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UPDATED: February 16, 2015 NO. 8 FEBRUARY 19, 2015
Taking Care of Show Business
A subset of China's talented is gaining support for their chosen stage
By Yuan Yuan

DRUM UP: A drummer and singer performs in the underpass in Wuchang, Hubei Province (CFP)

"Although we love our career, working in this way is frustrating," said Wang brothers. "We dream to perform like true artists on the streets."

Now with the certificate, Wang brothers finally feel like real artists.

"Shanghai's attempt is a conception in progress," said Sun Wei, a professor at the School of Journalism at Fudan University. "If Shanghai wants to be a city with distinct characteristics like Paris, it needs to create cultural bonds, rather than relying on a commercial force, to unite people by combining the city's spatial layout with human elements."

"Many people in Shanghai love street arts and stop for my music," said Kaizi, a guitar player from east China's Jiangsu Province who also got the certificate.

Kaizi used to work an office job after college, but the routine life made him feel bored and trapped. After working it for three years, he decided to be a full-time street artist.

Kaizi remembers that a city management officer, after work, came back to listen to his music and gave him 10 yuan ($1.6).

Art and living

This pilot program in Shanghai has shed light on street art regulation in many other places in China.

In Beijing, China's political as well as art center, street performance is a more common sight. Ren Yueli, a singer who frequented an underpass in Xidan shopping district of Beijing's downtown, was even invited to sing at the 2011 Spring Festival Gala on China Central Television.

However, Ren's popularity didn't change the fact that street singers are still without legal protection in Beijing. There are hundreds of such singers in this city and city management officials are still a headache for them.

"Normally we rely purely on luck on whether we will be stopped or not," said Dali, a guitar player and singer in Beijing. "But it seems we got used to it. We complain sometimes but we accept it as we know it is like this from the very beginning."

Zhang Guanhui, born in 1984 in east China's Anhui Province, came to Beijing with a dream to become a street performer in 2009 but couldn't make this dream come true after more than one year of struggle.

Finally, he set up his stage in Sanlitun Village, Beijing's nightlife center, and started performing Michael Jackson dance routines. Every night he carries a portable stereo and dances for two hours straight. "Normally I can get more than 100 yuan ($161) each night," said Zhang, who lives in a shabby flat costing less than 600 yuan ($97) a month. He now makes his living on his art alone.

In 2014, when videos of him dancing got popular online, he was invited to dance at the annual celebrations of some companies.

"This is still far from my final goal--to be a real dancing star, but I still have time, no rush," said Zhang.

"It is a real challenge to perform on the streets," said Guo Degang, a popular cross talker. "Your performance has to be good enough to get people to pay for you. Otherwise, you can't make a living."

Now for the eight certificate holders in Shanghai, their income is relatively stable. Lu's crystal ball show has been invited to perform on many occasions and so have the Wang brothers.

"The month before the Spring Festival is a busy season for us," said Wang. "We can earn more than 10,000 yuan ($1,613) this month."

Email us at: yuanyuan@bjreview.com

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