Monday, September 15, 2008

Temple-Theatres of Pingyao Ancient City

There is a common idea in Chinese culture that is almost impossible to find (literally) in the North of the country, the idea of theatre and religion as one architectonic entity. Theatre in China is not any more something sacred but many of its subjects came from religious stories; it is said some theatre buildings are built where used to be temples (1) , but at least in Beijing (and other cities on the North) you don't see anyone where people worship and see theatre.

So, last July 2008 when I visited the ancient city of Pingyao in Shanxi province (one hour-flight from Beijing) I was very surprised of finding three theatre buildings not where used to be a temple but built inside the temple itself!, and temples where people keep worshiping.

Every temple (taoist temples) in Pingyao has its own stage, usually the same stage than any other Chinese Opera theatre, but not with the same style Court Qing dynasty theatres have (2); many Pingyao's temple-theatres where built during Ming dynasty when Pingyao was an important financial city in China. Details from Ming and Qing style can be seen in any of them.

Pingyao is a very important sight because it is a place almost entirely preserved as an early 18-19th Century Chinese city was, with a big wall surrounded it and houses, palaces, temples, and shops inside. Built around 1200 A.D. its glory was during last years of Ming Dynasty (around 1600 A.D.). In early 19th Century, when the ancient financial system failed in China, (due to the incursion of Western banks in the country), Pingyao was literally abandoned, and during more than hundred years there weren't significantly changes in the city. It was after the 90's of 20th Century, that UNESCO and other organizations took part in the preservation of this treasure.

The city now have one modern theatre and one Tea house-style (3) where usually are performances for tourists of local dances, songs and local opera (Shanxi Opera), but those theatre-temples I'm talking about are unused most of the time.

One curious singularity of this stage buildings are their main entrance, down stage; people, priests and anyone entered to the temple square through a tunnel situated exactly down the stage.

Chenghuang Temple-Theatre in Pingyao

Chinese Opera Theatre Stage at Chenghuang Temple (Pingyao) from Gustavo Thomas on Vimeo.

Caishen Temple-Theatre in Pingyao

Caishen Temple-Theatre in Pingyao Ancient City from Gustavo Thomas on Vimeo.

Cuohou Temple-Theatres in Pingyao

Cuohou Temple-Theatres in Pingyao Ancient City from Gustavo Thomas on Vimeo.

(1) Zhenyici theatre in Hepingmen (in Peking's downtown) is one of them. Today totally rebuilt.
(2) See my post of 24/April/2007: "China:Court Theatres in the Qing Dynasty"
(3) I have a special post for the performance I saw in one of this tea house-theatre.

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