Clubbing It Up In Beijing As A Party Toy For Chinese Elites

Even as a perpetual traveler visiting dozens of countries a year, there are some destinations you eagerly await visiting, full of anticipation and childlike excitement, as if you were embarking upon one of your first international trips.

In 2017, I visited China for the first time. It was just a 71-hour stopover in Beijing on a 72-hour transit visa. What all could happen in such a short amount of time? I would see a bit of Beijing, visit the Great Wall and spend a night or two out on the town.

But China is no ordinary destination. It’s not average in size, population or global significance. I had never experienced the country and I didn’t know what to expect.

Meanwhile, my brother, a London School of Economics student at the time, was spending a year studying abroad in Beijing. Unlike with him, Chinese language and culture remained very foreign to me. My brother had tipped me a bit about life in China, but I certainly didn’t expect what would unfold — the wildest clubbing experience of my life.

Welcome to Sanlitun

Clubbing in Sanlitun

In reality, my crazy Chinese clubbing experience, or experiences, have taken place over multiple trips to Beijing. I recently bookended a trip to North Korea (yes, North Korea… stay tuned to the blog!) with stops before and after in China. Over the course of my 71-hour stay in 2017 and my more recent trips to China, I have gotten a good feel for the Beijing club scene. It is one you don’t want to miss — so long as you have a connection or two or know where to go.

Sanlitun is the prime nightlife area in Beijing. It’s got the top bars and clubs, in addition to being a shopping district where you can find international brands. The area also has international notoriety for drugs, sex tapes, sword attacks and state executions of criminals from the Sanlitun underworld. But you can read up on that stuff on your own.

A couple of the popular, high-profile clubs I’ve been to in Sanlitun are Elements Club and Club One Third. Elements Club has got hydraulic stages, karaoke rooms and lots of action around the dancer/stripper pole. Club One Third is a mega-club with a catwalk, huge stage, dance floors etc.

There are all kinds of storylines that can come with clubbing in Sanlitun. As least for a westerner, the optimal narrative is most likely serving as a party toy for the rich children of Chinese elites. This is something I’ve perfected over my recent stays in Beijing.

To get what I’m talking about, you’ve got to understand some basics about modern, fairly capitalist China. Nowadays, there are rich Chinese who spend about $20,000 on a night out clubbing — per person!! This happens on a nightly basis in Sanlitun. These rich Chinese kids have no shortage of money to splurge on very expensive bottles of booze. That’s not enough to keep them entertained, though.

They want to feel cool by having foreigners around them.

This doesn’t mean they like foreigners. It doesn’t mean they want to hang out with and party with foreigners. It doesn’t even mean they want to take photos with foreigners. In fact, they are quite content with rudely refusing to interact at all with foreigners, basically ignoring them while making it known that the non-Chinese are like sub-humans to them. But still, these rich Chinese want foreigners there with them in the club.

Confusing? Doesn’t make sense? It’s not so easy to grasp if you haven’t been there. But if you understand these sentiments and can get into the right club, you can reap the benefits. By benefits, I mean free… everything!

Living it up for free in Sanlitun

As a foreigner who knows a club promoter or happens to be in the right place, you first get free entry to the venue. Then you get escorted to the front of the club, where you are given special seating close to other foreigners. Then you get free bottles of alcohol — champagne and hard liquor. All of this comes with a personal server and beautiful Chinese women in close proximity. You can have an amazing night out without having to pay for anything… unless you count sacrificing your dignity as a means of payment. More on this later…

Clubbing isn’t the only form of partying I have indulged in while in Beijing. I very clearly recall going to a party with my brother last year. We went to First Floor. It’s also in Sanlitun, but it’s a pub, with beer and bar food, and it’s not on the main party street. It’s supposed to be some place where you start the night, not finish it. Yet, they blasted reggaeton until dawn. The sun came up, and reggaeton was still blasting. People were still drinking, dancing a bit and having a good time.

Reggaeton till dawn

Staying out all night and into the next morning at some random bar — not even a club — is something you think of doing in a place like Prague. It wasn’t what I was expecting in Beijing. And that reggaeton is still playing in the back of my head.

What about that wall?

Of course, not all of my time in Beijing has been spent drinking and partying. There has also been sightseeing and relaxation.

Before embarking on a brief expedition around touristic Beijing, it helps to know about the opportunities and confines that come with a Chinese transit visa. As you are already aware, my first trip to China was confined to just 72 hours. Since then the policy has changed. Now you get 6 days, not 3 days, out of a Chinese transit visa. That can really come in handy.

