On a summer night in May this year, the Chinese acrobats known as the Hebeis and Shanghai acrobatics troupe gathered at the Vancouver Convention Centre to perform on a stage for an audience of nearly 1,000.
They had just released their second album and were already planning a second tour of the United States.
“There are many ways to approach the world, but we have to be willing to face the obstacles,” said Zhang He, the band’s lead singer.
“It’s like an experiment, it’s a challenge.”
Zhang was born in China in 1989, and his father was a musician.
“We are very conscious of our heritage, and that’s what we keep reminding ourselves,” Zhang said.
“But it’s also a very easy thing to say, like, ‘I don’t know what it is like to be a foreigner in China.
I just want to see what it’s like to live here.'”
The band has been performing in Canada for years and is a favourite of many in the U.S. It has sold more than 30 million records.
Zhang said he was surprised when he saw his name on the front cover of the album.
“When we first went to Canada, it was a very scary thing, because there was this idea that this was the first time in my life I would ever be asked to sing a song,” he said.
Zhang has been singing for a long time, but his musical style has changed.
“I think about my past as a foreigner,” he explained.
“And I think about the current situation in China and its society.
It’s a very difficult place to live in.”
The Chinese acrobatics troupe is not just about the art of acrobatically performing.
They have become a major force in the arts and education sector in China, providing an outlet for artists to express themselves and engage in a wide range of artistic pursuits.
“In a society that’s still very patriarchal, it seems like there are still a lot of things that we don’t see that are happening in the outside world,” said Lin Li, the group’s lead performer.
“A lot of people don’t have the opportunity to see the arts in China.”
Lin said that a number of Chinese artists have gone to the U: from a Chinese-Canadian singer to a British-American singer to an American dancer.
“If I was a Canadian artist in Canada, I wouldn’t have been able to go to Vancouver,” Lin said.
Li said that the HeBei acrobatic troupe has been a major influence on his career.
“The Chinese acro dance has changed the way I view my art,” he continued.
“To me, it is about the expression of the human body.”
The band’s latest album, The Way Forward, came out in 2016, and they are gearing up to release a new one, called Songs of China, which is due out in the summer.
The Chinese community has been critical of the band.
“These are Chinese people who don’t get to see much of what’s happening in China,” said the group member, Huang Shouyu.
“They’re not able to see how their own culture is evolving.”
Zhang said that when he was growing up in China the Chinese people didn’t have a lot to say about him, and when he came to Canada in the mid-2000s, he thought he’d be able to get a job at a Chinese restaurant.
“For me, I thought I would be able a good life, but it didn’t happen,” he admitted.
The experience made him realize that there was a lot more to life in China than what he thought.
“What the Chinese community thinks of me as a person is very different from what they think of me in the United, or in the world,” Zhang explained.