After a ‘Miserables’ beginning, can Chinese musicals finally make rent?

When tickets for the musical Letters sold out within a minute of going online, no one was more surprised than its lead actor Zheng Yunlong, who had promoted the show on his Weibo account only to learn he was already too late.

It was the moment for which “I have been waiting for 10 years,” Zheng commented beneath his own post. Though recognized as one of China’s top musical performers, having won best actor at the 2018 Musical Academy Awards in Beijing, Zheng is probably used to seeing empty seats in the theater: He once played a show in Harbin to an audience of 10.

Back in 2017, as Chinese cinema took in nearly 60 billion RMB, musicals made just 217 million RMB. Shanghai, the largest market in the country, only has about 30,000 to 40,000 regular theatergoers out of a population of more than 240 million, as industry watcher Wei Jiayi told news site Jiemian.

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author Sun Jiahui (孙佳慧)

Sun Jiahui is a freelance writer and former editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about Chinese language, society and culture, and is especially passionate about sharing stories of China's ancient past with a wider audience. She has been writing for TWOC for over six years, and pens the Choice Chengyu column.

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