If you measure a city's nightlife by the number of chances for debauchery it offers, then Beijing has never held (and probably will never hold) a candle to such neon-lit Babylons as Shanghai and Hong Kong. If, instead, you measure nightlife by its diversity, the Chinese capital rivals any major city in Asia.

Such was not always the case. As recently as a decade ago, Beijing's populace routinely tucked itself into bed under a blanket of Mao-inspired Puritanism shortly after nightfall, leaving visitors with one of two tourist-approved options: Attend Beijing opera and acrobatic performances in a sterile theater, or wander listlessly around the hotel in search of a drink to make sleep come faster.

Since then, the government has realized there is money to be made on both sides of the Earth's rotation. The resulting relaxation in nocturnal regulations, set against the backdrop of Beijing residents' historical affinity for cultural diversions, has helped remake the city's nightlife. Opera and acrobatics are still available, but now in more interesting venues, and to them have been added an impressive range of other worthwhile cultural events: teahouse theater, puppet shows, intimate traditional music concerts, live jazz, even the occasional subtitled film.

This diversity continues with Beijing's drinking and dance establishments, of which there are scores. Some are even beginning to rival Shanghai's for style and, unfortunately, price. With the opening of a few modern dance clubs, the city's cheesy old discos are thankfully no longer the only dance option, although the latter can still be tremendously entertaining for kitsch value. The same goes for karaoke, a favorite in China as it is in Japan. Foreign-Chinese interaction in bars hasn't progressed much beyond the sexual exploitation rampant in the 1920s and 1930s, but this is by no means a necessary dynamic. The traveler not afraid to bumble through language barriers can often connect with local people over a bottle or two of beer.

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