Category: Traditional Opera
Region: Nationwide, Beijing, Tianjin, Liaoning, Shanghai, Shandong
Project No. IV-28
Name of Applicant (region or institution): China Peking Opera Theatre, Beijing Municipality, Tianjin Municipality, Liaoning Province, Shandong Province, Shanghai Municipality
Peking Opera, also known as Ping Opera or Capital Opera, is China’s most popular kind of traditional opera, circulating in Beijing (as the center) and the rest of the country. Back in Year 55 during the reign of Qianlong of Qing Dynasty, the four Anhui troupes of Sanqing, Sixi, Chuntai and Hechun that were originally performing down in the south moved to Beijing gradually. They had cooperated with the Han tune artists from Hubei and accommodated part of the programs of Kun Opera and Qin Tune as well as their styles while assimilating the elements of local folk tunes before it finally became today’s Peking Opera through constant communication and integration.
In terms of literature, performance, music and stage arts, Peking Opera has a set of standardized procedures of performance. Its tune is actually a variation of clapper style, with Erhuang and Xipi as its main tune. The Siping Tune, Counter-Siping Tune and Han Tune are all under the category of Erhuang while South Clappers and Baby Tune under that of Xipi. The melody of Erhuang is relatively smooth and slow while presented in a resonant and measured tone whereas Xipi features a rather rolling melody and is performed with a quick tempo and greater fluency. The accompaniment of Peking Opera comes in Quiet Setting and Dynamic Setting: for the Quiet Setting, the Huqin fiddle (Jinghu fiddle), Peking Erhu, Yue zither, Xianzi, flute and trumpet, with Huqin fiddle as the main instrument; for the Dynamic Setting, drum clappers are mainly used besides Little gong and Big Gong as complement. The roles of Peking Opera fall into Sheng (male), Dan (female), Jing (painted face), Chou (clown), Wu (swordplay by female) and Liu (gangster), with the latter three no longer classified as specialization. And there are further classifications among each role: e.g. in the role of Dan (female): there are Qingyi (Black Gown), Huadan (Young Lady), Daomadan (swordplay and horse ride), Wudan (swordplay), and Laodan (old female). The criterion for classification is, apart from the basic nature of the roles, more on the feature of character of the roles as well as the author’s attitudes towards them. Each role has a set of performing procedures with chant, recital, acting and martial formation all revealing its unique aspects.
With historical stories as the main content for performance, Peking Opera has about 1,300 programs, with those often on play being three to four hundred. Those that are most popular among households include The Universal Pagoda, Spring in the Jade Hall, Changban Slope, A Get-together of Heroes, The Fisherman’s Revenge, Strategy of Empty Fortress, The Drunken Concubine, Three-way Crossing, Wild Boar Forest, Entering the Palace a Second Time, Finding the Jade Bracelet, Stopping the Stone Rollers, Four Successful Candidates of Imperial Examination, Search and Rescue of Orphanage, The King Seeing off his Concubine, and Fourth Son Visiting his Mother. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Peking Opera expands to take in some adaption, implantation and creation of some new historical plays and works on modern themes: The Compromise of General and Prime Minister, Mu Guiying Swearing in as the General, Women Knights of the Yang Family, Hai Rui Resigning from his Post, Cao Cao and Yang Xiu, The Story of Shajiabang, The Story of Red Lamp, The Seizure of Tiger Mountain by Strategy, The Story of Dainuo, and The Rickshaw Boy: Xiangzi.
Peking Opera is divided into The Beijing School and The Shanghai School with many noted performers at various stages such as Cheng Changgeng, Yu Sansheng, Zhang Erkui, Mei Qiaoling, Tan Xinpei, Sun Juxian, Wang Guifen, Liu Hongsheng, Tian Guifeng, Yu Ziyun, Lu Delin and Wang Yaoqing at the end of Qing Dynasty and Yu Shuyan, Yan Jupeng, Gao Qingkui, Ma Lianliang, Yang Baosen, Mei Lanfang, Cheng Yanqiu, Xun Huisheng, Shang Xiaoyun, Zhou Xinfang and Jin Shaoshan during the era of The Republic of China.
Peking Opera is popular nationwide and has a wide influence, often called the State Opera. It is circulating around the world, becoming an important media for introducing and conveying Chinese culture. The performance system named after Mei Lanfang has been regarded as the representative of the Oriental performance system and was called, together with Stanislavski and Brecht performance systems, the world’s three major performance systems. Peking Opera is an important form of expression of traditional Chinese folk culture, the many artistic elements of which have been used as symbols of traditional Chinese culture. However, in recent years, due to changes of society, the gap between Peking Opera and the contemporary aesthetics has been widening. The number of audience has dropped sharply and the programs have decreased. Consequently, how to realize the preservation and thriving of Peking Opera has become a problem to be addressed very soon.