It’s often said that early autumn is the best time to visit Beijing and see what the city has to offer. While getting out and about everywhere may not be possible at the moment, that doesn’t mean you can’t start to make plans!
To that end, for the past few weeks Cultural Keys, in partnership with some of the best travel and culture companies in the business, has brought to you our Best of Beijing series. Each week, our partners introduce you to the best of what the Chinese capital has to offer, from food to flowers, from classical architecture to useful words and phrases especially for Beijing!
For our final entry in this series, it’s our turn to give you our own list, this time looking at cultural activities that you can do in the capital about the capital! Hopefully you’ll get some ideas for things you can enjoy over the remainder of the summer and into the autumn!
Chinese opera might sound a little strange to the ears of those not used to it, but it is a stunning blend of many different art forms – music, singing, dancing, martial arts, acrobatics, costume design and make-up art, as well as literary art forms. A combination of opera styles from Anhui and Hubei provinces became 京剧 Jingju (Peking Opera, or Beijing Opera as it is better known today), and it is considered to have been fully formed by around 1845.
Beijing Opera is much simpler than other styles of opera in China. For example, the vocal requirements for each role are simpler compared to other styles, and the smaller number of melodies and singing patterns means anyone can sing them. Performers are the only focal points on Peking opera’s bare stage, with costumes, facial make-up, gestures and conventions all helping the audience to understand the plot.
If you’re interested in learning more about Beijing Opera, Liyuan Theatre in Beijing is a great place to attend a performance with English subtitles and an opportunity to see the performers making up before the show!
Beijing Cuisine Cooking Classes
Learning to cook the local food of any place is a great way to connect more with the local culture. Influenced by its climate, Imperial cuisine and the cuisine of other provinces, particularly Shandong, Beijing cuisine (京菜 jingcai) often features meat, wheat and tofu-based main and side dishes featuring scallions, cabbage, soy paste, sesame paste and sesame oil. Well-known Beijing dishes include Beijing Duck, zhajiangmian, mutton hotpot, Beijing dumplings, jianbing and Beijing yoghurt. These are of course eaten in other areas of China, but are particularly associated with the capital.
If you’d like to learn to cook Beijing cuisine, Beijing Cooking School has three delicious menus to choose from, including dishes such as braised duck with soy sauce and spices, hot and sour soup and caramel coated sweet potato!
Hutongs are one of the most famous features of Beijing. Created from the perimeter wall of many family courtyards lined up in rows next to each other, these winding alleyways punctuated by shopfronts, spectacular doorways and glimpses of beautiful courtyards within have become a symbol of the capital, albeit a fast-disappearing one (and if not disappearing, fast-commercialising).
The word hutong is a Mongolian one meaning ‘water well’ and comes from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) whose capital Zhongdu became Beijing. Since having a courtyard oriented north-south with the door in the south was good feng shui, most hutongs in the capital run east-west.
If you’d like to explore more of Beijing’s hutongs, why not join BElectric to tour historic Beijing from the comfort of an electric bicycle? Their ‘Old Beijing’ tour takes in many different hutongs, including Nanluoguxiang, and much more!
Painting the Rabbit God
The Rabbit God, or Rabbit Lord (兔儿爷 tuerye), is Beijing’s only indigenous ‘deity’. The legend goes that Beijing was hit by a terrible plague, and the rabbit who lived on the moon saw this and came down to try to save the people. As he didn’t have any clothes to wear he had to take robes from the statues in a temple. He successfully saved the people from the plague and ever since has been a much-loved folk deity.
You can buy figurines of the Rabbit God in any souvenir shop in the capital, but even better, you can paint your own at a Cultural Keys workshop! Including a presentation and painting workshop, as well as all materials, this is a great activity for kids and adults alike!
What cultural experiences unique to Beijing have you taken part in? Are there any you’d like to participate in but don’t know how? Let us know in the comments below!
– Cultural Keys, Beijing Cooking School, BElectric
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Cultural Keys helps people access, understand and experience the traditional culture of China. Click the image to read more about Cultural Keys and what we can do for you, your school, company or organisation to help you get more out of your time in China!