Exploring Hip Hop and Poetry of China

China’s narrative (like that of the US) has far too often been explained to travelers through the language of its politics, rather than its arts. On this tour, we aim to broaden the discourse of the PRC and help travelers discover the spoken word artists ( we will be introducing you to writers, poets, journalists and hip-hop artists) who give the country its voice and shape its culture.

Music: Cold Funk by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)


Day 1: Beijing-  Hotel Recommendations: The Orchid/ The Rosewood   

(Please note we can customize and rearrange the program to your interests!)

In the morning we’ll meet your guide, a long-time writer in China, whose work has been published in several international newspapers and magazines. They will be taking you out for coffee at a very unique café. The coffee shops owners worked in media and marketing for many years before deciding to open up a coffee shop in the slice of hutong originally allocated to her grandfather by his work unit in the 1950’s. Owning a small business like a boutique or coffee shop is the dream of many Chinese people in their 30’s who are tired of the underpaid and overworked white-collar rat race and want to escape the political and economic pressures of mainstream Chinese society. The owner is an accomplished jazz musician and huge Bill Evans fan.  Who will be happy to talk with you about music, freedom of expression and the rewards and struggles of modern China.

Afterwards, we’ll head out for lunch together we’ll eat at a wanghong café or hotpot restaurant near Gulou. One of the many effects of the growth of a social-media-obsessed young urban class has been the proliferation of so-called wanghongdian, or internet-viral shops – extremely cute, novelty-laden cafes that exist for the specific purpose of being photographed and shared on one’s WeChat moments. This is a good opportunity to watch other people shamelessly take selfies and discuss Chinese social media culture with your expert guide.

That night we’ll be heading out to hip-hop show/party in Beijing (this would have to be on a weekend). Last summer China went crazy for hip-hop music after a hit reality TV show, “The Rap of China,” introduced the genre to hundreds of millions of viewers. But hip-hop had been around in China well before “The Rap of China.” Beijing, the first point of contact for hip-hop in China, has had an underground scene since the early 2000’s. Things have changed a lot since then – the scene has grown, and with the newfound demand for rap created by “The Rap of China,” it’s finally possible to make a living as a hip-hop musician.

At a given hip-hop show in Beijing you will see a wide range of fans, from scene veterans still rocking a 90’s west coast aesthetic to teens and university students flexing in the latest Hypebeast streetwear.

We’ll also introduce you to Rapper who has studied overseas and can explain to you the issues, hard work and dedication it takes to become a Hip Hop Star in China. Think “8 mile” on the 3rd ring road.


Day 2: Beijing-  Hotel Recommendations: The Orchid/ The Rosewood   

In the morning after breakfast, We’ll take a taxi out to northeast 5th ring road to visit an artist studio. Beyond touristified 798 art district, at the very fringes of the urban fabric, Beijing artists have long made studios in space rented from farmers, seeking cheap rent and freedom from tightly monitored government-run art districts like 798 and Songzhuang. In recent years, however, most of these studios have been demolished to make way for “development” projects. We will visit one of the few that have managed to slip the cracks. (It will really depend on the situation at the time who we can go visit –things are constantly changing over there.)

Afterwards, we’ll head for lunch at a Xinjiang Halal Restaurant. The restaurant employs two populations of people whom the Chinese government is doing their best to expel from Beijing: ethnic minorities and migrant workers. For most Han Chinese, restaurants are the only point of contact with western minorities like Uyghur and Hui. As is quite normal for young food service workers, all of the staff of the restaurant live in a dormitory behind the restaurant. This is a convenient and cheap solution for working in an expensive first-tier city like Beijing, but also carries with it the presumption that these workers will never settle down and make a home in the city.

In the evening to put some of these threads of gentrification, development, and neoliberalism into perspective we’ll have a sit down with one of China’s most prominent reporters. Over beers and a meal, we’ll have an honest heart to heart about the political situations in Xinjiang, the real estate bubble of Beijing, and the growing divide (and grumbling) between the haves and the have-nots of China.


Day 3: Beijing-  Hotel Recommendations: The Orchid/ The Rosewood

Today in the morning we’ll walk through a cutesy hutong to visit artists in their unrenovated courtyard home in an as yet ungentrified adjacent lane. Their landlord is an 80+-year-old Beijinger who has decided to rent out their home to young people at an affordable price rather than sell out for a huge profit. Although the rent is extremely cheap  (the artists there pay less than a quarter of what most pay in rent), artists enjoy no “modern facilities” and must use the public toilet and communal showers. But it’s a tradeoff they’re willing to make – they all work in the art world, and could not afford to live inside the second ring road otherwise.

