Home>>>Chinese culture>>>>Chinese Opera

Chinese Opera

Chinese opera together with Greece tragic-comedy and Indian Sanskrit Opera are the three oldest dramatic art forms in the world. During the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), the Emperor Taizong established an opera school with the poetic name Liyuan (Pear Garden). From that time on, performers of Chinese opera were referred to as 'disciples of the pear garden'. Since the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368) Chinese opera has been encouraged by court officials and emperors and has become a traditional art form. During the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), Chinese opera became fashionable among ordinary people. Performances were watched in tearooms, restaurants, and even around makeshift stages.

Chinese opera evolved from folk songs, dances, talking, antimasque, and especially distinctive dialectical music. Gradually it combined music, art and literature into one performance on the stage. Accompanied by traditional musical instruments like the Erhu, the gong, and the lute, actors present unique melodies - which may sound strange to foreigners - as well as dialogues which are beautifully written and of high literary value. These dialogs also promoted the development of distinct literary styles, such as Zaju in the Yuan Dynasty. For Chinese, especially older folks, to listen to this kind of opera is a real pleasure

In the course of the development of the development of Chinese traditional opera, mutual borrowing has taken place among various types of local opera and new forms have appeareed contioually. Recent surveys show there are 368 different forms of opera throughout the country. Eath variety takes its name from the place where it originated and is popular. The use of local dialects and unique melidies distinguish the different types of opera. Among the best known forms are Beijing Opera (actually a national form), Pingju (popular in the north), Shaoxing opera (popular in Zhejing Province and Shanghai), Yuju (a kind of Henan Opera), Kunqu (Kunshan Opera, popular mainly in Jiangsu Province), Qinqiang (Shaanxi Opera), Chuanju (Sichuan Opera), Hanju (Hubei Opera), and Yueju (Guangzhou Opera).

Bejing Opera Beijing Opera (or Peking Opera) has existed for over 200 years. It is widely regarded as the highest expression of the Chinese culture. It is known as one of the three main theatrical systems in the world. Artistically, Beijing Opera is perhaps the most refined form of opera in the world. It has deeply influenced the hearts of the Chinese people. Although it is called Beijing Opera, its origins are not in Beijing but in the Chinese provinces of Anhui and Hubei. Beijing Opera got its two main melodies, Xi_Pi and Er_Huang, from Anhui and Hubei operas. It then absorbed music and arias from other operas and musical arts in China.

Kunqu Kunqu Opera ranks among the most splendid and miraculous cultural art forms created by the Chinese people in their long history. Ever since it came into being at the district of Kunshan near Suzhou in the mid-14th century, Kunqu has been artistically refined over a period of 200 years and has stood out prominently among the various competing schools of opera in China for its "delicate tunes and elegant melodies"With Suzhou as its base, Kunqu Opera soon became fashionable both at home and aboard, forming, for hundreds of years, the spectacular scene of "all operas taking Kunqu as their ancestor".

Huangmei Opera, formerly named Huangmei Melodies, has a history of 200 years. Originated in the tea-collecting songs in the region of Huangmei, Hubei Province, it incorporates the folk songs in Anhui, Hubei and Jiangxi Province.It takes the best parts of ancient Qingyang Melody and came into being around the area of Anqing, Anhui Province. Huangmei Opera excels in expressing people's feelings and modelling various personalities. It is not only loved by local people, but by international friends as well. It is praised as China's country music.Wang Shaofang  and Ma Lan . Typical operas are Marrying a Fairy , Emperor’s Female Son-in-Law , The Cowherd and the Girl Weaver  and so on.


Guangdong Opera is popular in Guangdong  Guangxi , Hong Kong , Macao  Singapore , and Malaysia . In Ming and Qing  Dynasties, many Chinese operas spread to Guangdong, the tune of these operas integrated with Guangdong music and folk music, finally formed a new opera-Guangdong opera. The opera is sung with the local dialect with its own special style. The famous actress and actor are Hongxiannv and Ma Shizeng . The representative plays are Searching the Study, Guan Hanqing etc..

Yu Opera
Yu Opera, also called Henan Bangzi Opera and Henan High Tune . It is popular in Henan and adjacent provinces, has a history of more than three hundred years. The tune of Yuju opera sometimes is loud and sonorous, sometimes is desolate and lingering, it can acting many types of plays. With more than six hundred and fifty traditional plays, Yuju opera has developed to one of the best-known operas in China. The famous actress and actor are Chang Xiangyu , Niu Decao  etc.. Typical operas are Mu Guiying Takes Command , Matchmaker , A Petty Official , Hua Mulan , Chao Yang Village  and so on.

Yue Opera
Yue Opera is originated from Shaoxing City , Zhejiang Province  It is popular in Zhejiang, Shanghai , Jiangsu , Jiangxi  and Anhui  province. Yueju opera took sharp in Qing Dynasty . At first it was acted only by actors. Thirty years later, the opera was acted by actress instead. The tune of Yueju opera is mild and roundabout. It became the second largest opera form next to Beijing Opera. The famous actresses are Yuan Xuefen , Wang Wenjuan , Xu Yulan  etc..Typical operas are A Dream of Red Mansions , Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai  and so on.

Chuan Opera is one of China's oldest local operas, popular in Sichuan Province and some regions of Yunnan and Guizhou provinces. During the early years of the Qing Dynasty(1644-1911) there were five independent local operas prevalent simultaneously in the Sichuan area. In the course of evolution, they were gradually merged into what we call Chuan Opera.Among them, Gaoqiang(high tune) is the richest, with a distinctive Sichuan local color. It is accompanied only by percussion and chorus without any wind or string instruments.Chuan Opera's wide repertoire has a strong literary quality, and is full of wit, humor and lively dialogue with a pronounced local flavor.

Qinqiang Opera is cultural heritage, in 1912 the drama group Yi Su She  was founded and now the society has still been flourishing.Also dubbed Luantan, Qinqiang Opera is a local Chinese opera that mainly thrives in Shaanxi Province, as well as its neighboring regions in Northwest China, like Gansu Province, Qinghai Province, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. It is said that the opera was called "the emperor Qinshihuang's opera" during the Tang period (618-907) and was later renamed Qinqiang Opera, which boasts the most ancient, affluent and largest musical system of all Chinese operas. 

Hunan Flower-drum OperaThe Hunan Flower Drum Opera, indeed, offers a folk style with little or no pretense to depth or subtlety of emotion. It is a dramatic medium developed in the villages of Hunan Province three centuries ago, and in Saturday's performances there were few gray areas between good and evil or high spirits and low ones. The plot is filled with magic and metamorphosis, and dark forces are defeated at the end. Yet within this folksy format reside some sly wit and subtle slapstick. Sexual roles are nicely reversed as well. It is the women who woo, pursue and propose, and the men who flee from them in confusion.

Hebei Bangzi (Wooden Clapper) Opera This is the main type of drama in Hebei Province. In the past it was called Jing Wooden Clapper Opera, Zhili Wooden Clapper Opera and Wei (referring to Tianjnwei ) Wooden Clapper Operabefore it became He bei Wooden Clapper Opera in l952. It is popular in Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Jilin, Liaoning, Heilongiiang, Inner Mongolia and Shandong. It developed from Shaanxi Opera and Shanxi Wooden Clapper Opera, which were introduced into Hebei in the middle of the Qing Dynasty. The singing and narration and based on the Beijing dialects, and the classification of the roles and the performance forms are quite similar to those of Peking Opera.


Related Links: