All you need to know about: Impressions – Liu San Jie

We attended a performance of the Liu Sanjie show in Yangshuo on our recent trip to China, and it was incredible. The show is not well know outside China, but is it was easily one of the best live performances I have seen anywhere (and that includes Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!).

So this post is about the show and all you need to know if you are going to see it.

What is it?

Impressions Liu San Jie is a music, dance and light show with of over 600 performers, set on the largest natural theatre in the world. The Li river South of Yangshuo acts as the stage, with 12 Karst mountain peaks providing the back drop. You, the audience, sit on a 5000 seat stadium on an island in the middle of the river. The show is held at night, and the combination of the river, the mountains, the lights and the sheer number of performers combine to make this one of the most extraordinary live performances in the World. The show is directed by filmmaker Zhangyimou, who also directed the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games.

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Liu Sanjie is based around a legend of the Zhuang people. Zhuang is one of the 56 ethnic groups in China and, with a population of 15 million, is second only to the Han majority in China. Liu Sanjie, which means “third sister in  the Liu family” had a beautiful voice that enchanted everyone who heard it. The legend is that a warlord fell in love with Liu Sanjie, but she had already fallen in love with a farmer boy from the village. The warlord  kidnapped Liu Sanjie, but she was rescued by her lover and friends in the village, and the couple escaped living happily ever after.

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In the Impression Liu Sanjie, there is no plots, dialogue or characters. Instead this is a show based on a series of “impressions” which epitomise the landscapes and the ordinary life in the place where Liu Sanjie was born and lived.

The show is split into a number of segments, each based on an impression: red impression – folk songs,  green impression – gardens, gold impression – fishing and so on. My favourites were the red impression – folk songs and the final silver impression – folk celebrations.

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Tips for Liu Sanjie

1. Go. Just go.

If you are spending at least one night in Yangshuo this show is a must. I would even go as far as to say that of you are going anywhere near Yangshuo, like Guilin or Guangzhou, try and make a 1 night trip to Yangshuo, even if it just to see this. Note: The show is closed during the month prior to the Chinese new year which occurs in late January/early February, so do check before you go.

2. Book early

There are 2 shows per night (and 3 per night in the high season), and every one of them is packed. We managed to get seats at 1 day notice, but that was a weekday in low season. If you are booking for a weekend, book well in advance. We booked our tickets through our tour guide, but most hotels in the area can book the tickets and arrange transport for you.

3. Which tickets to get?

There are 3 types of tickets – A, B and C. C tickets cost 198 RMB and are the cheapest. These are right at the front and although you are close to the stage, you won’t get to experience the show to its full effect.

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A seats are called President suites. A1 tickets are 680 RMB each and are the most expensive. These are very centrally located to give the best view. A2 are 480 RMB and are to the side of the stage. The A seats  are at the very back and at the highest level. There is a roof (so you won’t get wet if it rains), and there are refreshments. However I was told that the roof obstructs the view a little bit.

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Vast majority of the seats are B2 seats, which costs 230 RMB. These have pretty good views, but there is no roof. If it rains your will get wet. B1 seats similar to B2, but more central and a bit more expensive: 320 RMB and are right at the back.

Tip: If possible, get a B2 ticket on row 37. This is the last row of the B2 seats and is somewhat to the side. However, the roof of the A seats extends above this row. So you will stay dry, pay less and have a better view.

In general, if you are at the back you get a better view of the whole show, but won’t be able to see the faces of the individual performers. However this is not a problem as Liu Sanjie is not a show that showcases individual performances. The show’s majesty is in the ensemble and the backdrop, so in my view, it is better to sit at the back and miss the individual rather than sit at the front and miss the big picture.

Tip: Take a pair of binoculars for an enhanced experience. 

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4. Arrive early

Aim to get here at least half an hour before start time. It takes a good 15-20 minutes to get from the entrance to the seats, past all the security checks etc. If you get here closer to the time, you will get held up in queues everywhere and miss the start of the show. Don’t be that person who walks in through the middle of the first act and obscure everyones’ view. Plus, some of the best scenes of the show are in the first 5 minutes.

5. Stay till the end

The main show finishes after about an hour, but the curtain call is worth staying for. Many people get up and leave during the curtain call, presumably to beat the queue when getting out, but we stayed till the end and, but couldn’t see a discernible advantage to leaving early. Plus, you might get lucky like we did and get to take a picture with some of the cast.

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6. Turn your phone to silent or better still, off

Although it is outdoors, treat this like any other theatre performance and at least put your phone on silent. Many people take pictures, which is not a problem, but if you get Whatsapp messages every 5 minutes you will disturb the neighbours. Don’t stare at you screen either, the white light really distracts from the show. Although why anyone would want to spend even a second starting at their phone during one of the greatest shows on Earth is beyond me.

7. Prepare for the weather

It’s an outdoor performance. Check the weather report. If it is likely to rain, take a rain coat. It is not really practical to hold an umbrella as it will poke your neighbour in the eye. They handed out free ponchos when we were there, but it’s not guaranteed. Also, if it has been raining, take a towel to wipe down the seats.

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8. Facilities

There are toilets everywhere, so no need to queue at the ones at the entrance. Everything is well signposted, and there is a waiting room for drivers/guides. There was no place for food and drink that I could see.  There is airport style security at the entrance to the venue. You can take food and liquids inside, but you may be asked to have a sip of the drinks to test them.

Impressions Liu Sanjie was one of the best things I have seen in a long time. I would highly recommend it to anyone who visit Southern China.

Have you been to see Impressions: Liu Sanjie? Would you consider going? Leave a comment below and let me know…

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