Tianqiao

TianqiaoLocated in the southern part of Beijing, Tianqiao (Heavenly Bridge) used to be an area where people worked, did their shopping and went for entertainment. Before 1949, Tianqiao exerted tremendous influence on the daily life of the people.  People say that old Tian-qiao was a cradle of Beijing folk arts including cross talk, two-men comic shows, clapper talk and trick-cycling. A large number of folk artists grew up in this area and later became world-famous masters.

In the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), what is now the Tianqiao area was then the southern outskirts of the Yuan capital. When the Ming Emperor Yongle moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing in1420, the Temple of Heaven and Xiannong Temple were set up in this area. Under the reign of Ming Emperor Jiajing (1522-1566), the outer city was built to the south of the inner city, and Tianqiao thus became: the centre of the outer city. At that time, beyond the north walls of the Temple of Heaven and Xiannong Temple was a river running from east to west. It was the sole route that the Emperor took from the Forbidden City to the two temples to offer sacrifices to the Gods and ancestors so a magnificent white marble bridge was built over the river. The bridge was named “Heavenly Bridge” because the Emperor was believed to be the Son of Heaven. Only the Emperor could walk on the “Heavenly Bridge”, officials and common people had to cross the river on the wooden bridges flanking both sides of the “Heavenly Bridge.”

In 1934, when the street from Zhengyang Gate to Yongding Gate was widened, the “Heavenly Bridge” was demolished but the name has been retained until today. The Tianqiao area used to be a scenic spot in the Yuan and Ming dynasties.  To meet the needs of increasing flow of visitors, many teahouses, wine shops and restaurants were gradually set up. Entertainments such as shadowboxing, story-telling and bal-lad-singing were available. The embryo of Tianqiao Fair was thus formed.  During Qing Emperor Guangxu’s time (1875 – 1908), the Beijing-Wuhan Railway was built, and the first Beijing Railway Station was established in Majiapu, outside Yongding Gate. Most travellers passing through the gate would stop over at Tianqiao, therefore the fair became more and more prosperous until the Japanese invasion in 1931. When people mentioned old Tianqiao, they had to mention the “Eight Eccentrics”- a group of folk artists who had unique skills but lived “at the bottom of society.” The first “Eight Eccentrics” appeared in the late Qing Dynasty; the second “Eight Eccentrics” were active in the early years of the Republic of China (1912-1949); and the third “Eight Eccentrics” referred to the famed folk artists in the1930s and 1940s. These “eccentrics” made valuable contributions to the development of Chinese folk art. Tianqiao was also a place where various local operas met, including Peking Opera, Pingju Opera and Hebei Bangzi Opera. Another attraction of Old Tianqiao was its more than 100 snacks including douzhi (a fermented bean juice), youcha (sweetened, fried flour gruel), guotier (lightly fried dumpling) and suanmeitang (sweet-sour plum juice). Delicious in taste and low in price, the snacks could be bought in any part of Tianqiao.

In modern Chinese history, Tianqiao was also linked with many great names. Li Dazhao and Chen Duxiu, founders of the Chinese Communist Party, once distributed leaflets here in June 1919 to advocate the revolution against the warlords.

With a history of more than 600 years, Tiaoqiao has left indelible impressions on Beijing citizens.

Since the founding of New China in 1949, Tianqiao has witnessed a dramatic change. A lot of new buildings such as Tianqiao Theatre, Tainqiao Bazaar, the Beijing Natural Museum, the Friendship Hospital and Beijing Rainbow Hotel have been constructed.  The former local brothels and secret societies have all been cleared away, and most of these places have been turned into residential areas.

In order to inherit and develop the folk arts, a foundation has been set up to help reconstruct the Tianqiao area.

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