For an experience that’s exclusively Tianjin, your best option for nighttime entertainment is xiangsheng, also known as “comic dialogue” or “crosstalk”. This is one of the quyi, or traditional forms of Chinese entertainment. Usually with two people on stage (although sometimes one or several), xiangsheng is the quyi art that largely originated in Tianjin several hundred years ago. In xiangsheng, the performers engage in a rapid satirical conversation filled with puns and allegory. As one of China’s most popular performing arts, it was also used during periods of unrest as a way to slyly criticize the government. If you’re not familiar with Chinese culture, it may be harder to follow along, but you’ll pick up enough to be sincerely amused.
Another less Tianjin-centric quyi art but one that is highly entertaining is the art of storytelling, which is also exhibited around the city’s teahouses and other performance spaces. Tianjin storytelling is delivered in a rapid way similar to that of xiangsheng, and audience members even participate in the dialogue from time to time.
An additional traditional Chinese art form that can be seen in Tianjin is Beijing opera. This is the most famous and well-known strain of Chinese opera, and some of the country’s best performing groups are based in Tianjin. Much emphasis is placed on costumes and makeup in Beijing opera, and the delicate movements of the performers are used in telling the story rather than the use of elaborate sets or props. The operas originated as court performances for dynastic emperors, but today anyone can enjoy them.
For a taste of more modern Tianjin entertainment, head out to a karaoke bar. Most frequently, karaoke (also known here as KTV) bars have rooms that can be rented out by small or large groups by the hour/half hour for private use. Young Chinese karaoke-goers get very into their songs, and generally take their performances more seriously than people tend to in Western karaoke bars — partly due to the fact that it can get expensive to rent out a karaoke box for the evening, so most young people only get to go out for karaoke sporadically. You’ll hear the old American karaoke standbys here, but you can also catch the latest and most gushily romantic Chinese pop songs.
In addition to karaoke, Tianjin also has the standard bars and nightclubs you’d find in any other cosmopolitan city. From pints at a sports pub to a fancy cocktail at the latest hip club, there’s no shortage of choices in this lively-at-night city.
[photo courtesy of Peter Fuchs]