China Disabled People’s Performing Arts Troupe

In the autumn of 1987, a group of thirty disabled people performed in front of crowds at the first China Art Festival in Beijing. BAM! The China Disabled People’s Performing Arts Troupe was born. Thirty years later, the troupe is thriving, having performed for thousands of people in over sixty countries, hitting every continent except for Antarctica.

Headed by president, art director, and main actor Tai Lihua, who became deaf at the age of two but did not let that stop her from pursuing her passion of dance, the troupe recently concluded a tour in Germany.

china UNESCO goodwill dancers

Everyone in the organization has some form of disability, be it auditory, physical, or visual impairment. Visually impaired musicians read the music in braille. Hearing impaired dancers use vibrations to feel the beat. Visually impaired dancers use ropes to learn movements together and even implement white canes and guide dogs into performances like “To See Spring.”

china disabled dancer

Although the scope of the China Disabled People’s Performing Arts Troupe has expanded greatly – from the humble beginnings as an amateur organization to an internationally acclaimed professional group – the troupe has retained its same founding ideals throughout the three decades of its existence: “self-respect, self-confidence, self-improvement and self-reliance, as well as mutual respect, mutual care, mutual aid and mutual complementarities.”

These guiding principles have allowed the China Disabled People’s Performing Arts Troupe to connect with audiences from diverse backgrounds around the globe. Their performances have attracted the positive words of leaders from Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

After a performance at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. in 2000, then U.S. Vice President Al Gore said, “These performers share a tremendous human spirit. Their determination has inspired millions at home and now promises to do the same here in the United States.”

Even in their own country, the messages and themes of the China Disabled People’s Performing Arts Troupe has a way of breaking down barriers and forming connections across myriad experiences. At a prison in Shanghai where the troupe performed in 2003, Tai Lihua shared her thoughts with the inmates, “When we heard that we would be performing for prisoners, I was afraid. But sitting with you today, I feel that we share a lot. The difference between us is that we are handicapped physically and you spiritually.”

These principles have also allowed the troupe to learn and grow from each other, expanding their horizons. Because everyone in the troupe has some form of disability, they must often work together, using complementary strengths to overcome individual weaknesses. Mutual respect, mutual care, mutual aid, and mutual complementarities were necessities in the troupe’s execution of “At The Crossroads.” The classic Peking opera involves the main character General Jiao Zan exiled for a crime he did not commit.

Warrior Ren Tanghui is sent to protect Jiao Zan; however, a misunderstanding leads Jiao Zen to attack Ren Tanghui, thinking he was sent to assassinate him. Given this plot, the performance obviously included spectacular martial arts sequences. Imagine all of this produced by a mix of performers who are hearing, visually, or physically impaired. To achieve this, they worked together, with the visually impaired memorizing rhythm, providing accompaniment and dubbing, and signing for the hearing impaired.

In addition to practicing and performing together, the troupe lives together in dorms, shares meals together, and helps each other with day to day tasks. When they travel, they wear the same uniforms and take the same suitcases. The hearing-impaired performers look after the ones who are visually impaired and physically disabled. They conclude the relations between them with, “I am your eyes, and you are my ears; I am your mouth, and you are my legs.”

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