Ming-era Beijing theatre to be bulldozed

The building billed as Beijing's oldest opera house is set for demolition, with a modern facility to be constructed nearby, according to Chinese officials.

The building billed as Beijing's oldest opera house is set for demolition, with a modern facility to be constructed nearby, according to Chinese officials.

State-run media reported Monday the Guanghe Theatre, located in the capital city's Oianmen district, will be torn down.

"We intend to build a modern, professional venue like those on Broadway in the United States, where regular shows are offered all year round and high-end performances can also take place," Ma Dekai, head of cultural facility construction in Beijing's Municipal Bureau of Culture, told Xinhua news agency.

Ma gave no details about the design of the new theatre or a projectedopening date.

Constructed in the 17th century in the final years of the Ming Dynasty, the Guanghe was once home to top Peking opera performances.

Mei Lanfang, who helped bring Chinese operato international attention, launched his career at the Guanghe at the age of 10.

Previously among about 40 opera theatres in the city, the Guanghe is now among just a handful in the capital.

Attendance began to dwindle in the 1970s as the public's tastes changed and, despite a management attempt to diversify by screening films and hosting dances and other events in the 1980s, it fell into disuse.

In 2000, government officials declared it unsafe.

In recent years, and especially as China prepares to host the 2008 Olympic Games, an increasing number of major cities have seen historic neighbourhoods, buildings and traditional courtyard homes bulldozed to make way for highrises and other modern facilities.