cultural shows of china

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As a tourist in China, there is the opportunity to see a “cultural show” of some sort!

In Beijing, it is usually the Peking Opera. In Xi’an, it is probably a Tang Dynasty Show.  In Shanghai, it is likely to be the acrobatic show. We saw all three and our favourite was none of these but instead an outdoor  zen music performance by the Shaolin monks in Dengfeng.

Whether the shows are worth watching or not is really up to each individual. And for us, it was a case of “now we’ve done it – we know which one NOT to see again!”

So, what did we really think?

Beijing – Peking Opera

To watch a Peking Opera, one needs to keep an open mind (a really open mind)! The costumes are fascinating however that is probably where the fascination for us ended. The story lines (as there are about 3-4 mini plays in the overall show) are difficult to follow as the subtitles are on the wall alongside the stage (our eyeballs are not skilled enough to look at two different things in opposite directions). We mean no disrespect for this traditional cultural performance but the singing is high-pitched and whining and can be quite unbearable after a while.

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Xi’an – Tang Dynasty Show

We were a little wary of seeing this show following the Peking Opera, however we were pleasantly surprised. Firstly, this show came with a buffet dinner. The buffet dinner had quite a fair bit of variety and the food was rather tasty. The show was colourful with beautiful costumes and stage settings. It was definitely engaging and entertaining. The instrumental performances were most enjoyable.

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Shanghai – Acrobatic Show

This particular show didn’t allow photography, which was different to all the other shows we saw in China, but we could understand why. The acrobatics in this show were unbelievably fast and camera flash could have dire consequences if performers were distracted. Picture Cirque du Soleil but without the comedy and clowns – the performers somersault through hoops and balance plates on poles. There was even a magic show with audience participation which was amusing! The show was rather upbeat.

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

Dengfeng – Shaolin Zen Music

We have never seen a show that has blown us away as much as this performance did. It was set in a beautiful outdoor theatre with the billion-year-old mountain ranges behind it. There was music, there was kung fu, there were monks on zip lines re-enacting fight scenes across the mountains (imagine Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and there was a light show. The entire performance was mesmerising yet so calming.

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Earlier in the day, we had witnessed a Shaolin Monk performance at the temple which was a true display of training and what the body is capable of doing. The discipline demonstrated by those trained here is just mind-boggling.

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Our verdict:

We appreciated being introduced to the different cultural shows of China. But we won’t be rushing back to get tickets next time we are in China, especially not for the Peking Opera. Our favourite is, without question, the Shaolin Zen Music performance and is worth experiencing if you are ever in Dengfeng. Just be warned that in April – the night temperatures drop below zero degrees (Celsius) 🙂


a city where 20+ million live

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Keeping an eye on the temperature on our iPhones before we left showed that China was going to be cold. And because we were doing more “off the beaten” track – we would be in the mountains which meant it would be even colder! We were on the 18-day Helen Wong: Ancient Panorama tour. The great thing about this tour was that the price we paid was inclusive of all meals, accommodation, transport and flights.

Flying with Cathay Pacific to get to Beijing was a very uncomfortable experience. The seats instead of dropping back, slide out from where your bum is. Very unusual design as we don’t know anyone’s back who actually can be angled that way. But anyway, we made it to China and found out that on our tour we had 8 people. That’s right…. ONLY 8 people: a wonderful couple from Townsville who we are still friends with today (thanks to Facebook) and 2 other couples from NSW and us from Sydney. Again we were the youngest in the group but that doesn’t faze us.

The weirdest thing to date that we have experienced was looking up at the sky and seeing only fog and pollution. The sun literally looked like a “lightbulb” in the sky or was it the moon, actually we will never know.

The sun amongst the grey skies
The sun amongst the grey skies

Driving through a city that houses almost the Australian population, you can imagine – there are cars and people everywhere all the time.

It was quite a surreal feeling to be walking around Tiananmen Square, around the Forbidden City and around the Temple of Heaven. The architecture and artwork on the buildings are intricate and carefully constructed. When we visit places like this, our minds try to imagine what life would’ve been like back in time. In this instance, it was trying to conjure up imageries of emperors and advisors and carriages and ceremonies. But the only “reference” we have to really do this though is to think of movies or paintings depicting such scenes.

As fascinating as all this history was, we were more keen on doing a few other things in this city:

1) The Great Wall of China

2) Eating Peking duck in Beijing (or formally known as Peking).

And both we did do!

Getting to the top
Getting to the top

Now nobody told us that to walk on the actual wall that you needed to climb up a gazillion steps first. Not that it would have made a difference because we were going no matter what. Starting off, we were as keen as beans but by about midway, the calf muscles start to tighten, the thigh muscles start to ache, the beanie comes off and then the puffy down jackets are stripped off… we had to get to the top – nothing was stopping us!

And when we did, all the aching and panting dissipated! Peacefully quiet facing a pathway that goes on forever…. well for approximately 21, 000 km at least. Another wake up call reminding us how great this world is and how amazing the people can be!

View more photos of our trips at Photo Gallery.

The stairs that no one tells you about
The stairs that those who have gone before forget to mention
The Great Wall that goes on
The Great Wall that goes on