Amid the hustle and bustle of downtown southern Beijing sits a hide away oasis Huguang Huiguan. In its original day 2 centuries earlier, it also served as a respite for visitors, coming from Hunan and Hubei, though more than just another bed and breakfast, it offered entertainment - in the form of Peking opera. Such drama had roots in Hubei, though was popularized in the capital thanks to an avid fan, the Empress Dowager. Today Huguang Huiguan remains one of the oldest, best preserved wooden theatres in the country and has been compared to Shakespeare's legendary Globe Theater.
As with most art forms, interest in Peking opera has waxed and waned over the years but recently China's ministry of education reintroduced this complex dramatic form back into the nation's school curriculum.
Huo Jianqing, General Manager of Huguang Huiguan: There were no textbooks for Beijing Opera in the past, teachers just showed students. It's impossible to expect now every teacher to be an expert in Beijing Opera. Though this is the information age, so it can be done.
Elsewhere the merging of animated cartoons and Peking opera narratives has also been carried out within the digital art creation center of China's Art Academy. As for Huguang today it caters mainly for tourists. More formal opera troupes are scattered throughout the country and many self-organized fan clubs can be found in any Chinese park. Though for ease and access Huguang Huiguan boasts opera, food, tea and a museum. The opera takes place every evening, the food is found in a traditional wooden restaurant serving the best of the Hubei and Hunan regions, the tea is served in a delightful courtyard setting and the museum provides a brief expose on Peking opera and the premises itself.
And with increasing numbers of domestic and foreign visitors once again paying attention to this iconic symbol of the middle kingdom another 200 years or more for Hu Guang HuiGuan seems just as likely each time the lights are lit center stage.
Huo Jianqing: Beijing opera has survived for 200 years and it will survive another 200 years and even a 1000. Looking at it today I see no problem with this.