THE BIRTH, DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF CHINESE
Spoken drama was only introduced into Chinese theatres in the twentieth century. The
People's Art Theatre in Beijing became the best-known company and staged Chinese-
language translations of European plays - Ibsen and Chekhov were among the favourite
playwrights. But with the onset of the Cultural Revolution in 1968, Jiang Qing, Mao's third
wife, declared that “drama is dead”. The company, along with most of China's cinemas and
theatres, was almost completely out of action for nearly a decade afterwards, with a cor-
pus of just eight plays (deemed socially improving) continuing to be performed. Many of
the principal actors, directors and writers were banished, generally to rural hard labour. In
1979, the People's Art Theatre reformed and quickly re-established its reputation.
Beijing Exhibition Theatre 北京展览馆剧场 , běijīng zhǎnlǎnguǎn jùchǎng 135 Xizhimen-
wai Dajie 010 68354455, bjexpo.com ; Beijing Zoo subway (line 4). This giant hall, con-
taining nearly 3000 seats, stages classical ballet, folk dance and large-scale song-and-dance
Capital Theatre 首都剧场 , shǒudū jùchǎng 22 Wangfujing Dajie 010 65121598,
- their photo archive, documenting their history, is displayed in the lobby. Most performances
are in Chinese. Tickets generally start at ￥ 80.
China Puppet Theatre 中央木偶剧院 , zhōngyāng mùǒu jùyuàn Corner of Anhua Xili &
Third Ring Road 010 64254798, puppetchina.com ; Anhuaqiao subway (line 8). Once as
important for commoners as opera was for the elite, Chinese puppetry usually involves hand
puppets and marionettes. Occasionally, shadow puppets made of thin translucent leather and
supported by rods are used. Beijing opera, short stories and Western fairy tales are put on,
aimed at kids. 5 shows daily 10am-3pm; from ￥ 100.
Penghao Theatre 蓬蒿剧场 , pénghāo jùchǎng 35 Dongmianhua Hutong 010 64006452,
penghaotheatre.com ; Nanluoguxiang subway (line 6). Intimate, privately run theatre set
in a beautifully converted courtyard house in a hutong just behind the Central Academy
of Drama. In addition to fascinating performances that range from Shakespeare to modern
dance, they also have a rather nice rooftop bar.
ACROBATICS AND MARTIAL ARTS
Certainly the most accessible and exciting of the traditional Chinese entertainments, acro-
batics covers anything from gymnastics through to magic tricks and juggling. The tradition
of professional acrobatics has existed in China for two thousand years and continues today at