Guanghe Theater, built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the oldest one
in Beijing, is to be torn down during the May Day holiday week.
With a history of more than 360 years, Guanghe Theater is thought to be the
cradle of Peking Opera.
Many eminent Peking Opera
actors have performed on its stage, such as Mei Lanfang (1894-1961), who rose to
fame following his first performance at the theatre at the age of 10.
Pedestrians cross Qianmen Street in
Beijing. Inset: The Guanghe Theater which is located near the street.
[China Daily/Wang Wenlan]
The owner of the theater was originally a salt merchant surnamed Zha, and it
was first named after him, "Zha Building". It was changed to "Guanghe"
Despite its past popularity, the theatre over the years has given way to the
ravages of time. The three-storey building at No 46 Roushi Street near Qianmen
in Chongwen District, has been abandoned for almost 20 years.
The gate of the theater has been padlocked since the building was declared
unsafe in 2000 by the Beijing Architecture Design and Research Institute.
Under a new plan, Qianmen Street will be turned into a "pedestrian mall"
following six months of construction starting this month.
"We hoped to rebuild the theater on its original site, but the space is too
limited to meet the demands of a large scale modern theater," Ma Dekai, chief of
cultural facility construction at the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture, said.
"Government officials plan to choose another site for the theater, and a new
'Zha Building' will be built on the Guanghe site housing a tea house," Ma said.
Like the Broadway theaters of New York in the United States, the new theater
will be equipped with high-tech facilities and have regular shows all year
At a cost of 50 million yuan (US$6.48 million), the theater will be designed
to complement the surroundings of its new location, Ma said.
Two locations in Chongwen District have been earmarked as as possible sites.
One is a 5,000 square-meter lot near the junction of Qinian Street and
Liangguang Street, and the other is a 3,000 square-meter lot on the eastern side
of Xingfu Street.
Details of design and construction are pending a final decision on the new
Beijing used to have about 40 opera houses, but few of them are still in
According to the Beijing Performance Association, the city has more than 80
theaters, but compared with its 16.5 million population, the number is
Statistics show that in 2005, more than 6,600 performances were held in
Beijing and audience numbers exceeded 4 million.
Hou Xisan of the Beijing Folklore Association said: "Guanghe Theater has
witnessed the development of Peking Opera. Its reconstruction will be useful in
boosting Peking Opera and developing the history of Beijing theaters as well."