In an area where local heritage often seems more resuscitated for the benefit of tourism than truly alive, the Shichahai Art Hotel creates a unique environment in which contemporary luxury and artistic tradition exist simultaneously. The hotel is designed with an opera-house structure, with all rooms facing a theatre in the hutong buildings’ traditional central courtyard. The concept is to provide guests with an interactive experience rather than just a place to stay. With shadow puppetry performances every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, guests are enveloped in the traditions of Beijing.
Post-cultural revolution, the popularity of traditional Chinese shadow puppetry has waned. The Shadow Art Hotel in Schichahai has rejuvenated the tradition in a manner which evokes much more than any one art form. The pictures of shadow art on the walls are all from the Shaanxi province, home of Wang Tianwen, probably the most distinguished puppet-cutter in China. Each piece of artwork, including the puppets themselves, are specially commissioned from the grandmaster cutter. Each piece is painstakingly hand made to the specifications of the traditional art form and re-creates the four characters of Chinese opera: Sheng (male), Dan (female), Jing (warrior) and Chou (clown). In turn, each of the hotel’s twenty-five rooms reflects a variation on one of these characters.
The hotel itself is located in the middle of the traditional Beijing hutongs and ideally positioned (we’re told) for optimum feng shui due to its proximity to Schichahai’s beautifully tranquil lakes. Although near-impossible to find without a map, that slight inconvenience provides possibly the greatest charm of the hotel. Artfully designed to fuse contemporary minimalist style with the traditional courtyard building, the hotel is hidden away in the midst of the most ‘authentic’ part of Beijing. Expect to see winding alleyways replete with bicycles, rosy-cheeked diners drinking Tingstaos outside street barbecues and throngs of late night dancers in dimly lit public squares.
Neither overly ‘traditionalised’ nor excessively contemporary in style, it is a cultural sanctuary with all the benefits that you would expect from a luxury establishment. The Shadow Art Performance Hotel is not just one of the best boutique hotels in Beijing, it is also one of the best places to visit for a taste of true Chinese culture.
Shadow Art Performance Hotel (booking.com)