Zhongfan (Flag Balancing) of Beijing Tianqiao
Tianqiao (literally, sky bridge) of Beijing is a prosperous and boisterous market resounding home and abroad. It enjoys a long history. Way back in the reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty, Tianqiao took on its original form and made great headway during the late Qing Dynasty and early Republic of China when all the folk arts and acrobatics made their appearance in it. Zhongfan (flag balancing) and Chinese wrestling were most popular with the tourists.
"Fan" is a kind of flag, and its size varies. Gorgeously decorated, it can be used in both the guard of honor or in the strength competition. It is originated from the imperial performance item and evolved into a program in the folk temple fair. Playing and wielding Zhongfan is a traditional acrobatic item in Chinese folk life, and the Beijing Tianqiao Zhongfan enjoys the greatest fame.
Zhongfan features a 10-odd-meter main bamboo pole, with a strip of 0.5m-wide and 5.5m-long flag hanging down from the tip. On the obverse side are embroidered benedictory sentences and auspicious patterns while on the reverse one the name of the performing team, hence also the name - “the signal flag”. It is made of two bamboo poles joint together with a net weight over 30 Jin, being thick at the lower part and thin at the upper one.
Fan is classified into one-person form, two-person form, and group form, including over 50 movements. The fan will be on the forehead or on the stretched arm of the performer. A series of breath-taking movements will be performed with the fan never departing from their body and the pole never falling onto the ground. The 10-odd-meter Zhongfan of a weight of dozens of jin will fly by turns on their hands, shoulders, head, chin, back etc.
Through the efforts of several generations, the Tianqiao Zhongfan, owing to the excellent skill and funny performance, has become the representative performance item in the folk culture of old Beijing.