When you’re in China on a transit visa, you are confined to the region you are flying in and out of. If you’re flying in and out of Beijing, that allows you to hit a bunch of the country’s biggest tourist attractions.

During my 71-hour stay last year, I visited several tourist spots, including Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, various Buddhist temples and the Great Wall.

The Great Wall of China, really a collection of walls, is an engineering miracle. The Chinese understood wall-building techniques more than two millennia ago, and they improved mightily over the years, constructing fortifications spanning great distances that have lasted centuries and proved their worth during both war and peacetime.

No tourists in sight ?

Along with my brother, I got up early in the morning to pay the Great Wall a visit. We took the cable car up to the Mutianyu Great Wall, one of the most famous sections of the Great Wall. Having beat the hordes of tourists, we got to enjoy exploring the wall by foot — and the fitness training that comes with— while almost no one else was around. To get back down, we slid down the 1,580-meter toboggan. You can get a glimpse of our experience here:

During my most recent stay in Beijing, I returned to this engineering marvel, making my second trip to the Great Wall. I decided to do so when the Chinese government carried out a big VPN attack that prevented me from penetrating the “Great Firewall” and thus getting any work done.

Return trip

Other sightseeing highlights for me in Beijing have been the famous Forbidden City and the lesser known Yonghe Temple. Home to China’s emperors for half of the last millennium, the Forbidden City is arguably the largest palace in the world. It holds the record for the largest area enclosed within a palace’s fortified walls. The place epitomizes centralization of power, but even for an anarchocapitalist, the Forbidden City’s history and grandiosity are impressive.

The Forbidden City

The Yonghe Temple is actually among the more famous temples in Beijing. This Tibetan Buddhist temple is probably most known for its large Buddha on the inside. The Buddha is 18 meters high above ground, plus it extends 8 meters below ground. At a combined total of 26 meters, it is the largest Buddha ever carved out of a single tree.

Big Buddha

On the outside of the Yonghe Temple, I stumbled across some good incense… and I got high. ?

Getting high on the Yonghe Temple’s supply

Finally some relaxation

Taking in incense at the Yonghe Temple wasn’t the only moment during my time in Beijing that I took a break from the action and just chilled out. On my recent trips, I stayed in the rather luxurious W and St. Regis hotels. At the W, I indulged in a bubble bath inside my room. Fancy soaking in your own bubbly hot tub with a view of Beijing’s historical center to start your evenings? Oh, the advantages of having Marriott rewards… ?


And more recently, over at the St. Regis, in the heart of Beijing’s business, shopping and diplomatic districts, I washed down a Tabasco-less trip to North Korea with a complimentary Bloody Mary in more capitalist China. Did you know, according to one claim, the Bloody Mary cocktail was invented at the St. Regis in New York in 1934? This time, you get a piece of trivia with my Marriott rewards… ?


Back to school

One of the most telling moments during my time in Beijing was when my brother took me to his place of study – Peking University. You may know that “Peking” is the older English spelling of “Beijing.” Peking University, the first modern national university in China, still uses the old English form of the Chinese capital’s name.

Peking University

Consistently ranked as a top, if not the top, university in China, Peking University has an absurd acceptance rate. I was told it’s something like 1 in 10,000 Chinese students who apply manage to get accepted at Peking University. In essence, Chinese students work extremely hard and forego a social life in attempt to get into a prestigious university. Then they repeat the process in attempt to get placed on a prestigious career path.

Are we just their toys?

Getting a glimpse at how the Chinese study and party leaves me with some thoughts. Something many Chinese people are clearly lacking is creativity. I might add, as a byproduct, they are also lacking social skills.

They invite us to join them in their places of study and play and give us a bunch of free stuff. Then these Chinese elites give us the cold shoulder while, at the same time, copying all that is western — including our clothes, our music and our entertainment venues, let alone our technology.

Meanwhile, Chinese people work much harder than westerners, putting them on a trajectory to outpace us in everything… except creativity. Years from now, the West will still have Disneyland and Disneyworld and Disneyland Paris. But the Chinese are even copying Disney parks. They’ve already got Shanghai Disney Resort. And soon, our Europe will be just their playground.

In the future, will we in the West merely be toys for our Chinese overlords to play with? I don’t know. But if so, I’m not concerned. I’ll be navigating the world beneath the sea aboard the Nautilos. And maybe I’ll grant some cool Chinese kids free entry.

Will the West get run over like the protesters on Tiananmen Square?