Performers of Beijing opera and traditional Chinese lion dance have been caught in the dragnet of President Xi Jinping’s austerity campaign, with thousands of small troupes and their agents out of work as state corporations cut back on the finer things in life.
Dancers, crooners and actors join an illustrious list of casualties, which so far has largely comprised expensive drinks and edibles, from top-end cognacs and traditional baijius quaffed at government banquets to hairy crabs, as government officials struggle to demonstrate a new capacity for abstemiousness.
As many as 10,000 small performance troupes and their agents are struggling or even gone bankrupt because state-owned companies and branches of government have cut spending on banquets and other forms of entertainment in response to the crackdown, according to a media report on Monday.
“Sound and light” shows, large-scale variety shows and various forms of traditional opera have been hurt by belt-tightening at the government and state-owned corporations, said Chen Shaofeng, vice-director at the Institute for Cultural Studies of Peking University.
“Sound and light shows used to sell tickets mostly to SOEs or government officials who were travelling using public funds, and variety shows used to be popular at all kinds of festivals?.?.?.?but now the austerity ban means they are not holding them any more,” he said, adding: “Beijing opera shows were also mainly supported by gift tickets paid by SOEs.”
Lion dancers, who perform a cultural rite that remains popular even outside government circles, are still getting booked for weddings and village festivals, but their profits have been dented, he said.
The Mei Lanfang Theatre, one of the most famous venues for Beijing opera, had barely more than 10 shows in the first four months of this year, compared with 200 annually in previous years, according to Beijing Daily.
The paper quoted China National Peking Opera art development centre director Song Xiaochuan as saying that the price of traditional opera shows performed for the lunar new year parties of big state-owned enterprises started from Rmb100,000. Some song and dance troupes could charge in the millions.
Products from high end watches – sometimes offered as bribes to government officials – to mooncakes and even luggage sales have been affected as government officials travel less (and less lavishly), entertain less and consume fewer of the perks of office.
Additional reporting by Zhang Yan