Italian First Impressions: Cultural Expression of the Beijing Nightlife
September 2, 2011
Although I have been in Beijing nearly two months, I only just recently ventured out into the Beijing nightlife. There was too much to see and to experience here aside from clubs and bars. However, I find it is also part of experiencing a foreign culture in my opinion, alongside my professional duties at CPG and the various cultural and historical sites throughout the city. I wanted, then, to see and to enjoy the Beijing nights, but through a different perspective. So I went ventured into it with Chinese friends that I’d met since being here, and in a word it was thrilling.
Beijing nights are pulsating, and not just due to the crowds or the loud music or the huge amount of clubs and bars. Sanlitun is very good to have dinner and to spend a night drinking and enjoying live shows. Much of this, I have been told, was built for the 2008 Olympic games, thus it is all very recent and modern. I noticed that in this area there is also an incredibly high ratio of foreigners. I would define Sanlitun as one of the must see night-time attractions of modern Beijing and is the place I felt the closest to home. The embassy district is very close by as well which is probably what helped birth this vibrant and international atmosphere. I even spent a night in a proper English pub, with a football game on TV and strictly English beer served.
If you venture northwest of the Forbidden City, you can also find Houhai district which is the other major nightlife hub. Here you can spend time at and on Houhai lake, which is a very folky experience, on a lake with traditional buildings all around only to find they’re filled with bars and live music! Not to mention plenty of the bars offer leisurely sheesha that you can enjoy outside or on rooftops overlooking the lake. Here there are plenty of differences with the Italian-style nightlife that I am used to.
There is a very good atmosphere among people enjoying themselves at night on Beijing’s streets. Everyone just seems to be having a good time. This laid back atmosphere, as you are surrounded by people from any number of countries, is very different to one that I’m used to back home in Italy. No one seemed to care at all, as they just enjoyed their time. Though there is a culture of alcohol back home in Italy as well, it’s somehow different here. Bars are a very happy place in Beijing. There is sparkling in the air, especially in the live music clubs/bars. In Beijing, the night life is more relaxed, people enjoy just for their own enjoyment, very seldom are people looking for fights, as no one is trying to act as if they’re trying to one-up anyone else. This may be due to the fact that in China you do NOT want to have problems with law, but even so it seems to go deeper than that.
Also the heterogeneity of bars and clubs here has surprised me. There are so many different kinds, and, I especially noticed, the presence of an enormous number of live music bars. This may seem like a given to some, but not so coming from Italy. As it turns out, Beijing has a thriving music scene, particularly underground, and has a very enthusiastic and vibrant base of homegrown musicians coming out of it, the largest in China. Some bands of course are better than others, but the important thing is that people are trying and experimenting, and to me I think this represents much of what is going on in China today, both socially and economically.
It’s not just a solely Chinese scene either, but the music in Beijing is very international as it continues to gain increased global attention. I attended a couple of live Jazz lounge bars (who would have thought that even possible 10-20 years ago!). There were some really amazing musicians in attendance, American jazz artists mostly, but I met even an Italian jazz piano player. I’m also a fan of electronic music, deep and minimal-house. So I asked a Chinese friend of mine who mentioned a couple of DJs that were coming to Beijing to play. These were world-renowned names that were coming to China. It seems that at this point, Beijing is becoming a cultural neuralgic point.
Much of the focus in recent years has been China’s economic growth but also interesting is how is China evolving culturally. It’s difficult to say for sure now where it will lead, but it is certainly fascinating to witness
- Marco Tommaso Rossini- CPG Marketing Intern