Magic defies the rules of nature and physics. In China, magic goes back many years and has evolved from superstitious wizardry into a technologically inspired, sophisticated art form.
Ancient Chinese magic made its appearance as early as 1600 BC, and was closely associated with divination and wizardry, according to Biographies of Exemplary Women (Lie Nu Zhuan) by Liu Xiang, the renowned historian of the Han Dynasty (206 BC- AD220).
In 108 BC, Liu Che, emperor of the Western Han Dynasty, gathered more than a hundred acrobats and magicians in the imperial palace and hosted the biggest magic show in history. Zhang Heng's Western Metropolis Rhapsody (Xi Jing Fu) records that Duke Huang of the Eastern Sea (Donghai Huanggong), a showman and magician, did knife-swallowing and fire-spitting shows at this gathering.
Magic continued to thrive in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) and began to branch off into separate fields in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Some traditional Chinese tricks such as "Immortal Plants Bean" and "Ancient Color Trick" marked the start of international recognition for Chinese magic.
In the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), there were many cultural exchanges between China and the West. The first generation of modern Chinese magicians like Ching Ling Foo (Zhu Liankui), Han Pingchien and Mu Wenqing went abroad to perform and also learned to incorporate foreign stunts into traditional tricks.
The later generation of magic practitioners, headed by Zhang Huichong, furthered the hybrid form of magic acts by infusing traditional Chinese magic into Western-style illusion acts.
After China's reform and opening-up in the late 1970s, magicians from abroad began visiting China more frequently. In 1980, Marc Wilson from the United States became the first magician to perform on the Chinese mainland since the founding of New China in 1949. In 2002, David Copperfield caused a stir with his performances of walking through the Great Wall.
And now, Liu Qian has created a sensation with his phenomenal close-up performances and exposed Chinese audiences to a new, refreshing and delightful art form.
Wang Zhiwei and Tian Xueming contributed to the story