Saturday, September 10, 2011


The next morning, on our way to the Childrens Palace, business people all over town line up in their suits and ties at street steamers to buy buns and dumplings for breakfast. No congee (gruel) for this group.

The Children’s Palace is simply a mansion converted to an accelerated school. Only the best students in every discipline need apply.  All who show potential, as identified by their teachers  from anywhere in China, come to the “palaces” to live and learn under very strict rules. They MUST perform. And they want to succeed. But, the rules and discipline are very strict, and expectations high. (Picture from Creative Commons Attribute, Wikipedia.)

Art on view in an adjacent gallery, the best pieces from these classes (competition)  on simple paper,  from eight to eleven year old students was  unbelievably good. The students never looked at the fourteen of us invading their classroom. Eyes stayed on teacher.
In a music class for violin, we saw six students from four years old to sixteen learning together. First they tap out the music, then hum the notes, then they strum the notes. The teacher strikes her stick loudly on a music stand when a mistake is made and scolds. We cannot understand her words, but we understand her tone.
Parents are so honored to have their children accepted into a Childrens Palace, they do not complain about the fierce discipline.
We listened in on a musical number in one gallery by five girls on ancient zither-like instruments and stringed instruments that compare to a  harp. The teacher expressed pleasure.
There are Palaces like this all over China, old mansions of the very rich, decadent ministers and government employees that Mau banished. Concentrated learning  in art and music, others are for science, dance, sports, martial arts, gymnastics, etc.  There is something very admirable about guiding children to their special potential, but we found the fierce discipline a bit dehumanizing. We saw no smiles among the students and wonder if they are going to come out of this very talented but unhappy?
We had a free afternoon to roam around town.  Michal and I had  drinks and dinner at the hotel before the evening’s performance of  renowned Chinese acrobats.
The acrobats were stunning.  High jumping from one pole to another.  Flying nimbly through hoops imitating a bird.  Speed tumbling, comic plate spinning, extraordinary feats of strength  and balance as only the Chinese seem to know how to do,  in slow motion. A girl balances a tray of glasses in her mouth while doing carefully modulated trapeze work. In another act, a girl balances on one hand while performing minutes worth of contortions, forming a butterfly, frog, cricket, then she switches to the opposite hand without resting and repeats the moves,  becoming her own twin. These talented acrobats do all manner of beautiful splits, twists and breath holding balance positions you can only believe are impossible. This show is considered the highpoint of Shanghai and all tickets were sold out for months. Of course, you cannot take pictures. This youtube link is not the show we saw, but it is entertaining.

On the way back to our hotel, we catch our last look at the fabulous lighted Yangtze River boats and skyscrapers.  The boats carry huge billboards as they float past. Skyscrapers have what appears to be television screens on the windows of their buildings that advertise continually. It speaks of wealth, and a burgeoning new capitalistic economy that is rocketing skyward, figuratively and actually. We get back to our hotel late.  (Picture Creative Commons Attribution, Wikipedia)

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