Chinse Opera

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Peking Opera -The National Drama

Peking Opera -The National Drama,Yu Kuizhi,Li Shengsu

The mention of Chinese opera might remind foreign friends immediately of Peking opera, which to them is almost the same as the Chinese opera. This is a sure indication of the influence of Peking opera in China and even in the world.

This impression, though not quite exact, is not far from the truth: Peking opera, which epitomizes Chinese culture and art, is certainly the essence of China. If martial arts can be viewed as the "national arts," the Peking opera can be viewed as the "national drama."

Peking opera became known around 1840 in Peking (Beijing); hence, its name. In actuality, its development was based on certain southern operas, which accounts for its popularity among not only the northern but also southern audiences.

Of the 300 or more lists of Chinese opera, Peking opera, though with the shortest history, is the most influential, attracts the largest audience and offers the most lists. Peking opera is also well-liked by foreign friends, which, in their eyes, like the Great Wall, is a symbol of Chinese culture and civilization.

Like other types of opera, Peking opera pays special attention to singing, reciting, posing and fighting, the four major criteria that audiences use in evaluating and enjoying the performance. Singing here refers to the "Changqiang" of Peking opera, including operatic tunes and lyrics. The former was modeled on the "Xipi" of Huiju opera and on "Erhuang" of Hanju opera, and was called "Pihuang," which is characterized by boldness, resounding and tonality, and also by the gentle exquisiteness of Chinese folk songs.

The latter, greatly influenced by ancient Chinese poetry, is refined and elegant, and has high literary value.The last words of every sentence form a rhyme so that the singing displays pleasing cadence, rhythm and melody.

According to the sex and age of the characters, the actors and actresses use different voices. Old male and female characters sing in their genuine voice, which is much like their daily voice; young female characters use falsetto, which is sharp and piercing; and middle-aged males use both kinds of voice.

Apart from singing, the characters must perform "Daobai (spoken performance)," which belongs to the reciting part of the opera. "Bai," which means "speaking" in ancient Chinese, is divided into "Jingbai" and "Yunbai." The former means literally a performance language based on the Peking dialect, but with necessary artistic modification, exaggeration and beautification.

The latter, "Yunbai," by contrast, assimilates more ancient speech sounds and certain sounds of the southern dialects and takes on greater rhythmic quality while maintaining a distance from everyday pronunciation. When viewing a Peking opera, judge for yourself: if the characters' pronunciation sounds like standard Chinese pronunciation, it is "Jingbai;" otherwise, it is "Yunbai."

Foreign friends who have just begun familiarizing themselves with Peking opera might feel strange about the exaggeration and stylization of the actors' and actresses' body movements, for they are very different from those in ordinary life.

This, however, constitutes one major feature of Peking opera, and is what the actors' and actresses' "posing" aims for. For example, the "orchid-shaped finger gesture" of the "Dan," with the thumb placed on the side of the first part of the middle finger, the index finger straight ahead, the ring and little fingers slightly up, makes the hand look like an orchid and this displays feminine charm and grace.

Moreover, the "posing" in Peking opera demands that every gesture and every body movement be performed to the rhythm of the accompanying music. The "fighting" in Peking opera, subdivided into fighting empty-handed and fighting with weapons, is derived from Chinese martial arts, but undergoes certain beautification and takes on obvious stylization.

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