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China Acrobatics: An Unrestrained and Splendid Artform

Acrobatics refers to all extraordinary performance skills of balance, agility and motor Coordination.
History of Acrobatics in China

As early as the Neolithic Age (10,200 cal. BCE), the most primitive form of acrobatics came into being. It ranked as a dominating part of culture, just as singing and dancing. Emperor Qin Shihuang absorbed the essence of Jiaodi (wrestling in ancient China) of various states and formed the Jiaodi Drama which is more an acrobatics performance than a wrestling sport. During Han dynasty (220BC-202), Jiaodi Drama was bestowed with diversified categories and outstanding skills. In 108, Emperor Han Wudi launched a grand ceremony during which an acrobatics performance with unprecedented scale was carried on. Even foreign acrobats joined this show. There was one Persian magician performed “swallow sword”, “spite fires”,” slay people” and “kill horses” at that time. Aiming to attract and unite neighboring countries to fight Xiongnu tribes, emperors of Han dynasty kept launching acrobatics shows in 64 years. During East Han(25-220), Baixi( variety show), a comprehensive entertainment show involves various activities such as singing, dancing and especially acrobatics emerged.In South and North State Period (420 to 589), the frequent cultural exchange between various ethnic groups instilled acrobatics with new content and styles. Acrobatics of this period features the most diversified categories and wide popularity. Various acrobatics shows were launched in royal palace as well as in the market place. It penetrated into the lower class gradually.

Acrobatics on Horse in Han Dynasty

Chicken Fighting Acrobatics in Han Dynasty

Plate Acrobatics in Han Dynasty

Handstand in Tang Dynasty(618-907)

Though outshone by Han dynasty in scale, Tang dynasty (618-907) saw the astonishing development of acrobatics. Equestrian, animals taming and robe climbing skills reached the summit at that time. Acrobatics was transferred to the folk since Song dynasty (960-1279). It had went through significant changes concerning forms and contents. The specific acrobatics performance site emerged during this period which enhanced the development of acrobatics greatly. Besides, professional acrobatics academy appeared also.

However, the glorious of ancient acrobatics faded away after Song dynasty due to the prejudice of some scholars in Ming Dynasty. This resulted in the disappearance of grand scale show directly. Miniature acrobatics shows based on the unit of individual of family emerged. In Yuan dynasty (1206-1368), its status plummeted. In Ming(1368-1644) and Qing dynasties (1636-1911), acrobatics was taught personally and was usually performed by individuals or families as a way of living. The small-sized acrobatics performance with diversified programs was formed and many ancient skills were preserved. After the establishment of the republic of China in 1949, this splendid art is recognized and appreciated again.

Handstand in Han Dynasty

Pole Climbing in Han dynasty


Eight Features of Chinese Acrobatics


1 Chinese attach great importance on the training of waist and leg as well as the ability to support various props such as bowls, plates or even human being by head, hand or foot. Thus, acrobats must have solid martial art skills.

2 Chinese acrobatics embraces outstanding, accurate and solid skills. Seeking stability amid dangerous situations is one of its distinctive features. For instance, the thrilling performance in tightrope must be conducted steadily. This demands acrobats must have calm mind and outstanding skills gained by hard training.

3 The ability to perform magic and to create miracle out from the ordinary life and things. Xifa(magic), an indispensible part of acrobatics, is called Huanshu(literally means magic) in ancient China. Differ with magic in Europe which involves lots of sound light props and is usually performed in a well-decorated stage, Chinese magic is characterized by extremely simple props, a robe or a thin sheet will do. Then, the magicians can turn everything from the robe or thin sheet, such as fish, various foods and birds. After a tumbling, they can present the audience with a burning bronze basin, and another tumble, the burning basin will disappear, and people will see a giant fish tank with swimming fish instead. Numerous masterpieces include Immortal Plants the Beans(《仙人栽豆》) have won recognition worldwide. The simpler the props are, the more difficult it will be for those Chinese magicians, for they need to train harder to hide props by four limbs.

