,” said Goddard, but added that they will make an exception for hamburgers and hot-dogs.

See Ethnic Group Theme Park Under Erhinc Minorities, Large Southern Groups, Dai

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Kingdom of the Dwarfs

Dwarf Theme Park in China

Reporting from Kunming in Yunnan Province , Sharon Lafraniere of the New York Times wrote: “Chen Mingjing’s entrepreneurial instincts vaulted him from a peasant upbringing to undreamed-of wealth, acquired in ventures ranging from making electric meters to investing in real estate. But when he was 44, the allure of making money for money’s sake began to wane. He wanted to run a business that accomplished some good. [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, March 3, 2010]

And so in September 2010, “Chen did what any socially aware entrepreneur might do: He opened a theme park of dwarfs, charging tourists about $9 a head to watch dozens of dwarfs in pink tutus perform a slapstick version of Swan Lake along with other skits... Chen has big plans for his Kingdom of the Little People. Imagine a $115 million universe in miniature, set amid 13,000 acres of rolling hills and peaceful lakes in southern China’s Yunnan Province, with tiny dogs, tiny fruit trees, a 230-foot-high performance hall that looks like the stump of a prehistoric tree and standard-size guest cabins...Also, a black BMW modified to resemble a flying saucer, from which dwarfs will spill forth to begin their performances.”

“The site is far from complete. So far, it mainly consists of a tree, 33 Dr. Seuss-style cottages with crooked chimneys where kingdom residents pretend to live and specially equipped dormitories where they actually reside. But it is already drawing its share of detractors.”

“Critics say displaying dwarfs is at best misguided and at worst immoral, a throwback to times when freak shows pandered to people’s morbid curiosity. “Are they just going there to look at curious objects?” asked Yu Haibo, who leads a volunteer organization for the disabled in Jilin Province in the northeast. “I think it is horrible, said Gary Arnold, the spokesman for Little People of America Inc., a dwarfism support group based in California. “What is the difference between it and a zoo?”

Others disagree. “Jean Van Wetter, the China director for Handicap International, a London-based nonprofit organization that helps the disabled, argues that integration diminishes prejudice; isolation reinforces it. This is the kind of thing you see in China, he said.”

“Chen asserts he has won support from no less than the United Nations World Peace Foundation. He displays a certificate designating his company, Yunnan Jiucai Yundie Biotech Ltd., as the Charity Base Camp for Kunming.

The park, 40 minutes by car from Kunming, is not yet profitable. One recent chilly afternoon, only a few dozen spectators showed up. Performers hope for bigger crowds.

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Kingdom of the Dwarfs

Performers at the Chinese Dwarf Theme Park

“But there is another view, and Chen and some of his short-statured workers present it forcefully,” Lafraniere of the New York Times wrote: “One hundred permanently employed dwarfs, they contend, is better than 100 dwarfs scrounging for odd jobs. They insist that the audiences who see the dwarfs sing, dance and perform comic routines leave impressed by their skills and courage.” [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, March 3, 2010]

“Many performers said they enjoyed being part of a community where everyone shares the same challenges, like the height of a sink. Before, when we were at home, we didn’t know anyone our size. When we hang out together with normal-size people, we can not really do the same things, said Wu Zhihong, 20. So I really felt lonely sometimes.”

“Supporters and critics agree on one point: the fact that the park is awash in job applications shows the disturbing dearth of opportunities for the disabled in China. Cao Yu, Chen’s assistant, says she receives three or four job inquiries a week. Under the current social situation in China, they really will not be able to find a better employment situation, she said.”

“Chen said his employees had gained self-respect and self-sufficiency. It doesn’t really matter to me what other people say, he said. The question is whether meeting me has changed their lives. Wu said it had. Nicknamed Itty Bitty, she is just 3 feet, 9 inches tall. Before Chen hired her, she developed photos and worked as a telephone operator, jobs she said deliberately kept her out of public view. Now, she said, she sometimes see spectators tear up during the performances. If they laugh, she said, it is because the routine is funny, not out of ridicule.”

“One theme of the show is the need to overcome hardships — a lesson Chen says he believes is too often forgotten as Chinese families grow richer. And there is the Swan Lake parody, a crowd pleaser in which male dwarfs dress up in pink tights and tutus and wiggle their derrières.”The first time I wore that, I felt really awkward, said Chen Ruan, 20, who used to collect refuse with his parents. But then I got up on stage and people liked it. People were applauding and I felt proud. At first I thought it was surreal, Zhang Furong, 38, a lead actor. But the strongest emotion I felt was here, we are among equals.

