Běijīng is the cultural capital of China and by far the best place to be if you’re interested in seeing anything from ballet and contemporary dance, to jazz or punk bands. Then there are the traditional local pastimes such as Peking opera (jīngjù) and acrobatic shows, as well as movies, theatre and Běijīng’s various sports teams.
While there might be an instinctive Chinese fondness for K-pop and Taiwanese boy bands, Beijingers have always been at the forefront of the more soulful end of the Chinese music scene. Now, you can find all sorts of bands – indie, alternative, punk, metal, folk and jazz – lifting roofs every night of the week in venues that range from Qing dynasty courtyards, to open-air cinemas. Come summer and Běijīng hosts the odd open-air festival too. Sadly, though, the capital remains a backwater for international rock and pop acts, very few of whom make it out here.
Acrobatics & Beijing Opera
Two thousand years old, Chinese acrobatics (杂技; zájì) is one of the best shows in town and there are daily performances at a number of different theatres. Look out too for the legendary, shaven-headed Shàolín monks, who pass through the capital regularly to put on displays of their fearsome fighting skills.
Far more sedate, but equally intriguing, is Peking opera, also known as Běijīng opera. It might seem impenetrable to foreigners, its mystique reinforced by the costumes, singing style and, of course, the language, but live performances are actually relatively easy to follow. Plot lines are simple (rather like Shakespearean tragedy, including the low comic relief) and the shows are a more interactive experience than you might imagine.
The Chinese are avid football (zúqiú) fans, with many supporting the top teams in England, Italy and Spain. Now, the China Super League is emerging as a force of its own in Asia, with increasing numbers of foreign players arriving to lift standards. The local heroes are the Běijīng Guo'an, who play their home games at the Workers Stadium in front of some of China's most vocal fans.
Even more popular than football is basketball. A number of Chinese players have followed in the footsteps of national icon Yao Ming to play in the NBA. The capital's team is the Běijīng Ducks, Chinese champions for three of the last five years. They draw a big crowd at the 18,000-seat Wǔkēsōng Arena in Hǎidiàn.
Need to Know
Ballet, classical music, and Chinese folk or contemporary dance performances generally start at 7.30pm at the big concert-hall venues. Acrobatics and opera houses often have two shows a day, starting at 5.15pm or 6.30pm and then again at 7.30pm. Live-music venues mostly open their doors around 8pm and don’t close till the wee hours.
Check the monthly expat magazines, which can be picked up around town, for the latest news on events and who is playing when and where.
Prices & Tickets
Some live-music venues don’t levy an entrance fee, but if a popular local band or any international act is playing, they will, and it's advisable to reserve tickets in advance. You’ll need to book ahead if a famous foreign orchestra or ballet company is in town too.