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) 🙂


from kung fu to commercial

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China has such a blend of ancient meets modern, basic meets advanced, east meets west. One day we are watching Shaolin monks performing kung fu moves and the next we are in modern Shanghai with the high rise buildings.

Push up with four fingers?
Push up with four fingers?

Visiting the Shaolin Temple and watching a demonstration was one thing we were looking forward to from the moment we booked the trip. And it didn’t disappoint. We were treated to a half hour performance where the performers were doing push up with four fingers, boys aged about 10 or 11 performing “stunts” and one performer broke a piece of metal over his head. This demonstrated the power of the mind and how the energy we have from within can be transferred.

Holes created from the force of the monks' fingers
Holes created from the force of the monks’ fingers

There are trees within the grounds that have these deep holes bored out by fingers of monks who had completed the training.  Imagine the force and power required to do that!

One thing we witnessed which we are still in awe today. Had we not seen it with our own eyes live on stage we may not believe it ourselves. There was a monk holding a balloon and another two monks holding a piece of glass in front of this balloon. This was a piece of glass that was taken around and tapped to show to the audience that it was a solid piece of glass. One of the monks prepared himself for about a minute with his eyes closed, controlling his breathing and then threw a needle (no bigger than a sewing needle) at the piece of glass, penetrated the glass and burst the balloon. His first attempt had failed and the nail merely bounced of the glass but his second attempt created a tiny “bullet” hole in the glass which was again brought around for the audience to see. Holy moly – it was one of the most incredible things we have seen happen in front of our eyes.

Zen Music Show in the open air theatre
Zen Music Show in the open air theatre

On the same night, we attended a Shaolin zen music show in the open air theatre. Sitting in the middle of the mountains, the backdrop could not be more magical! It was worth sitting in subzero temperatures for!

After farewelling ancient China, we were culturally awoken when we arrived in Shanghai. Shanghai is very westernised, very modern and had blue skies! In most places around China, it was quite rare to steal glimpses of the alphabet as most things were written in Chinese characters however arriving in Shanghai, English is everywhere. We were already feeling like our holiday was coming to an end. We even got to see a little Australia had hit Shanghai when the lights went out for an hour for Earth Hour 🙂

Shanghai buildings