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Home >> Life
UPDATED: 16:15, April 23, 2007
Beijing's oldest theater to be reduced to rubble
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Guanghe Theater in downtown Chongwen District -- Beijing's oldest opera theater built during the Ming Dynasty -- is to be crushed under the onslaught of Beijing's remorseless bulldozers.

City officials intend to replace the unsafe ancient structure with a new, state-of-the-art facility somewhere close by.

Beijing used to have about 40 opera houses, most of them located to the south of the Forbidden City. Of the few that remain, Guanghe has a particularly rich history. It was here that master Mei Lanfang launched his career at the tender age of 10 more than a hundred years ago. He starred as the girl weaver in the show with the evocative title "Palace of Everlasting Youth: Secret Betrothal at the Magpie Bridge."

But it seems that magpie bridges and secret betrothals were not enough to win a rescue effort from the city's cultural czars.

Ma Dekai, chief of cultural facility construction in the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture, said authorities are studying two possible sites in the Chongwen district for a new Guanghe

Theater -- a 5,000 sq m plot near the intersection of Qinian Street and Guang'anmen-Guangqumen Avenue, and a 3,000 sq m section on the eastern side of Xingfu Street.

"We intend to build a modern, professional venue like those on Broadway in the United States, where regular shows are offered all year round, and high-end performances can also take place," he said.

He gave no details concerning the design of the new theater or the projected date of opening.

Situated at no.46, Qianmenwai Roushi Street, Guanghe Theater was constructed in the final years of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Initially the villa of a rich salt merchant by the name of Zha, it was renamed Guanghe Building during the last years of the Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong. As recently as the 1970s, it was the venue of top Peking opera performances.

But, as audiences dwindled, the theater fell into disuse and it was declared unsafe in 2000 by the Beijing Architecture Design and Research Institute.

It appears that yet another of the country's cultural heirlooms is doomed.


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