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Travel and Leisure


Modern life saw changes in the ways the Chinese spend their spare time, too. Various leisure activities were introduced from the West, accepted and absorbed into Chinese modern culture.

Traditionally, a number of games and pastimes had been popular within Chinese culture. A few rounds of Mahjong games were a most common recreation in urban life. Another game played with a set of Chinese dominos is Pai Gow which was popular in rural areas and widely used as a gambling game. Xiangqi (Chinese chess) and weiqi games also both had a long history in China. Teahouse was a common and popular hangout for the Chinese to play these games, sip a cup of tea, or simply exchange gossips. Similar to a teahouse was opera house. The Chinese developed many kinds of local operas: Beijing Opera, Shaoxing Opera, Kunqu, Huangmei Opera, etc. In Suzhou, pingtan was usually performed as the customer feasted himself with a cup of tea in a teahouse. Watching folk acrobatics by street performers and listening to stories told by professional story-tellers were also popular entertainments.
 
Popular Traditional Chinese Pastimes
 
 
Leisure and Pastimes, traditional Chinese leisureLeisure and Pastimes, traditional Chinese leisureLeisure and Pastimes, traditional Chinese leisure

Mahjong

Paigow

Xiangqi, Chinese chess

Leisure and Pastimes, traditional Chinese leisure

Leisure and Pastimes, traditional Chinese leisure

Leisure and Pastimes, traditional Chinese leisure

Weiqi

Teahouse

Suzhou Pingtan

Leisure and Pastimes, traditional Chinese leisureLeisure and Pastimes, traditional Chinese leisureLeisure and Pastimes, traditional Chinese leisure

Pingshu story-telling

Opera

Acrobatic performances


Modern culture saw the introduction of a number of Western leisure activities. Card games began to be played by a few Chinese who had returned from overseas. Gramophones became a popular family appliance, though traditional Chinese operas were still the mainstream music played. Cafes, pubs, bars, and nightclubs were opened in the foreign concessions in Shanghai, offering the Chinese fresh tastes of Western leisure life. Western ballroom dancing, played in pairs of man and woman, became a new socializing occasion for the Chinese, for whom the touch of body between a man and a woman had used to be deemed an indecency.
 
Motion pictures were shot in China in early 20th century - not long after its invention in the West. Movies drew large Chinese audiences. Cinema industry boomed in Shanghai in the 1920s and 30’s. According to statistics, on the eve of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, China had a total of 678 cinemas, over half of which were located in the few major cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Shenyang, etc.
 
 
As literacy rose, newspapers and magazines now had a role to play in urban leisure culture. Young Companion Pictorial (《良友》) was a representative of early mass media in China, and had a huge readership. It was said that wherever there was Chinese, there was Companion. Popular writers would also publish popular novels via newspapers and magazines in installments.

The Western obsession with public space in urban planning resulted in the introduction of parks in Chinese cities like Shanghai, which the Chinese, old and young, were to find an increasingly agreeable place to kill time.

Western sports were introduced into China, too. A racecourse was built in Shanghai’s foreign concession. Tennis, basketball, football, and athletics were practiced in schools, and national sports meets were regularly held.
 
Leisure and Pastimes in Early Modern China
 
Leisure and Pastimes in early modern China, China Modern CultureLeisure and Pastimes in early modern China, China Modern CultureLeisure and Pastimes in early modern China, China Modern Culture

Gramophone, along with other electric appliances like telephone and radio, became a popular family possession in early modern China.

Ballroom dancing in pairs between men and women became a fashionable way of socializing in major Chinese cities.

Film industry boomed in Republican China. Film Song of the Fishermen (渔光曲 yu guang qu) won awards at Moscow Film Festival, 1935.

Leisure and Pastimes in early modern China, China Modern Culture

Leisure and Pastimes in early modern China, China Modern Culture

Leisure and Pastimes in early modern China, China Modern Culture

Young Companion Pictorial, an immensely popular magazine based in Shanghai.

Shanghai News (申报 Shen Bao), one of China's earliest newspapers.

Modern sports were introduced. The national government organized seven nationwide sports meet.

 

Thanks to the revolutions in transport, in particular the development of a national railway network, tourism began to emerge as an industry. In the 1930’s, travel agencies in Shanghai alone totaled around twenty. Some NGOs (eg., Shanghai Youth Association) would also provide travel services to the public.

Of course, emergence of imported leisure activities does not mean the dying-out of traditional Chinese pastimes. Instead, they have managed to coexist and survive. For example, Mahjong’s popularity has never dwindled, and has actually increased so that some would speak mockingly that it is the “national game of China”. Moreover, influences of Western leisure culture were largely limited to metropolises like Shanghai, and only gradually spread to other cities as well as the vast areas of China.


 

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