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Beijing's Top 10 Events This Summer
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Beijing's Top 10 Events This Summer

Picture of Samuel Spencer
Updated: 9 February 2017
Since the incredible, visually breathtaking displays of culture at the 2008 Olympic Games, Beijing has seen a renaissance in its cultural life, with many new galleries, plays and pop-up experiences opening every week. In fact, there are so many that it can be difficult to decide what to see and do first. From the quirky to the classy, here are Beijing’s 10 best cultural events happening this summer.
National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing
National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing | © Vera & Jean-Cristophe/Flickr

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Food | Splash Wars

6 July

A part-dance party featuring a great lineup of DJs, and part La Tomatina-style giant food fight, Splash Wars looks set to bring a new definition to the phrase ‘messy night’. Giant is no exaggeration here: host bar Dos Kolegas are supplying an entire metric ton of tomatoes, as well as many other culinary projectiles to create a day that is equal parts party with a difference and performance art spectacle. And with all the food around without any to eat, luckily they are also serving a barbecue brunch to begin proceedings at 1pm.

Splash Wars, Dos Kolegas, 21 Liangmaqiao Road, Beijing, China, +86 10 6436 8998

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Theatre | Under the Hawthorn Tree

8 – 16 July

One of the major cultural success stories of our time, the book Hawthorn Tree Forever, sold over four million copies. The 2010 film version, The Love of the Hawthorn Tree, directed by Raise the Red Lantern and Hero director Zhang Yimou (who also directed the 2008 Olympic Games opening and closing ceremonies) became the highest grossing domestic romance film of all time. And now the play starts its world tour at the NCPA, after a successful run as part of the National Theatre of China roster. This will without doubt be one of the hottest tickets of the summer.

Under the Hawthorn Tree, National Centre for the Performing Arts, 2 W Chang’an Ave, Beijing, China, +86 10 6655 0000

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Music | Verdi’s Otello

17 – 20 July

Are you finding summer altogether too sunny and happy? How about an evening of jealousy, rumour, scandal and multiple murders at the National Centre for Performing Arts. All this can be found in Verdi’s Otello, the classic operatic adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello. Featuring star American tenor Frank Poretta as well as China’s own Zhang Liping and Wei Song, the evening ooks set to live up to the promises of the classic source material in dramatic style as the already intense story is amplified by the intensely emotive music, creating an opera so tragic that after watching it is impossible to look at a handkerchief in the same way ever again.

Otello, National Centre for the Performing Arts, 2 W Chang’an Ave, Beijing, China, +86 10 6655 0000

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Music/Film | Totoro Orchestra: Symphonic Film Music Audiovisual Commemorative Edition

26 July

A great chance to get spirited away in the world of auteur animator genius Hayao Miyazaki, as the Totoro Orchestra plays an evening of works from his movies, from Ponyo to Porco Rosso. Delivery services, moving castles and supernatural steamhouses will be brought to life by the stirring music of this event, taking place at the Beijing Concert Hall. And what better time to celebrate the work of this great director than the year of his final film, as Miyazaki himself announced his retirement earlier in 2014? Relive the soundtracks while you get over the sad fact that there will never be another of his movies to soundtrack.

Totoro Orchestra Commemorative Edition, Beijing Concert Hall, 1 N Xinhua St, Beijing, China, +86 10 6605 7006

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Film | Electric Shadows Open-Air Bike-in Screening

2 August

Bringing a unique Chinese spin to the ‘drive-in’ movie concept, arts venue Three Shadows Photography Art Centre presents another of their popular ‘bike-in’ cinema events. Participants meet at a preset destination, all cycle in together, then are entertained with music, drink and food before a classic film is screened. This time, they will be presenting Some Like It Hot, Billy Wilder’s hilarious tale of cross-dressing conmen featuring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Marilyn Monroe at her glitteriest, ditziest best. It is a genuinely hilarious classic film of Hollywood, and this quirky opportunity to see it for the first time or to rewatch it is a must. Entrance price doesn’t include refreshments, but ‘well….nobody’s perfect’.

Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Pasture Dicun, Beijing, China, +86 10 6432 2663

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Art | Hans van Dijk: 5000 Names

Until 10 August

It is a rare person indeed that can shape the way an entire artistic era progresses without being an artist themselves. Amongst the pantheon of such people, including the Medici family in 16th century Florence and Marie-Thérèse Walter, Picasso’s perennial muse, must be included Hans van Dijk. The Dutch curator devoted his life to supporting and exhibiting Chinese art, and was the first curator to exhibit 20th century Chinese painters in Europe. 5000 Names celebrates celebrates Rijk’s life’s work through his biography and the seminal work brought to the attention of western audience for the first time ever throughout the 1980s.

5000 Names, UCCA, 4 Jiuxianqiao Road, Beijing, China, +86 10 5780 0200

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Theatre | I Love U, Teresa!

Until 31 August

A ‘jukebox musical’ with a difference. Debuting in Hong Kong in 2010, I Love U, Teresa! uses the songs of the perennially popular Teresa Teng to show the dark side of Chinese development — a plot line noticeably absent from Mamma Mia!. The fact that this play is in China is the first place is notable enough; after all, Teng was banned in China for most of the 1980s for being ‘decadent’, and this is a fairly critical play of certain eras of Chinese governance. Politics aside, it also offers lavish production values thanks to the team behind a number of Western musical successes offering their support on this production.

I Love You Teresa! China National Opera House, 115 Dongzhong St, Beijing, China, +86 10 6551 4736

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Art | Tales From the Taiping Era

Until 24 August

The inaugural exhibition at Beijing’s newest art space and gallery, the Red Brick Contemporary Art Museum. Really two giant spaces in one plus room for films and performance, the Red Brick Contemporary opens with Tales from the Taiping Era, an exhibition dedicated to the most contemporary works of the Chinese avant-garde and world art. This is the perfect exhibition to open this gallery, making clear its interest in subverting and challenging Chinese traditions. Qiu Zhijie’s repurposed, distorted and mutated installations of Chinese objects inside the exhibition perfectly match with the challenge the building makes to its almost countryside surroundings with its completely post-modern building design.

Tales from the Taiping Era, Red Brick Contemporary Art Museum, Hegezhuang Village, Beijing, China, +86 10 8457 3838

Art | 798 Festival


Rounding up the cultural summer in Beijing is one of the most prestigious and cutting-edge of all China’s art festivals, the 798. Based in the 798 Art District, worth a visit at any time of the year for its galleries, project spaces and open studios, in September 798 houses some of art’s biggest names as well as an impressive celebrity clientele of the rich, famous and/or powerful. Details of this year’s festival and star artists and current yet to be revealed, but it can already be guaranteed that contemporary art fans will not want to miss this.

Various locations, 798 Art District, Beijing, China

Music | Beijing Jazz Festival

Although the spiritual home for jazz in China is Shanghai, which saw expats bring jazz to the city in the 1930s, Beijing is now the fellow capital for modern jazz in China. Both feature their own leg of the festival, featuring jazz musicians both local and international. As with the 798, little is known of the 2014 line-up (or even its location yet), but it is sure to be essential for Beijing’s dedicated jazz fans.