4 The perfect blending of super strength and high agility. During one performance named Qianjindan, one acrobat needs to lift four stone and 8 actors weighing over 500kg in total. While Big and small Martial Art performance highlights the seamless combination of jujitsu, strength and agility: the acrobats dance in the stage elegantly like swans or nimbly like butterflies, performing the most eye-dazzling and spectacular scene.
In the “Dengji” performance, the acrobats who are usually females, will lie on special square table and lift their legs to support various props include umbrella, blankets, ceramics, plates, wine jar, tank, heavy table and even human beings. They can not only support these props, but also whirl them in an elegant way. In ancient time, the skill to lift and whirl heavy props was valued more. Those acrobats usually grew bald in the top of head during  long practice. The story changed nowadays. No matter it is a heavy desk or a umbrella, a good acrobat can pinwheel them gracefully and poetically.

 Acrobatics blends strength and agility meanwhile

 daily tools are wide used in Chinese acrobatics

5 Plenty of daily tools and labor equipments such as bowls, chairs, desks, hats, umbrellas, staircases, ropes, whips, and plates are used in Chinese acrobatics, thus it breathes the flavor of everyday life and indicates their close association. We can say ancient Chinese acrobatics embody the art form of labor skills in many cases.

6 Chinese acrobatics combines the performance art and the beauty of artworks such as ceramics perfectly. To see those delicate ceramics dances and swirls in the acrobatics show is pleasant to the eye.

7 Chinese acrobatics is extremely adaptable, it can be performed by various forms and in different sites such as plaza, theater, avenue, hotels and tea houses. It can be performed by hundreds of acrobats or just one individual. It is the flexibility which extends the glory of this ancient performance art to nowadays.

8 Chinese acrobatics are passed down from generation to generation and they absorbed the essence of other art forms such as drama, dance and martial art. Acrobats show great respect to their tutors, and will try all means to preserve the skills. In Ming and Qing dynasties, acrobats lived a hard life, they would starve to death rather than to reveal and sell the secret of those precious skills to the public, until they find the proper inheritors.


Ten Kinds of Traditional Acrobatics

 1 Performances involve Throwing Skills: Props include balls, bats and rings are used in acrobatics involve throwing skills. Ball acrobatics can be divided into Number Juggling, Pattern Juggling, Trick Juggling, Technical Juggling, Bounce Juggling and Football Juggling. Ring acrobatics comprises Numbers Juggling and Technical Juggling. Bat acrobatics can be divided into Club Swinging and Number Juggling, Trick Juggling and Fancy Juggling,ect.

2 Performances involve Flexible body Skills: it is one of the most classic performance since ancient China. The performer needs to show their body in various difficulty gestures just as in Yogo.


 Performances involve Flexible body Skills

3 Performances involve Strength Skills: The ancient wrestling in China is a strength fight entertainment. Among the frescos of Han dynasty, one can see lots of scenes of human beings rival each other by heads. Besides, from one fresco unearthed from a tomb of Han dynasty, we can see the ancient Jiegan performance: one man lifts a pole and 10 men were performing on this pole.
Performances involving physical skills:In Han dynasty, acrobatics centered on Dinggong (literally means the skill of supporting props) came into being. Excellent waist skill, leg skill, handstand skill and tumbling skills are indispensible requirements for top Dinggong acrobats.

5 Performance involve Manipulation skills:
Throw Tank: tanks are used as props, acrobats usually throw them or support them by heads or stand on the edge of them steadily; Doupan( turning Plates): a long stick will be erected to support a plate, top Doupan acrobat can hold the stick topped with a plate when he or she is jumping or dancing. This performance is favored by western amateur acrobats in recent years; Dengji: an ancient acrobatics program, the acrobat usually lies on a square table and support the props include umbrella, chairs, desks and tanks by foot; Dingji: use the forehead, nose or chin to balance props. This is wide applied in western countries also; Stick Biting: the performer usually bites a stick in mouth and support props in the other end. This can be seen in western countries also; Shuttlecock: it is a traditional prop used in acrobatics. Just as the foot bag in western countries; Kicking Bowls: the acrobat usually uses the foot to kick the bowls into head one by one; Bow Stretching: use every part of the body to stretch a bow in various gestures.