For lunch, we’ll be meeting with the lead editor of one of the world’s most renowned magazines on politics and economics. They have lived in Beijing for over a decade and needless to say, have a very good understanding of Chinese politics and society. Not to mention being a very sociable and a fun person to hang out with.  The lunch will be a great conversation for all the questions about China that go unanswered in most newspaper stories about the country.

Afterwards, we’ll connect to the world of poetry, meeting up with our friend Steve. Educated at one of China’s top universities and having studied abroad, Steve will be our liaison to the poetry collective Spit-Tune, who are working to connect poets and creative writers for cross-cultural and cross-language prose and poetry performances and workshops, where we’ll watch today’s young poets differ from those of their parents and grandparents generation in China. As well as how globalization is influencing Chinese writers.  Steve’s work has been published in Weiminghu (未名湖), Youth Writer(青年作家), California Quarterly, and elsewhere in Chinese and English.


Day 4: Beijing-  Hotel Recommendations: The Orchid/ The Rosewood   

In the morning Steve will take us on a city walk where we look at some of the most interesting and important sites in the city for poetry in Beijing. We’ll learn about China’s giant literary figures, such as Lu Xun, Chen Duxiu, Hu Shih, Bian Zhilin, etc. These figures all looms in the background of modern Chinese poetry and culture.

Afterwards, we’ll have a lunch with Steve where we’ll have a mini-seminar. Steve will give us the lay of the land of the Chinese poetry scene and talk to us about how historical Chinese Poetry has evolved with or differs from its contemporary forms.

Then in the evening, we’ll switch from poetry to Comedy! We’ll be meeting with Jesse Appell. Jesse is a prodigy of sorts, A Fulbright recipient Jesse a fully bilingual comedian, he performs regularly on Chinese TV. Right now his main project is continuing to build the foundation he established: The US-China Comedy Center. Jesse founded the center to encourage dialogue and exchanges between US and Chinese comedians and comedy styles.

Depending on the evening Jesse will be taking us to a stand-up comedy show, or we can do some cross-cultural improve at the center, where Jesse teaches bilingual comedy and improv workshops to a mixed Chinese and English speaking class. Either way, it will be a great chance to exchange jokes and laughter with locals.


Day 5: Beijing-  Hotel Recommendations: The Orchid/ The Rosewood   

After Breakfast we’ll be meeting with Jesse again, to get a chance to experience Beijing through his eyes. Jesse will introduce us to the local and places who have helped shape his sense of humor, as well as giving us a chance to understand Beijing as a place where great comedy can be found if you know where to look!  Time permitting our time with Jesse will end after a great lunch at a local restaurant with a discussion on comedy, cultural difference and how humor can build a bridge between the two.

For dinner, we’ll be recommending a great restaurant frequented by some of the authors and journalists in the city.


Day 6. Beijing Final day (add-on from Day 5)

If you’d like to extend the tour one extra day, we can introduce you to the final writer we often work within Beijing. GJ is a writer who focuses entirely on art, who writes for local and international art publications. He is incredibly sweet, unpretentious, and honest about some of the difficulties (both financial and governmental) artists face in China.  He will be taking us for a late-morning to the late-afternoon tour of 798 Art District. GJ knows many of the artists there and is willing to give you his honest opinion on the worthwhile galleries, how they fit into larger art scenes and which spaces have suffered from commercialization and or being beholden to artistic trends.

We are constantly adding new artists, journalists, and spoken word artists to our tour. When you inquire please be sure to ask us if we’ve added anyone new. We look forward to helping you discover the many different voices speaking out in today’s China.

Duration of Trip: 5 days, 4 nights (with 1-day add-on)

Destinations: BEIJING  

China’s narrative (like that of the US) has far too often been explained to travelers through the language of its politics, rather than its arts. On this tour, we aim to broaden the discourse of the PRC and help travelers discover the spoken word artists ( we will be introducing you to writers, poets, journalists and hip-hop artists) who give the country its voice and shape its culture.

During this journey, we will be introducing you to some of China’s most interesting voices, who have many opinions, thoughts, and philosophies that are very different than the common narratives about the Middle Kingdom. This tour is perfect for book lovers, academics,  Students interested in studying abroad in China, and those who like to travel like Anthony Bourdain, embracing the counter-cultural and prose while they experience new countries and cultures.

Want more information? Email our travel experts matt@asiaarttours.com.

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