A group of people performing the Taiping drum at a Lantern Festival celebration event in Moshikou of Shijingshan District in Beijing on March 2, 2018.
Jingxi Taiping Drum is a traditional form of dancing that is prevalent in Mentougou District of Beijing. With its great popularity and display of profound cultural elements, it was included in the first batch of China’s national intangible cultural heritage items in 2006.
The earliest historical references of this art date back to the Spring and Autumn Period (770-221 B.C.) and describe how it was originally used in rituals to dispel evil spirits and pray for good fortune. Historical manuscripts show that the art was first called the Taiping Drum during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). At the beginning of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it started to gain popularity in and around the capital, and then by the end of the Qing Dynasty, it was introduced to Mentougou District of Beijing.
In ancient times, the Taiping Drum was performed by many villagers of all ages in Mentougou District. During the Qing Dynasty, the drums were also played on the New Year’s Eve of the lunar calendar at the imperial palace to bring peace. As a result, the performance also became known as the “New Year Drum” by Beijingers. This type of drum dance is commonly seen performed during the last and first month of the lunar year in many local festive activities, thus expressing people’s hope of a peaceful and prosperous year to come.
The structure of a Taiping Drum is usually made up of a shell, a cloth skin, and a handle with a handful of decorative rings, and this single-sided drum is usually played with a wooden mallet. The oval shape of the instrument gives it the appearance of a fan, as this particular design suits the choreography better. The drums are often painted with floral patterns, like peonies and flames, representing the people’s common wish for wealth, prosperity, and a better future. The sides of the drums are traditionally decorated with red and green pompoms, giving it a livelier appearance.
During a given performance, drummers perform various dance moves while holding the drum in their left hands and a mallet in their right hands. There are 13 choreography sets and seven kinds of drum beats. Traditional Chinese aesthetic concepts are reflected in the drum playing, pace, and formation changes, all of which represent distinctive local features.
During the 21st century, efforts have been made by Mentougou District to preserve this signature folk dance culture by establishing a local Taiping Drum troupe, inviting noted artists to share their skills and groom a new generation of young players, and writing drum teaching materials. In addition, four schools in Mentougou District were designated as culture inheritance bases of the Jingxi Tai-ping Drum. At present, there are more than a dozen teams in Mentougou that can perform this drum dance.
As more people have learned about the dance, the Jingxi Taiping Drum dance has been performed in local villages as well as on national and international stages. The Taiping Drum has participated in dozens of large-scale cultural events, including the opening ceremony of the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing, the cultural performance to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1999, and the 2011 China’s Cultural Heritage Day. In 2006 and 2007, it was also performed in overseas Olympic promotional activities in Australia and the United States.
Today, the time-honored folk art of the Jingxi Taiping Drum is being taken up by the young generation and is presenting its lively artistic charm on a global stage.