BEIJING, Feb. 17 -- Given the dismal economy and flattened wallets, not many would consider spending money on a hobby. But magician Liu Qian's mind-blowing performance at the 2009 CCTV Spring Festival gala has set off many on a quest to learn a trick or two.
Wang Zhiwei, director of Beijing Magicians Club, says Liu has brought a large number of Chinese up and close with the kind of magic that makes use of everyday objects such as cards and coins.
During the gala, Liu managed to drop a coin into a glass placed upside down and transformed a finger ring into an intact egg, under the close and watchful eyes of the studio audience, leaving tens of thousands of viewers mesmerized by his showmanship.
The Beijing Qitian Magic Training Center is feeling the heat of this latest fad. It has recorded the highest enrollment in its history with more than 40 students attending classes every day, says Yuan Xijun, the center's manager.
He says the one-month program costs anything between 300 (44 U.S. dollars) and 850 yuan (125 dollars) based on the different skill levels, and once the students learn the basics, it is their personalities that create the one-of-a-kind magic trick.
"We don't subject students to a rigorous, knuckle-busting practice regimen," says Yuan.
Last week, Wang Hongjun did a walk-in registration armed with a 300-yuan budget. The 33-year-old engineer hopes he can cram at least five tricks to show off at an upcoming company gathering.
"I just want to impress my boss and colleagues with some card tricks," says Wang, who believes this is a good way to build up office camaraderie.
The increased interest in learning magic can also be attributed to an economically independent and socially engaged Generation X. Xu Wei, a 28-year-old accountant who gave up a pair of Levis jeans to register for the program, says he wants to get married but has trouble finding an admirer. Inspired by Liu, who has a largely female fan base, Xu says he expects some party magic will make him more popular and help him socialize more.
"I think it is working," reveals the young man, alluding to the recent fondness expressed by at least three girls in his social circle.
Cai Mingfei, founder of the Magician Society at the Communication University of China, says ever since Liu's gala debut, he has been receiving several phone calls and e-mails asking what training in magic is available. Most of them are young men hoping that knowledge of magic will give them a leg-up in their careers and in life, he says.
"I'm happy to see this enthusiasm," says Liu, the Taiwan-based magician, who is considered China's foremost practitioner of close-up magic. Magic has never been as socially acceptable as in China now, he says.
Ultimately, magic is an art form that blends performance skills with personality. Hand-brain coordination is the key to success, says Liu, who keeps his audience transfixed with his wit and never-ending jokes.
He began training at the age of 7 and says: "Just like Harry Porter, rigid training is required for anyone to be able to put up a good show."
And the pull of magic, generated by the CCTV show, is not restricted to those living in China. Joseph Leung, a Chinese immigrant in New York, says that Liu's performance so impressed him that he began learning from online videos and DVDs. The 45-year-old beginner says he has found that the secret to success is to mislead the audience - like making everybody concentrate on your right hand while pulling off the trick with your left.
Leung also finds incredible similarities between magic and Taiji. "Both of them require body coordination and mind control," he says.
Wang believes magic even has the power to heal. This year, the club will send some of its members to local hospitals to help psychologically challenged children overcome their phobias.
While the trend of learning magic shows all signs of becoming stronger, some professional magicians are raising their eyebrows. Tian Xueming, a pro with more than 18 years of experience, is concerned that the wide exposure to magic could eventually kill it.
"The last thing I want to hear during a performance is: 'Oh, I know how they do this.' If the secret of a trick is revealed to everyone, there will be no more magic in the world," he says.
(Source: China Daily)