When I first started learning Chinese, I remember listening to a song from a Beijing opera and thinking that it sounded like a ghost screaming. A few years and some change in taste led me to enjoy a wonderful performance of Beijing opera. One of my teachers said that if you went to China and didn’t watch at least one Beijing opera, it’s like you did not even go to China. She thought it odd that out of a 20 student program only 4 students went to see the performance. Honestly, I could understand why. The songs are sung in a way that only would have been understandable about 200 years ago. The Chinese lyrics are all in Classical Chinese which even native speakers need to be taught to understand. And the English translation often made no sense. No matter to me. The costumes were beautiful, the music enchanting, and the stories hilarious and engaging. In other word I loved it.
One of the biggest reasons that I loved it is because I am a huge fan of Chinese movies. If you are at all familiar with Chinese movies you have to have watched 霸王別姬 （Farewell My Concubine.） It’s probably my favorite Chinese movies and it borrows heavily from the Beijing opera of the same name. It was a surreal moment for me to actually see people dress in the costumes before my eyes and then preform things that previously have only been available to me in movies. I have had many moments like this in China. Before so many things that seemed like they could only exist in a different world, but now I am personally experiencing those things during my time in China.
Another aspect of Chinese art that one must experience while in Beijing is the 798 district. Named after the factory that was previously based there, this district has now become a hub of contemporary art and commerce and of course foreigners. It was really cool. I saw art from around the world, from native Chinese artists to Iranian artists. I truly experienced art to a disturbing extent in a VR exhibit. I saw pieces that I want to be a part of my future home and certainly some things that I could have done without seeing. One thing that made the trip so much fun was that I went with one of my favorite teachers. She is hilarious. It was interesting hearing her perspective on art and China and the development of business all over Beijing. Whenever she saw something she didn’t quite understand she would just say 藝術(art) and nod like she really knew what was going on.
Looking at art has been one of my favorite ways to pass my time in China. Since there is more than 5000 years of Chinese history, the depth of meaning in the ways the people in China choose to express themselves is insurmountable, and I have only scratched the surface. From a picture of Batman say “Jaoboy” to watching actors that have been training their whole lives, all forms of art in China are worth experiencing.