Wuqiao acrobatics has a 3,000-year history
Acrobatics became a relatively mature art form in China long, long ago. In ancient times, our ancestors had to go fishing, climb hilly places and wade across rivers in order to survive severe circumstances. There were some acrobatic elements to our ancestors’ activities. Wuqiao was a part of Jizhou in ancient times and Wuqiao acrobatics date back to the Zhou Dynasty, with a long history of more than 3,000 years. According to historical records, people in Jizhou liked to play a game imitating Chiyou’s (a warrior’s) fight with the Yellow Emperor. The play later evolved into a kind of wresting in the Qin Dynasty, and then into acrobatics in the Han Dynasty. Since then, acrobatics became very popular in the Tang Dynasty and had its heyday during the Qin Dynasty. During 1920’s—1930’s, many acrobats from Wuqiao performed in Beijing’s Tianqiao, Tianjin’s Sanbuguan, Shanghai’s Dashijie and Nanjing’s Fizimiao, and Wuqiao led the world in acrobatics. However, in the old society, acrobats performed solely for the purpose of making a living and acrobatics was viewed as a sideshow. It was only after the founding of new China, where acrobatics are now performed in theaters and the art plays an important role in cultural exchange, that it has become a more serious art form and it currently enables foreign people to experience the attractiveness of this ancient Chinese tradition.
Nowadays, in Wuqiao County, which is known as the birthplace of the circus and acrobatics in China, on the one hand, travelers gasped at the traditional programs such as "Brick Splitting," "Stone Crushing" and "Sword Swallowing" at the Wuqiao Acrobatics World, and on the other hand, they were dazzled by the stunning acrobatic show put on by the Wuqiao County Acrobatic Troupe. By perfectly integrating traditional skills and various art forms, Wuqiao acrobatics has become the best model for modern acrobatics development. Yang Hongzhi, the director of Wuqiao County Cultural Tourism Bureau, said that today's acrobatics are no longer simply about putting skills on display, but they are an integration of various artistic elements including music and dance. As a result, great proficiency can also be poetic.
The performance called “One Dream—Wirewalking” performed by the Wuqiao County Acrobatic Troupe won the Gold Lion Prize At the 11th China Wuqiao International Circus Festival due to its highly difficult skills and original arrangement. The performance also reflected Chinese peoples’ joy about the approaching Beijing Olympic Games through the medium of acrobatics. At the previous Wuqiao International Circus Festival, a performance called "Festival—Female Form," which is also from Wuqiao County, won the same prize due to its rich cultural features and novel arrangement. Just as Ning Genfu, the general secretary of the current Wuqiao International Circus Festival’s judging panel, said, “it is necessary for acrobatics to reform and innovate. Acrobatics needs to perfectly integrate with culture to allow the art form to have broad conceptions, a plot and more cultural connotations.”
The world is small but the stage is big
In the past Wuqiao acrobats who earned a livelihood plying their trade may not have thought that one day their acrobatics would reach those from across the world.
More than 100 years ago, many acrobats began to go out to the world with their ancient art. In the 1920s and 1930s, more than 1000 Wuqiao acrobats went abroad and performed in more than 50 countries and regions. In 1920, the famous Wuqiao acrobat Sun Fengshan led his Beijing Troupe across the ocean and performed in cities such as Berlin, Paris and London. The show had a full house for every performance and Shi Dejun, the leader of the troupe, became an acrobatic pop star in Europe and the United States. As the founder of China Guoshu Circus, the world's largest circus with the most complete circus show at that time, the Wuqiao acrobat Sun Fuyou led his troupe on four trips abroad, performing in more than 30 countries and regions for a total of 18 out of the past 50 years, extending his reputation and influence all around the world, and for the first time, informing the world about magic of Chinese acrobatics.
These days, a bust of Sun Fuyou, also known as the “Father of the World Modern Circus,” stands quietly in his hometown and is glad to see that Chinese acrobatics have become more and more active on the world stage. Yang Hongzhi said that more than a half of the 40 total Wuqiao acrobatic performances that are held all year round are held abroad. Xin Weimin, the leader of the Wuqiao Acrobatic Troupe, is very proud when talking about these overseas performances. He said that the troupe has been invited to perform in more than 40 countries and regions, such as the United States, Britain and Spain, and in 2008 their overseas performance income reached 6 million yuan. The Wuqiao Acrobatic Art School, a training base for the acrobats, used this opportunity to attract many foreign acrobatic lovers. Since the first batch of African students in 2002, it has trained more than 200 international acrobatic students from more than 10 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and America to spread Wuqiao acrobatics to the entire world. As the horizons of Wuqiao acrobats are broadening, they have found that the world is small, and that people can arrive at another country after a flight of just a few hours while the acrobatics stage is big, and it can accommodate tireless exploration and development from generation to generation.
Unique charm of the East
October 25, 1987 is a special day for the development of acrobatics in Hebei, in China, and even for the world. On this day, the acrobatics pageant—the China Wuqiao International Circus Festival, which was named after Wuqiao County, the homeland of acrobatics, was first held. After over twenty years of unremitting exploration, the Wuqiao Acrobatics Art Festival has stepped into the realm of a state-level arts festival from its previous existence as simply local acrobatics events, and become the “Acrobatics Performance of the East,” which stands side-by-side with the Monaco Monte-Carlo International Circus Festival and the “Tomorrow and Future” Circus Festival in Paris, France.
Acrobatics cannot develop without exhibition and communication through the stage. The Wuqiao Circus Festival is the big stage that has spent nearly twenty years cultivating these acrobatics flowers. The Acrobatics Performance of the East, which has an international influence, presents the unique charm of Chinese acrobatics to more and more visitors. Bian Faji, president of the circus festival’s judging panel, says that every competition attracts many international producers to come to investigate the performers. So the excellent domestic programs are given an opportunity to perform for others. While it was awarded the Tenth Golden Lion Award, the Festival—Female Form performance by the Wuqiao circus also drew the interest of foreign producers at first sight, and the Wuqiao circus was able to travel to Korea to put on a commercial show.
McClure, the founder of the France “Tomorrow and Future” Circus Festival once evaluated Wuqiao Circus Festival by saying “the teams and performers here are all famous around the world, they represent the highest level in the modern circus world and also provide a rare opportunity for every country to exchange their circus culture.” What McClure said was not an intentional compliment. It is just that through the Wuqiao Circus Festival, Chinese and foreign acrobatics can have close contact with each other and influence each other and promote the development of the world’s acrobatics. Zhou Liangtian, executive deputy director of the circus festival organizing committee office, says that, taking the Chinese traditional acrobatics outfit for example, foreign countries change it with silk and make it more beautiful. Besides China’s traditional programs such as foot juggling and trick-cycling are also borrowed widely by foreign acrobats and have integrated a new concept of creation, which is also meant to inspire and guide the continuous innovation of Chinese acrobatics.
The goal is to open a window for China’s circus and to provide a platform upon the world circus stage, to learn from each other and work for the common prosperity; the acrobatics flower will certainly grow well and bloom brightly on the stage of the Wuqiao Circus Festival.