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Shanghai Expo 2010 UK pavilion

Shanghai Expo Attendance

China declared that Shanghai Expo 2010 was the biggest tourism event ever. A total of 73.08 million people visited it, surpassing the previous record of 64.22 million held by the Osaka Expo in 1970. Most of the visitors were ordinary Chinese who came from all over the country by the busload and trainload. One man from Jianxi Province told AP, Thanks to the expo, people like me who never would have a chance to go abroad can experience the whole world.” Some people waited 12 hours to see certain exhibits. Only 5.8 percent of the visitors — about 4.2 million — were foreigners, according to government data.

Shanghai Expo 2010, See Shanghai, Places

David Barboza wrote in the New York Times, “Breaking the record was a matter of national pride, and in a country with a history of mass mobilizations and state propaganda, reaching the target was not a question of whether but when. State-run tourist agencies had travel quotas, and state companies handed out free vouchers good for a one-day visit, all in the hopes of helping pump up the numbers. “I’m in charge of encouraging 5,000 workers to get on this Expo trip organized by our company,” Chen Hao, 23, deputy chief of the labor union at a state-run steel mill in Shanxi Province in northern China, said last week, after posing for photographs near the China Pavilion. “I got free tickets from the travel agency.” [Source: David Barboza, New York Times, November 2, 2010]

Tao Renran, a member of 60-member group from a state-run garment factory told the New York Times he was not so gently coerced to go. “We were required to come, otherwise, they said, they would cut our wages,” he said after traveling eight hours by bus to get a one-day glimpse of the Expo. A member of a state power company tour told the New York Times. “Our department arranged for 20 honored wives of pioneering workers in our department to come here,” he said. “Some of them have never been to other cities before. The company pays all the accommodation — everything.” According to tourism experts, state employees and government bureaucrats from virtually every part of the nation were ordered to pile onto buses, trains and planes and head to the Expo 2010.

Liu Kang, who teaches at Duke University and Jiaotong University in Shanghai, said there was never much doubt Shanghai would meet its target. He said, “China always has these quotas and if they don’t make the numbers, it’s not good for those in power.”

“But hopes for a record-breaking effort seemed in doubt after visitor numbers dipped to 131,000 a day on May 3, Barboza wrote. “That was far below the 380,000 daily average organizers said was necessary to break the record. Soon after, Expo officials reminded the media that Shanghai’s 20 million residents would each be given a free one-day Expo pass. The city also started a promotional blitz on the nation’s state-run networks. State travel agencies were pressed to deliver on their Expo quotas. And they did.”

“We had to entertain lots of government tourists,” said Ni Ni, a spokeswoman for the Jiangxi International Travel Agency in Jiangxi Province, in western China. “We arranged for a group of 1,000 for our local state-owned company. These kinds of trips are all covered by the government. Each travel agency partnering with the Expo has a quota. As far as I know even the very remote areas like Anhui, Henan and here in Jiangxi Province have all surpassed the quota.”

“By early summer, it was clear that Shanghai was on track. Millions of schoolchildren began arriving,” Barboza wrote. .”And overflow crowds jammed the Expo grounds. Entire villages of farmers, sometimes wearing matching Tang Dynasty-era nylon jackets, camped out. On October 16, a record 1.03 million visitors jammed the Expo park — breaking another Japanese record set in 1970. And two days later, the 70 millionth visitor arrived. Headlines in the state-run news media declared “70 million-plus reasons to celebrate.”

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Shanghai Expo 2010 Japan pavilion

Going to the Pavilions at Shanghai Expo Attendance

David Barboza wrote in the New York Times, “Still, visitors to the Expo were hardly lemmings being pushed solely by government handouts. There seemed to be a genuine interest and curiosity about seeing a World Expo, and exploring a range of pavilions and exhibition halls.” [Source: David Barboza, New York Times, November 2, 2010]

“People lined up for four hours last week to get into Japan’s pavilion, dubbed the “purple silkworm.” And the line snaking around Saudi Arabia’s pavilion was eight hours long.With long lines at the American, French, German and British pavilions, which were among the most elaborate, many visitors opted for those of Slovakia, the Maldives and North Korea (which featured a fountain, Korean folk songs and an English sign that said “Paradise for People”).”

“Plastic ferns, artificial flowers and department store mannequins dressed in national garb did not deter visitors from fighting for positions at dozens of smaller pavilions and exhibition halls. “This place has its own uniqueness,” said Jing Yangfa, a retired Shanghai university professor, while examining carpets at the exhibition hall created for Tajikistan, a country on China’s northwest border. “This is really like a visit to Tajikistan.”

