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Acrobatics in China


The Chinese acrobatics has a long history and rich national flavor. It is one of the art forms most popular among the Chinese people. In a broad sense, acrobatics is the collective name of various kinds of feats. In the primitive society, acrobatics was closely related with music and dance, and became dominant of cultures at that time.


In the Variety Show of the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) and performances in the imperial court of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), acrobatics was very prosperous just like music and dance. After the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties, acrobatics together with classical dances were looked down upon. However, some superb feats of the previous dynasties were still handed down to the later generations and got much improvement. Chinese acrobatic art spread to overseas and enjoyed a good reputation at the late years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and the early years of the Republic of China (1912-1949).


In the Qin Dynasty (221-207BC), Jiaodi Drama (a drama that incorporates an ancient wrestling skill), originally popular among ordinary people, was introduced to the imperial court. Jiaodi Drama developed into a variety show of various music-dance acrobatics, including juggling sword, handstands, walking on the robe, feats on horseback, climbing poles, fighting with animals, and so on in the Han Dynasty.


Historical records show that Han Emperor Wudi (r.140-86BC) held a grand banquet and largess awarding ceremony in the spring of 108BC. Large-scale acrobatics performances were staged in the event, including various variety show feats and performances of foreign acrobats. Exotic feats made the acrobatics in the Han Dynasty more developed and colorful.


In the Tang Dynasty (618-907), acrobatics was prevalent in the imperial court and among ordinary people as well. Royal families not only appreciated acrobatics during banquets but also had acrobatics performances in processions of high officials. An Outing of Lady of the Song, a mural in the Dunhuang Mogao Grottos, was one of the examples.


The acrobatics in the Tang Dynasty was not as developed as that in the Han Dynasty, and some programs in the Jiaoti Variety Show were eliminated, but those programs left enjoyed surprising development and took on new characteristics.


In the Song Dynasty (960-1279), acrobatics moved from the imperial court to ordinary people, and the performing form and program contents witnessed profound changes. The emergence of Cheng's and Zhu's idealist philosophy and the prevalence of feudal ethics made the acrobatic art that came from ordinary people and was close to real life receive repulsion. Except some variety show items used in military trainings and performances in ceremonies in imperial court, most acrobatics programs were used by acrobats in vagabondism as a way of living.


This change made some large-scale programs disappear, while various small-scale programs and programs performed by families or individuals came into being. Juggling skills saw unprecedented development, and some fine works that show feats of waist, leg or head emerged.


In the Ming (1638-1644) and Qing dynasties, acrobatics was still a way of living for some people. Programs performed by individuals, father and son, master and apprentice, saw much development, and there formed many small-scale serial acrobatic performances, retaining many traditional feats.


Chinese acrobatics form their unique artistic characteristics: (1) much attention to the training of waist, leg and head feats; (2) stability in dangerous movements, quietness in actions; (3) producing something strange out of something plain; (4) attention to both heavy and light, hard and soft skills. For instance, Juggling Objects with the Feet involves objects of varying weight, including heavy objects like wine jar, wood block, ladder, gong and drum, and even quick, and light objects like parasols made of thin silk; (5) combination of much strength and spry and light somersault skills; and (6) good adaptability.


All these artistic characteristics help form the unique charm of Chinese acrobatics. In recent years, Chinese acrobats won prizes in many international competitions, and China was internationally recognized as the No.1 Country of Acrobatics.



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