Chinese Opera (Chinese: 戏曲/戲曲; Pinyin: xìqǔ) is a popular form of drama and musical theatre in China. There are numerous regional branches of opera with its original root starting in the dynastic periods. The Beijing opera is one of the most famous Chinese Opera.
As early as the Three Kingdoms period, Canjun opera was one of the first form of opera available.Chengduweb_0-0> Though in general, the more organized form of Chinese opera began in the Tang Dynasty with Emperor Xuanzong (712–755), who founded the "Pear Garden" (梨园/梨園; líyuán), the first known opera troupe in China. The troupe mostly performed for the emperors' personal pleasure. To this day operatic professionals are still referred to as "Disciples of the Pear Garden" (梨园弟子/梨園弟子, líyuán dìzi). In the Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368), forms like the Zaju (雜劇, zájù, variety plays), which acts based on rhyming schemes plus the innovation of having specialized roles like "Dan" (旦, dàn, female), "Sheng" (生, shēng, male), "Hua" (花, huā, painted-face) and "Chou" (丑, chŏu, clown) were introduced into the opera. Although actors in theatrical performances of the Song Dynasty (960–1279) strictly adhered to speaking in Classical Chinese onstage, it was during the Yuan Dynasty that actors speaking in the vernacular tongue gained precedent on stage.
The dominant form of the Ming and early Qing dynasties was Kunqu, which came from the Wu cultural area. It later evolved into a longer form of play called chuanqi, which became one of the 5 melody that made up Sichuan opera. Chinese operas continue to exist in 368 different forms now, the best known of which is Beijing opera, which assumed its present form in the mid-19th century and was extremelypopular in Qing Dynasty.(1664-1911).
In Beijing opera, traditional Chinese string and percussion instruments provide a strong rhythmic accompaniment to the acting. The acting is based on allusion: gestures, footwork, and other body movements express such actions as riding a horse, rowing a boat, or opening a door. Spoken dialogue is divided into recitative and Beijing colloquial speech, the former employed by serious characters and the latter by young females and clowns. Character roles are strictly defined. Elaborate make-up designs portray which character is acting. The traditional repertoire of Beijing opera includes more than 1,000 works, mostly taken from historical novels about political and military struggles.
In traditional Chinese theater, no plays were performed in the vernacular Chinese or without singing. But at the turn of the 20th century, Chinese students returning from abroad began to experiment with Western plays. Following the May Fourth Movement of 1919, a number of Western plays were staged in China, and Chinese playwrights began to imitate this form. The most notable of the new-style playwrights was Cao Yu (b. 1910). His major works — Thunderstorm, Sunrise, Wilderness, and Peking Man — written between 1934 and 1940, have been widely read in China.
In the 1930s, theatrical productions performed by traveling Red Army cultural troupes in Communist-controlled areas were consciously used to promote party goals and political philosophy. By the 1940s, theater was well established in the Communist-controlled areas.
1949 - Present
In the early years of the People's Republic of China, the development of Beijing opera was encouraged; many new operas on historical and modern themes were written, and earlier operas continued to be performed. As a popular art form, opera has usually been the first of the arts to reflect changes in Chinese policy. In the mid-1950s, for example, it was the first to benefit under the Hundred Flowers Campaign. Similarly, the attack in November 1965 on Beijing deputy mayor Wu Han and his historical play, Hai Rui's Dismissal from Office, signaled the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. During the Cultural Revolution, most opera troupes were disbanded, performers and scriptwriters were persecuted, and all operas except the eight "model operas" approved by Jiang Qing and her associates were banned. Western-style plays were condemned as "dead drama" and "poisonous weeds" and were not performed. After the fall of the Gang of Four in 1976, Beijing Opera enjoyed a revival and continued to be a very popular form of entertainment both in theaters and on television.