 Pole Climbing in Tang Dynasty(618-907)

 Animals have been used in acrobatics since ancient time


 Middle Air Performance

 Ding Ji(顶技)

 Deng Ji(蹬技)


6 Middle Air Performance such as Flying man, the most classic performance in the kingdom of acrobatics. The performer will carry out a serial of dangerous actions such as jumping and tumbling in the middle air.

 Middle Air Performance

 Middle Air Performance

7 Animal Acrobatics:Horses were used in Han dynasty. From one fresco of that period, we can see three horses performing in the acrobatics.

8 Magic performance: It is also called Huanshu in ancient China. In Han dynasty, the cultural exchange between oriental and occidental was frequent; magicians from China and Europe inspired each other at that time. Large scale magic shows were launched in Chinese royal families also.

9 Performance involve Balance Skill: Single-wheel: acrobats usually need to keep balance on single-wheels; Rocking cylinder: one need to stand on one board on the rocking cylinder and keep balance successfully; Walking a tightrope: this performance is dangerous and thrilling; Stand on the ball: a giant ball will be placed on the ground and the performer will stand on it, he or she will let the ball move and needs to keep balance.

10 Contact Juggling: Contact Juggling is a new way of playing, different with throwing juggling, it creates an illusion that the props are suspended in the middle air or are stuck in the body of the acrobats. In order to create the illusion that the ball is not turning, crystal ball is used. Thus contact Juggling is also nicknamed as “Crystal ball”

Wuqiao County, Hebei Province: the Number One Hometown of Acrobatics

Wuqiao County has been renowned for acrobatics since ancient time. In 1958, a 1500 years old fresco was unearthed in Wuqiao County, which depicting the acrobatics performers’ gestures of standing on hands, equestrian and turning plates. After Yuan dynasty(1206-1368), Wuqiao County’s acrobatics prospered with increasing influence. It was renowned nationwide for acrobatics for the first time in history. By now, Wuqiao is renowned worldwide as the Number One Hometown of Acrobatics. Many professional acrobats come from this place.

 Wuqiao Acrobatics World

Where to See Acrobatics Show


Tiandi Theater(天地剧场):Founded in 1991, Tiandi theater is an ideal place to see acrobatics performance.
Location: No.10, South Avenue, Dongzhi Gate, Dongchen District, 100m from Baoli Mansion(东城区东直门南大街10号,保利大厦北100米 ,)
Bus: take 44 or 109 and get off at Dong Sishitiao(东四十条)

Chaoyang Theater( 朝阳剧场)
Founded in 1984, Chaoyang Theater( 朝阳剧场) focuses on acrobatics show mainly.
Location: Number 36, Dong San Huan North Road, Chao Yang District, Beijing City (北京朝阳区东三环北路36号)
Bus: Take Bus9、112、118、101、830、846、859、420、611、113、801、729、113 and get off in Hujialou Station(呼家楼站)
Subway: take the line 10 and get off in Hujialou Station(呼家楼站)


Shanghai Circus Kingdom(上海马戏城)
Covering an area of 12000m2, Shanghai Circus Kingdom boasts luxurious decoration and modern equipments. You can see acrobatics performance from all over the world here.
Location: No.2266,Gonghexin Road, Shanghai(上海市共和新路2266号)


Hangzhou Theater(杭州剧院)
Built in 1978, Hangzhou Theater is an ideal site to see acrobatics performance in hangzhou.
Location:No.360,Tiyuchang Road,Xiacheng District(下城区体育场路360号)



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