Chinese Opera

Besides Peking Opera, known as the "national opera," China boasts more than 360 local styles of operas, of which about 50 enjoy great popularity.

A foreign visitor can enjoy at least one style of local opera wherever he travels in China. Though local opera is strongly challenged by film, TV, disco and other kinds of entertainment these days, it will attracts regular audiences and companies are trying by every means to compete in the fast-changing entertainment world.

World history has been three ancient dramas: Greek tragedy and comedy; Indian Sanskrit drama; and Chinese opera (xiqu)ĄŁ The first two have become historical and only Chinese opera has survived.

Chinese Opera


Chinese opera took shape in the 12th century. After developing for more than 800 years, it is still full of vitality. At present, the country has more than 2,000 local opera troupes, which stage thousands of pieces.

Last year, from December 1 to 7, the Chinese Dramatists Association and the Chinese Centre of the International Theatre Institute held the 1991 International Symposium on Asian Traditional Dramas, in Beijing. Those attending were amazed by the brilliance of Peking Opera and other local forms of the art.Paradise Bay

In China, a local opera form is usually popular in several provinces, while one province sees several local operas. For example, Ping Opera is popular in Beijing, Tianjin, Inner Mongolia, North China and Northeast China. In the Beijing area, not only Peking Opera but also Ping Opera, Hebei Bangzi Opera, Beijing Qu Opera and Northern Kun Opera enjoy acclaim.

In this section, we have listed representative pieces of dozens of local opera styles and introduced the background of 15 major local operas. It is our hope that foreign readers might get from this a general idea of existing local operas.

A prime example illustrating the general problem of translating technical terms the use of the very word "opera." In English this can be defined as a musical drama "in which the actors sing some or all of their parts" and "a union of music, drama and spectacle." A local Chinese opera does fit these descriptions but in fact the term "opera" conjures up in the mind of an English speaker something very different indeed. So it is arguable that the term "opera" is an inappropriate translation of the Chinese word xiqu.

Chinese opera is a traditional dramatic form synthesizing music, literature, fine arts, martial arts and acrobatics. The major difference between two local operas is changqiang (music for voices)ĄŁ Peking Opera and some other local operas stress singing, acting, recitation and acrobatics and their standard roles are divided into four types - sheng, dan, jing, chou - representing the male, the female, the painted face and the clown. Compared with Peking Opera, most local operas are more closely linked with the common people's everyday life and have less stereotyped patterns of performing. They have deep roots in the soil of real life and are will received among the people, especially the farmers.

How to evaluate traditional operas is a very complicated question. Some critics hold that most traditional operas are more or less linked with feudal ideas such as zhong (blind loyalty to the emperor), xiao(filial obedience to parents), jie (chastity and virginity for women) and yi (code of brotherhood to friends)ĄŁ

Some critics insist that we should discard the dross and select the essence of traditional operas because many are anti-feudal and reflect the ancient people's desire for equality, freedom and a happy life. But even in zhong, xiao, jie, yi, there is something in common with the traditional virtues of Chinese nation.

For example, the Yu Opera "Mu Guiing Takes Command" lauds patriotism; the Shaoxing Opera "The Butterfly Lovers" praises the pure love of young men and women; and the Kun Opera "Fifteen Strings of Coins" honours a sharp-sighted official who redresses a mishandled case.

In order to cater for contemporary theatre audiences, many dramatists have devoted their efforts to the reform of local operas and have written many excellent pieces that reflect real life. They borrow the best from other art forms to improve local operas.

More Culture
Copyright © 2011 All Rights Reserved.