Chinese opera is a
traditional dramatic form which sizes literature, music, dance, fine
arts, martial arts and acrobatics. Its origin can be traced back as
far as to primitive society and the prototype of Chinese opera already
appeared in the Song Dynasty 800 years ago. In the long course of
evolution, it was enriched and improved and gradually formed a
complete artistic system of its own. There are many tune systems in
Chinese opera which are typical features to distinguish one opera from
another. The operas derived from different dialects, folk songs and
folk music and at the same time interacted on each other. Roles or
characters are divided into four categories: Sheng (males), Dan
(females), Jing (males with painted face) and Chou (clowns). Its
acting is featured by highly stylized movements from daily life and by
a very imaginative usage of the stage to deal with the problem of
space, emphasizing singing , acting , reciting and skilful acrobatic
Chinese opera has more than 360 local types, totalling more than ten
thousand plays. After the founding of the people's Republic of China,
many revised traditional plays, newly arranged historical plays and
plays reflecting contemporary life have appeared on stage and were
warmly received by vast audiences. More than fifty Chinese operas
enjoy great popularity, such as Beijing Opera, Kun Opera, Shaoxing
Opera, Yu Opera. Yue Opera, Qin Opera, Chuan Opera, Ping Opera, jin
Opera, Han Opera, Chao Opera, Min Opera, Hebei Clapper Opera, Xiang
Opera, Huangmei Opera and Hunan Huagu Opera. Beijing Opera enjoys
special reputation all over China.
Beining Opera, once called 'Peking Opera', is the most influential and
representative of all operas in China and has a history of about 200
years. During the reign of Emperor Qianlong in the Qing Dynasty
(1644-1911), a local opera troupe from Anhui Province came to Beijing
and brought its 'Hui Tune' (which originated in Anhui Pronince and was
called 'Pihuang' opera) to the capital. It soon became prevalent. In
the course of evolution, it partly drew and adopted repertoire, tune
and manner of perfromance from Kun Opera (a local opera from Jiangsu
area) and Qin Opera (a local opera from Shaanxi Province) as well as
folk tunes, gradually developing into what we now call Beijing Opera.
Placing emphasis on dancing as well as on singing, it adopted the
skills of Chinese martial arts and created its own uniquely stylized,
fictitious and strongly rhythmical movements.Singing and reciting show
elaborate articulation and phrasing . Systemized in its four
categories of singing, acting reciting and acrobatic fighting, Beijing
Opera has exerted a strong influence on other local operas.
Beining Opera, once called 'Peking Opera', is the most
influential and representative of all operas in China and has a
history of about 200 years. During the reign of Emperor Qianlong in
the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), a local opera troupe from Anhui Province
came to Beijing and brought its 'Hui Tune' (which originated in Anhui
Pronince and was called 'Pihuang' opera) to the capital. It soon
became prevalent. In the course of evolution, it partly drew and
adopted repertoire, tune and manner of perfromance from Kun Opera (a
local opera from Jiangsu area) and Qin Opera (a local opera from
Shaanxi Province) as well as folk tunes, gradually developing into
what we now call Beijing Opera. Placing emphasis on dancing as well as
on singing, it adopted the skills of Chinese martial arts and created
its own uniquely stylized, fictitious and strongly rhythmical
movements.Singing and reciting show elaborate articulation and
phrasing . Systemized in its four categories of singing, acting
reciting and acrobatic fighting, Beijing Opera has exerted a strong
influence on other local operas.
Roles in Beijing Opera are divided into the four Hangdangs
(categories) of Sheng, Dan, Jing and Chou, representing male, female,
old, young, beautiful, honest and dishonest. Beijing Opera mainly
presents historical stories. Out of its more than 1300 plays, about
400 are often on show.
A typical artistic feature of Beijing Opera is highly exaggerated and
decorated facial makeups whose symbolic identification-like its
splendid hairdresses and costumes-dramatically displays the characters
of the good, evil, honest and dishonest.
The orchestra in Beijing Opera consists of wind and string instruments
as well as percussion instruments. Jinghu, a small two-stringed bowed
instrument, plays a main part. In the more than one hundred years that
have passed, many famous singing actors, drum masters and Jinghu
masters contributed a lot to the development of Beijing Opera. Famous
male actors were Tan Xinpei, Yu Shuyan, Yan Jupeng, Ma Lianliang and
Zhou Xinfang. The most famous actors who played female roles were Mei
Lanfang, Cheng Yanqiu, Shang Xiaoyun and Xun Huisheng.
