Over two thousand years ago, Chinese farmers had a problem. Even though they were very industrious, the weather became too cold outside to plant their staple food, rice. So what did they do? Since they had so much free time during the long, cold winters, the inventive farmers started performing tricks to entertain themselves. They used their farm tools and anything they could find to make their tricks more spectacular. They even twisted their bodies into crazy shapes and performed awesome jumps. Overtime, they became great acrobats, and their art form came to be known as “Hundred Plays.”
Hundred Plays involves doing many kinds of tricks. For example, in Mandarin-speaking parts of China, performers do the lion dance. They wear costumes and mimic the animal’s movements. Early performers also did tricks on ropes and vines that were high above the ground.
Even though the acrobats’ fluid movements may have looked easy, they took a lot of work.
Learning Hundred Plays is a communal event. A veteran of the acrobatic arts usually teaches younger people in the village. They spend a lot of time rehearsing. The young performers also learn an old philosophy. The teachings help them harmonize the sensory aspects of acrobatics with mental aspects. In other words, it teaches them to use their physical and mental strength together.
Since the art has its origins with poor farmers, rich people used to scorn acrobats. They thought acrobats were villains. The rich people thought the acrobats just wanted to trick them. But later, their misguided opinions changed. Acrobats came to be respected in Chinese society. They were invited to perform in metropolitan areas as well as in small villages. They performed for important people, including judicial officers. Arts advocacy groups convinced the government to support Chinese acrobatics. As a result, there is now a statute that made several villages the center of training future acrobats.