Ring in the Year of the Ox at Beijing’s best temple fairs
Beijing is gearing up for Spring Festival, China’s biggest holiday, and come January 26, 2009, it’ll be time to celebrate in lao Beijing fashion. Do as the locals do: Bundle up and head to the temple fairs around town.
The tradition of temple fairs extends back a thousand years, and nowadays you’ll find a cornucopia of regional foods, arts and crafts, and traditional performances on display in Beijing. Go back in time to the Qing dynasty, play traditional games, eat fancy treats or get tech-savvy – there’s more to Chinese New Year than the fireworks exploding throughout the city.
Dubbed the “International Spring Festival Carnival,” this modern, multicultural temple fair has become a favorite of many Chaoyang residents since it was first held in 2002. As its name indicates, the fair features performers from all over the world. The best of both Eastern and Western cultures are on full display, with music, dance, drama, fashion, magic tricks, acrobats, costume parades and even standup comedy throughout the fair. Toss in the sound and light shows and a day spent at Chaoyang Park is more than enough for even the most high-energy tykes.
Jan 26-31, 9am-5pm; RMB 10
Chaoyang Park, 1 Chaoyanggongyuan Nanlu, Chaoyang District (6591 5258) 朝阳公园，朝阳区朝阳公园南路1号 www.sun-park.com
Everything Lao Beijing:
You’ll find Beijing’s biggest traditional Spring Festival temple fair in Ditan Park. Every year, lao Beijing folk artists gather here to showcase crafts like Chinese fan-painting and perform kung fu, acrobatic tricks and a type of comedy called xiàng shēng (相声). Catch a Sichuan opera performance and watch as
actors spout fire and change their elaborate face paintings with just a shake of the head.
Check out the many regional arts such as nianhua (Chinese New Year’s paintings) from Tianjin and wood carvings from Dongbei. Look on as artisans make tanghua, a Chengdu treat-on-a-stick; artists use melted sugar to draw dragons or phoenixes on marble boards and then attach the sweet to a stick for handy eating.
Kids can have fun playing traditional Chinese games such as diuqianyan (tossing coins into a hole in the middle of a well) and taoquan’r (throwing hoops around wooden or clay figures on the ground). Many traditional toys can be found here too, like bolanggu (a small drum with two drumming balls attached to its sides), fengche (a small pinwheel) – toys that have disappeared from modern shopping malls.
Jan 25-Feb 2, 9am-5pm; RMB 10
Ditan Park, Andingmenwai Dajie, Dongcheng District (6421 4657) 东城区安定门外大街地坛公园 www.dtpark.com
Best of the Best: Longtan Park
Famous for its local performance competitions, Longtan Park is where you can find the best stilt-walking, unicycling and boat dancing (a
traditional performance where two people “row” a life-sized canoe made of paper) in the city. The invigorating sounds of Chinese drums and elaborate lion and dragon dances amplify the energy here. Visitors also come to watch the niuyangge (harvest dance), a popular rural dance that farmers perform.
The coolest low-tech attraction at the fair is probably the layangpian’r, a form of motion pictures developed in Beijing in the late 1800s, similar to the zoetrope that was invented in the UK. A performer turns a crank that moves a series of drawings or photos inside a dark box, creating a moving image that viewers can watch through peepholes while the performer accompanies the story with a song. This peculiar little movie box was a major form of entertainment for Beijing kids 100 years ago.
Jan 25-Feb 1; RMB 8
Longtan Park, 8 Longtan Lu, Chongwen District (6714 4336) 龙潭公园，崇文区龙潭路8号
We really are living in a high-tech era – even Chinese temple fairs have gone digital. Since 2007, Zhongguancun in Haidian District, known as Beijing’s Silicon Valley, has hosted an annual technology temple fair, featuring scientific demonstrations, interactive games and environment-friendly products. Not only is this fair renao for both kids and adults alike, but it’s also educational.
The fair is comprised of a sports area, a science and technology area, and a gaming area as well as local arts performances. If you can drag your kids away from the computer games, have fun observing the magical
powers of electricity, sound and light. Food isn’t a highlight of the fair, so be prepared for a purely scientific and cultural experience.
Jan 26-Feb 1; Free
Zhongguancun Pedestrian Street, Zhongguancun Square, Haidian District 海淀区中关村广场步行街
Literature Comes Alive:
Dream of the Red Chamber at Daguanyuan
Step into one of the most famous scenes from all of Chinese literature. The fair at Daguanyuan creates a world based on Dream of the Red Chamber by Qing
dynasty writer Cao Xueqin. Set at the height of Chinese feudal society, the novel tells the tragic love story of two cousins in an aristocratic family. The story has been adapted into Peking operas, movies, TV series, plays, musicals and other art forms. Built in the early 1980s, Daguanyuan was
meticulously designed to resemble the family compound described in the novel. If you haven’t had a chance to pick up the multi-volume translation, the Daguanyuan fair is an excellent way to experience one of the world’s most loved romance novels.
Literature buffs should head to the main stage for a dramatic performance of the novel’s most famed chapter, “Concubine Yuanfei Visiting Relatives” (Yuanfei xingqin). The “Twelve Talented Girls” (shi’er chai), the book’s most important characters, perform classical Chinese music and dance. Finally, munch on novel-related snacks in the Red Chamber Restaurant.
Jan 26-31, 7.30am-5pm; RMB 20, RMB 10 (students) Daguanyuan, 12 Caiyuan Nanjie, Xuanwu District (6354 4993/94) 北京市宣武区南菜园街12号 www.bjdgy.com