After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Beijing
Opera troupes have performed abroad many times. They caused a
sensation in the world and were warmly welcomed by the audiences.
Back to the Top
Shaoxing Opera is a
local Chinese opera popular in the southern regions of the Changjiang
(Yangtze) River. It originated around Shengxian County, Zhejiang
Province, which belonged to the Yue State in ancient times and
therefore it was also called Yue Opera. Shaoxing Opera has a history
of about 80 years. It was derived from a kind of story-singing. At
first, it was performed with only a small drum and hardwood clappers
for rhythm and later, choral and orchestral accompaniment were added.
It also drew some musical elements from Shao Opera and subsequently
formed its own style.
Shaoxing Opera is noted for its lyricism and singing is dominant in
it. Its tune is sweet and beautiful and the performance vivid and
moving, full of local colour. Originally Shaoxing Opera was only
performed by males who were later all replaced by females. After the
founding of the People's Republic of China , both males and females
Well-known performers of Shaoxing Opera include Yuan Xuefen, Fu
Quanxiang, Fan Ruijuan, Xu Yulan and Wang Wenjuan.
Back to the Top
Hebei Clapper Opera
Hebei Clapper Opera is one
of the major forms of local opera in Hebei Province. Formerly known as
Jing Bangzi, Zhili Bangzi and Wei (Tianjin) Bangzi, it adopted the
official name of Hebei Clapper Opera in 1952. It is very popular in
Beijing, Tianjin and some regions of Hebei, Liaoning , Jilin,
Heilongjiang, Inner Mongolia and Shandong Provinces. Hebei Clapper
Opera is derived from Qinqiang and Shanxi Clapper Operas which were
introduced to Hebei Province in the middle of the Qing Dynasty.
Singing in Beijing dialect, its division of roles and its performance
style are similar to Beijing Oprea. Xu Sheng (a male role with
whiskers) plays the leading male role and his tune is forceful and
solemn. The Qing Yi (female role) emphasizes singing with a loud and
clear tune whereas Hua Dan stresses acting and dialogue. The tune sung
by Hua Lian (a male role with painted face) is rustic and vigorous.
Hebei Clapper Opera has a special acting role, the Jing Sheng , which
combines Sheng costumes, Jing tunes and the performance style of both
Jing and Sheng. Tune patterns of Hebei Clapper Opera include Man Ban
(4/4, slow beat), Er Liu ('two-six' fast 2/4), Liu Shui ('flowing
water' fast 1/4), Jian Ban (free beat, usually as prelude) and Ku Ban
('walling tune' free deat). The accompanying instruments are: Ban Hu
(two-stringed Chinese fiddle), Di Zi (horizontal bamboo flute), Sheng
(mouth organ) and percussion. The repertoire of Hebei Clapper Opera
has more than 500 traditional and 200 contemporary plays. Well-known
performers are Li Guiyun, Han Junqing and Yin Dazi.
Back to the Top
Opera, also called 'Kunshan Qiang' (the style of Kunshan) or 'Kunqu',
originated in the Kunshan region of Jiangsu Province. It is one of
China's classical operas with a history of more than 500 years.
During the reign of Emperor Jiajing, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.),
Wei Liangfu, a famous musician, selected the essence of Haiyan Qiang
and Yiyang Qiang (the styles of Haiyan and Yiyang) and created the
well-known 'Shuimo Qiang', a set of well-designed and polished tunes,
thus greatly developing Kun Opera.
Kun Opera has a complete system of acting as well as its own
distinctive tunes. With a wide range of repertoire, its tunes are very
delicate and elegant and its acting is vivid and touching. The
orchestra consists of Dizi (a horizontal bamboo flute which plays the
leading part in the orchestra), Xiao (a vertical bamboo flute), Sheng
(mouth organ), Pipa (a plucked string instrument with a fretted finger
board) etc, Many Chinese local operas are greatly influenced by its
tunes and acting.
There are two schools of Kun Opera: the Southern Kun which is
prevalent in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces and the Northern Kun
prevailing in North China.
Representative actors and actresses of Kun Opera are Yu Zhenfei, Han
Shichang Li Shujun, Hong Xuefei and Wang Chuansong.
Back to the Top
Opera, also called, 'Henan Clapper Opera' or 'Henan High Tune', is
a major local opera in Henan Province and enjoys nationwide
popularity. There are four styles in Yu Opera: Xiangfu (from Xiangfu
County), Yudong (East Henan), Yuxi (West Henan) and Shahe (Shahe Couty).
