Source AP ©

China: Beijing's oldest opera hall to be torn down

Beijing 's oldest opera hall, the Ming Dynasty relic, will be pulled down to give place for a modern theater, state media reported Monday.

City officials intend to replace the unsafe, ancient Guanghe theater with a state-of-the-art facility, Xinhua News Agency said.

Beijing used to have about 40 opera houses, most of them south of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, but few remain, Xinhua said.

The Guanghe theater was built in the final years of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Xinhua said. Initially the villa of a rich salt merchant, it was renamed the Guanghe Building in the late 1700s during the Qing Dynasty.

It was rebuilt at least several times, the last time in 1955. As recently as the 1970s, it was a venue for top Peking Opera performances. But audiences dwindled and the theater fell into disuse. It was declared unsafe in 2000.

The Guanghe is also famous because it was where Mei Lanfang, considered one of China's greatest actors, started his career. He became famous for playing female roles in the 1910s.

"We intend to build a modern, professional venue," said Ma Dekai, chief of cultural facility construction in the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture.

The Beijing government has been criticized in recent years because may traditional areas and buildings have been torn down to make way for modern buildings or roads.

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