Famed courtesan steals opera's limelight

By Yang Feiyue ( China Daily ) Updated: 2015-10-17 13:56:14

Famed courtesan steals opera's limelight

Badahutong, which literally means the eight great hutong, consists of Baishun, Yanzhi, Hanjia, Shaaxixiang, Shitou, Wangguangfuxiejie, Zhujia and Lishamao hutong. They are situated around the bustling Dashila area. [Photo by Yang Feiyue / China Daily]

"I've seen many foreigners who come here on their own or with an interpreter. There have also been TV people filming things around here."

The building served as a fur factory, a fur research center and a shoetree factory after Sai was gone before being turned back into residences, Zhang says.

"There have been two major overhauls, and the stairs were reinforced with steel, and wooden pillars were replaced with steel ones."

Zhang's home covers 25 square meters and has a few pieces of unassuming old furniture, and feels surprisingly spacious and comfortable. The ceiling looks to be more than three meters above the floor, a lot higher than in ordinary apartments.

Everything, including the layout of the room, has been altered in previous renovations, except the wooden floor, which feels sturdy.

Zhang says the wall of her house is thick enough to shield against biting winter winds, but she hopes that some day the government will renovate the building.

Sai's old homestead still manages to pull in travelers off the beaten track keen to know something about the famous courtesan. Tourists from outside Beijing, especially college students, go to great lengths to find the place, Li says.

"Most read about Sai on the Internet, then they come here to see the place for themselves."

Some locals have organized activities to educate people about Sai.

"We've arranged several tours of Sai's place and the rest of the Dashilar area, says Lars Ulrik Thom, a Dane who is a member of the Beijing-based China Post Card, a group that promotes the learning of China's history and culture.

However, lest anyone think that in all of this Peking Opera has been completely forgotten, the local government is working hard to draw attention to Dashilar's significance to the opera form, Wang Qi says.

"We want the public to know that this place is a reminder of more than just the old red light district."

More than 300 Peking Opera masters used to live in the neighborhood, he says.

"We plan eventually to build a museum where Sai used to live to promote local culture," Wang says.

"Whether you have an interest in Sai or Peking Opera-or even neither of the two-this is a place worth visiting if you want to see a slice of the original Beijing."

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