“Some desperate visitors tried to con their way into the special access line of pavilions by pretending to be confined to a wheelchair. And there were reports that elderly women were standing near the entrance gates offering to rent themselves out as Expo escorts for $25 a day — a sure way to pass through the special access line. Scalpers even began hawking V.I.P. tickets to the Saudi Pavilion for nearly $150.”

Fireworks in China

Firecrackers, Roman candles, noisemakers and cherry bombs are widely available in China and used in all kinds of celebrations, and are particularly associated with Chinese New Year. China in where many of the world’s fireworks are made. Several hundred people are seriously injured, or even killed, by fireworks every year.

See New Year, Holidays, People and Life; See Fireworks, Industries, Economics

A ban on fireworks in the inner city of Beijing was imposed in 1994 out of concerns about injuries, fires and noise. More than a quarter of a million police were put on the streets in Beijing on New Years Day as part of the effort to prevent fireworks-related accidents. The ban was not welcomed and was widely regarded as a way to undermine the festive nature of the holiday. One man told the New York Times, “When fireworks were banned it took the atmosphere out of it. All these things about safety and the environment — don’t worry about it. Give people some fun.”

The ban on fireworks in Beijing was lifted in 2005. Most people were happy with the decision. The new rules allowed fireworks to be set off at specific times during the New Year holiday period and prohibited their use near schools, hospitals, historic buildings and bus station. The rules also stated fireworks could not be launched from roof tops or balconies and stated: “When you set off fireworks, do not throw them at people.”

In Shanghai, an estimated 380,000 boxes of fireworks were set off to usher in the Year of the Pig iin 2007. The city government hired 20,000 people to clean up the mess left behind on the streets the following morning.

Acrobats, Traveling Acts and Circuses in China


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. The art form is said to have reached its height in the Tang Dynasty when acrobats were allowed to perform freely. Circuses also have a long history in China. There were descriptions of juggling, stilt walking, wrestling, animal impersonations, balancing acts and equestrian displays in circular ring in Han period records dated to 2,000 years ago.

Acrobats and dancers performed in the Imperial Chinese court. In the 1920s, child acrobats performed at train stations and town squares. Among urban Chinese today, acrobatics is considered passe and quaint. Most performances in Beijing are attended by foreign tourists or overseas Chinese.

Acrobats and circus performers have traditionally been considered among the lowest classes of people in China and acrobatics itself has traditionally been regarded as low brow form of entertainment, the kind performed before poor peasants in village squares, while opera was the form of entertainment favored by the elite.

China is filled with traveling acts that appear at nightclubs factories, industry conventions and shopping malls. Novelty is often the key to success. Among the acts that have done well are a man who pulls cars with his ears and breaks glass with his teeth and a rap group called Qian Jin Zu He made up women that weigh between 200 and 375 pounds and do rap called "So What If I’m Fat." Some acts are the objects of audience abuse. Once while the fat girl rappers were performing, a man climbed on stage and, insisting they were wearing fats suits, placed a burned cigarette on one the girl’s skin to find out. [Source: Washington Post]

Circus and Acrobatics Under the Communists in China


Under the Communists circus acts and acrobatics were elevated to "people's art." Many Chinese acrobats and circus performers were trained at the Chinese Acrobatic Theater in Shanghai. The director of the theater told write Paul Theroux "We call it a theater because the performance has an artistic and dramatic element. It has three aspects — acrobats, magic and a circus." In addition to practicing their art, the acrobats were also taught math, history, literature and language. [Source: "Riding the Iron Rooster" by Paul Theroux]

"Before Liberation," the director said, "all acrobats were family members. They were travelers and performers. They performed on the street or in any open space. But we thought of bringing them together and training them properly.”

Most of the acts in Ringling Brothers Circus these days are from Eastern Europe or China. In the 1980s, Ringling Brothers paid the Chinese Acrobatic Center between $200 and $600 a week for each person and the Acrobatic Center in turn paid the acrobats about $30 a week.

There are over 1,000 acrobatics troupes in China today and many are sponsored by the military, government agencies and factories. The Shenyang Acrobatic Troupe toured the United States before China and the United States established diplomatic relations.

Every couple of years, China hosts an “acrobatic Olympics.” The one in 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 prizes and the runners up getting the Silver Lion prizes. The winners were organized into a theme-based, music-backed production called the Golden Lions.

Acrobatics and Circus Acts in China


Acrobatic shows feature performers walking on tight ropes, doing bicycle tricks, performing gymnastics, twirl hoops and batons, spinning plates on poles, doing kung fu kicks and leaps. People are not the only ones that do tricks. On the streets of Urumqi in Xinjiang, Monkeys in pink bows do acrobatics.

