Beijing, CNN (CNN)In a small room in a West Beijing cultural center, magician Tian Xueming is working hard to deceive a group of university students from Macau that he has teleported three pearl-sized balls from one bowl to another.
The traditional Chinese magicians calling for greater censorship of their ancient tricks
For first-timers, Tian's sleight-of-hand illusion is as infuriating as it is entertaining. Some audience members become hellbent on exposing the magician, by any means necessary.
"Many have tried to grab my hand mid-act, wrench it open, only to find there was no ball," says Tian.
The 55-year-old refuses to give details about his tricks, citing an unbreakable magician's code of secrecy. But this hasn't stopped the trick from being exposed online.
Millennial magician Li Yunfei posted a video of the trick on YouTube last December, using two transparent bowls to show there is no teleporting, only nimble handiwork.
In seven months, that clip has racked up 1.6 million views. According to Li, trading secrets for clicks -- and thus profit -- has become an increasingly common practice among young Chinese magicians.
"There are tens of thousands of live-streaming and video channels dedicated to exposing magic tricks," says Li, 24, who has over 420,000 fans on Chinese video platform Tik Tok and claims to make over 1 million yuan ($145,000) per year from his videos.
Tian, and other traditional Chinese magicians, have condemned this practice, even forming an association, the League in Opposition to the Revealing of Magic Secrets, to combat this trend. Many of the tricks exposed were invented by their ancestors and passed down via tight-knit, student-teacher relationships.
"All magic is fake but revealing an illusion's secrets strips its ability to amaze," says Tian.
In a bid to stop his trade from being demystified, Tian has taken an unusual approach for an artist in China.
He is calling on government officials for greater censorship of magic online.
China's emperors have employed magicians since at least the Han Dynasty (221-206BC). According to Tian, they would set random objects on fire to "scare criminals and commoners into obedience."
In the late 19th century, Chinese magic found worldwide recognition as Zhu Liankui, known by his stage moniker Ching Ling Foo, dazzled audiences in New York, London and other Western metropolises, performing stunts such as taking a 15-foot-pole out of his mouth.
His fame reached such heights that in the early 1900s he was impersonated by New York-born William Robinson, who began presenting himself as Chung Ling Soo. Robinson shaved his head except for the hair he saved to braid into a queue, wore traditional Chinese attire and pretended not to speak English in public.
The secrets behind some of Zhu's prized i