It is noted for its skill-demanding melodies, its fluent tune, strong
rhythm and its intensive use of spoken language. Its simple and plain
performance as well as its strong local flavour always provoke the
applause of the audience.
There are more than 600 traditional plays in the repertoire of Yu
Opera. Famous performers are Chang Xiangyu, Chen Suzhen, Cui Lantian,
Gao Jie , Wei Yun and Ma Lin.
Back to the Top
Huangmei Opera, once called 'Huangmei Tune' or 'Caicha Opera', is
a local opera genre in Anhui Province, popular in some regions of
Anhui, Jiangxi and Hubei Provinces. It is basically derived from the 'Caicha
Tune' of Huangmei county which is a form of folk dancing and singing.
At first it was noted for 'Liangxiaoxi' (two-role drama) and 'San-xiaoxi'
(three-role drama) but then under the influence of Qingyang Tune and
Hui Tune it gradually became a theatrical form which could present
full-length works . Its tunes still keep the true flavor of folk
songs, beautiful and touching, and singing while dancing also
continues to be a feature of its acting style. After the founding of
the People's Republic of China, Huangmei Opera has greatly developed
and been warmly welcomed by the audience. Well-known performers are
Yan Fengying, Wang Shaofang and Pan Jingli.
Back to the Top
Opera is a major genre of opera in the south of China, Prevalent
in Guangdong and Guangxi, Hong Kong, Macao and overseas Chinese
communities in Southeast Asia. Its singing and dialogue are all in
Guangzhou dialect. Based on Banghuang Tune, it combines Kun Tune,
Yiyang Tune, Guangdong Tune with Guangdong folk music and popular
tunes. In addition to Chinese traditional instruments like Er Xian,
Gao Hu. San Xian and Yue Qin (the former two are bowed string
instruments, the latter two plucked string instruments), its orchestra
has adopted Western instruments such as violin , saxophone, cello and
double bass. In acting, stage scenery and lighting, it has borrowed
from the techniques used in modern drama, Western opera and film and
gradually formed its own distinctive features. Originally its
characters were divided into ten categories, but later on reduced to
six: civil and military male, scholar-lover, major female, secondary
female , clown and military male. Included in the repertoire are
5,000-6,000 traditioal items. Leading actors and actresses include Ma
Shizeng, Hong Xiannu, Luo Pinchao and Bai Jurong.
Back to the Top
Opera is very popular in Beijing , Tianjin , North and Northeast
China. It has a history of more than 70 years. Developing out of 'Lian
Hua Luo' in the east of Hebei Province (a kind of story-singing), it
borrowed the tunes and acting style of Beijing Opera, Hebei Clapper
Opera, shadow show and drum melody, and developed its own style. Since
moving from the rural areas into the cities, it has produced many new
programmes under the influence of modern drama and Beijing Opera. It
is especially good at reflecting urban people's life as it has
accessible text, speech-like tunes, easily understandable articulation
and the rich flavour of life, thus gaining great favour of the people
in rural and urban areas. At first, female characters in Ping Opera
were dominant and their tune was beautiful and touching whereas the
male's tune was quite simple. After the founding of the People's
Republic of China, the male's tune has been greatly developed and
there are many new plays in which male characters play the leading
Representative performers are Xiao Bai Yushuang , Xi Cailian, Xin
Fengxia, Han Shaoyun, Wei Rongyuan and Ma Tai.
Back to the Top
Hunan Huagu Opera is the general name for minor local opera genres
in Hunan Province, such as Changsha Huaguxi, Hengyang Huaguxi and
Shaoyang Huaguxi which adopted the names of the regions where they are
prevalent. Each opera has its own distinctive style. Derived from
Hunan folk songs, it has developed from a two-role drama (a female and
a clown) to a three-role drama (a young female, a young male and a
clown). There are more than 400 traditional plays and 300 tunes in its
repertoire. According to their formal structure and musical style,
these tunes can be divided into four types: Chuan Diao, Daluoqiang,
Paizi and Xiaodiao, all having a plain and straightforward local
colour. Small Suona and percussions are the main accompanying
instruments. The tunes are brisk and lively, particularly suitable to
dancing-singing operas. Famous performers are Liao Chunshan, Wang
Yousheng and Zhang Shusheng.
Back to the Top