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 balancing on her head.

The Chinese have squeezed 13 people onto bicycle in an act known as "Peacock Displaying Feathers" and performed deaf-defying stunts that rival those of Evel Knievel. Perhaps the most amazing of performers, are the little girl who can spin 10 soccer balls at one time on their arms and legs and balance a whole set of spinning dishes on a chopstick placed in their mouth. Young female acrobats contort their bodies and twist their backs in such a way that it looks as if they are giving birth to their heads.

In one contortionist act at the International Acrobatics contest in Wuhan, a girl did a one arm hand stand, with her leg sticking out to the side, on top of girl twisted up like a backward pretzel whose legs were difficult to distinguish from her arms.

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 a dazzling array of household chores while standing on a partner and balancing a stack of porcelain bowls on her head, feet and hands.

The Chinese have trained pigs, chickens, bears, pandas and even cats to perform tricks. The roosters "stand on one leg" and do "some other funny things." Pigs do not perform very often but they can be trained to walk on two legs." Pandas push a cart. The Chinese have drawn criticism from animal rights groups for beating animals and using other violent or cruel methods to train them.

Almost every night at Cultural Park in Guangzhou (Canton) in the 1980s a stuntmen performed "a death-defying," 360-degree mid air flip on a motorcycle, something that now routine on the X-Games. Shanghai acrobats achieved a six-person high column with a teeter board in 1993. Jay Cochrane, a 51-year-old Canadian, set a worlds record for the highest and longest tightrope walk: a 50 minute stroll, 2,112 above the Yangtze River in the famed Three River Gorge.

Acrobatic Swan Lake and High Wire Over the Yangtze

An acrobatic version of Swan Lake became all the rage in the mid 2000s. Swan Lake has always been a popular ballet in China. It was the first full-length ballet performed after the founding of the People Republic of China. The acrobatics version performed by the Guangzhou Acrobatics Team — a military troupe attached to the Guangzhou Greater Military Region — filled theaters throughout China, including a 30-day sold out run in Shanghai and toured cites in Europe and North America.

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Describing some of show Sheila Melvin wrote in the International Herald Tribune: “In several scenes, acrobats walk on stilts disguised by red toe shoes that give the effect of exaggerated point dancing. The famous dance of the four little frogs, has been amusingly” performed by “men who do the entire dance on their arms."

“The prince’s sea journey,” Melvin wrote, “provides a platform for many amazing and beautiful acrobatics, including one scene in which the masts of his ship are represented by three men standing about three meters apart, holding long bamboo poles pointing skyward. Three sailors from the ship climb up the poles and fly through the air from pole to pole, gripping them only with their legs — until finally three sailors cling to a single pole, still born aloft by only one man.”

The hottest ticket in Beijing reportedly is for the avant-guard Women's Circus.

Traveling Circuses in China

Small traveling circuses troupes still go from town to town in rural China. They travel in beat up buses, erect tents 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.

Describing a traveling circus act in the remote mountain town of Xinglong in Hubei Province, Jim Yardley wrote in the New York Times. “A shirtless, chubby man offered a short prayer to Buddha, then he grimaced and groaned as a man from the audience dropped four small pellets the size of BBs into his mouth...The man grunted and stuck out his tongue as proof that he had swallowed the pellets. Then he promised to retrieve them.”

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Yardley wrote: “He grit his teeth and pressed his hands against the right side of his stomach. He said he was going to push the BBs through his chest into his head....The monk then pressed the chopstick against a vein in his neck, pushing slowly until a small glint appeared, in the brim of his eyelid...Two small metal pellets fell out of his right eye into a tin cup below. A few second later sliding the chopsticks up his left side, the monk produced two more balls out of the left eye. The astonished crowd murmured as if they had seen a miracle."

“It was one act of many. One monk tightened a steel chord around his neck until he turned purple, and another bound his chest in sharpened metal wire.” A junior monk “dislocated his shoulder and then popped it back into place...At intermission, the performers showed their true talent, moving merchandise.” They sold prayer beads and cheesy Buddhas claiming all were imbued with mystical powers.

In December 2004, government officers assaulted a group of disabled street performers in Qinzhou in the Guangxi Province. . The officers in turn were attacked by a mob. Hundreds of people were involved in the incident. Some officers were hurt.

Image Sources: 1) Bucklin archives ; 2, 3) Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/; 4)Poco Pico; 5) Cgstock http://www.cgstock.com/china ; 6) Beifan 7, 8) Chinese Merchants Associatio of San Francisco; 9)Xinhua Mostly Asia Obscura

Text Sources: 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.

Last updated October 2011

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