Savoring Folk Culture in Teahouse

While no one can refuse sitting back and enjoying a fragrant tea at home, people also love to go to teahouses. At teahouses, you can not only enjoy tea but also the companionship of others, combined with a bit of fun. Over time, teahouses have become part of the life and culture of many places across China. Beijing alone is host to over five hundred tea houses of various styles. Lao She Teahouse and Tianqiao Le Teahouse are two of the famous teahouses in Beijing.

Long ago, teahouses were the centre of social activity and bubbled with the chatter of people from all walks of life. In the old teahouses noblemen, imperial officials, touts and peddlers chose their teas carefully and caught up on the day. Today, teahouses in China still have the same function but with not quite so much bustle, having adopted some of the aspects of peace and contemplation associated with Japanese tea culture.

Performances at the teahouse have distinct folk features, including Shuanghuang (a two-man comic act), cross-talk, classic magic, vocal mimicry, wrestling and qigong. In the old times, those who wanted to earn a living in teahouses had to possess special skills. That's why teahouses became the cradle for folk artists who rose from anonymity to stardom. Many of the great folk artists excel with their own individual specialty here. 

To have a taste of a strong Beijing folk culture flavor, you should definitely go to Tianqiao Le Teahouse. A loud announcement in the Beijing dialect from doormen dressed in traditional Chinese Changsam welcomes you to the house. Round wooden pillars support the protruding balconies fashioned according to ancient Chinese style. Black and white documentary photos of old Beijing folk artists line the white wall. Beneath a small stage, ancient style rectangular tables and chairs occupy most of the hall that is this teahouse. A variety of Beijing snack foods are for sale, and waitresses wearing traditional Chinese qipao make tea for customers. Guests must pay in ancient copper coins, which can be exchanged for modern money. All this provides them with a complete picture of an ancient lifestyle.

Every evening, the teahouse invites a lot of folk artists to perform typical Tianqiao Vaudeville, which reflects the ancient grassroots culture of Tianqiao region -- once the bustling hub of cultural and business activities in Beijing. Maybe some of the programs, for instance the acrobatic stunts, might not be as refined or as sophisticated as those featured on TV. Still, they capture the essence and unique flavor of old Tianqiao.