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Chinese Drama

Chinese Drama Mainly includes the modern Chinese drama introduced into China in the 20th century and the traditional Chinese opera. Classic Chinese Opera is an integral part of traditional Chinese culture. It also belongs to the three greatest ancient dramas in the world (the other two are the ancient Greek tragicomedy and ancient Indian Brahma drama). Thus, the history of China is also the history of Chinese Opera. The origin of the Chinese Opera can be traced back to the Qin and Han Dynasties. It takes shape in Song and Yuan Dynasties, though. The mature Chinese Opera starts in the Yuan Dynasty. In Ming and Qing Dynasties, it reached the prime times until modern days.

Southern Opera of Song and Yuan Dynasties

It appeared approximately in Wenzhou of Zhejiang province and Quanzhou and Fuzhou of Fujian province in the late Northern Song Dynasty and Early Southern Song Dynasty. As the early Chinese opera, the Southern Opera integrated singing, dancing, and narration to tell a complete story. As the story plot can be quite complicated, the script was usually long, several times longer than the Northern Yuan Drama. It can be solo, antiphonal singing, or chorus. The primary instrument was the clapper board.

Famous Masterpieces: Number One Scholar Zhang Xie, Story of Official Family's Children, Little Sun Tu, The Story of Pipa, The Story of White Rabbit, The Romance of A Hairpin, The Pavilion for Worshiping the Moon, and The Story of Dog Killing.

Yuan Dynasty Drama

Yuan Dynasty Drama, also referred to as the Northern Tune Drama, first originated in Zhending of Hebei province and Pingyang of Shanxi province and prevailed in Yuan Dynasty. As the first mature form of Chinese Opera, Yuan Dynasty Drama has high literary value, rich ideological content, and great artistic attainment. It's no wonder that Yuan Dynasty Drama is equated with Tang Dynasty Poetry, Song Dynasty Peams, and Novels of Ming and Qing Dynasties.
Yuan Dynasty Drama has a wide range of themes and topics. To avoid troubles, the dramatists in Yuan Dynasty usually used historical stories to reflect the real matters.
Many of such works vividly demonstrated the lifestyles of Yuan Dynasty society:

1. Reveal the Darkness of Society.

Works like The Injustice to Dou E, Lu Zhailang, and Selling Rice in Chenzhou boldly fustigated the autocracy and dirty politics of the Yuan dynasty and revealed the dark society and ordinary people's sufferings in the double oppression of Mongolian rulers and privileged class.

2. Manifest the Heroism and Praise People's Resistance

Works like Double Contributions of Li Kui and Li Kui Carrying Rods are mainly to praise the resisting heroes.

3. Describe the love and relationships and reflect women's issues.

Some works mainly described young people's romance and their struggles of pursuing free love and marriage. The "four great love romances" The Romance of West Chamber, The Pavilion for Worshiping the Moon, Pei Shaojun And Li Qianjun, and Beauty Lost Her Soul have the shared anti-feudal theme and reflected the women's wish and pursuit of free love. Some pieces like Night Rain and Qiuhu Teasing His Wife exposed the men's infidelity and women's struggles. There are also works uncovering the miserable lives and struggles of prostitutes, such as The Rescue of a Courtesan and Golden Thread Pool.

4. Praise the Faithful and the Upright.

Works like Wutian Tower, Dong Chuang Shi Fan, and The Orphan of the Zhao Family are placed with the people's wishes of bad people being punished for their faults.
Yuan Dynasty Drama also has novel forms that show a high level of attainments in story structures, characterization, and languages. It marked the maturity of Chinese opera.

Artistic characteristics of Yuan Dynasty Drama:

1.Realism is the mainstream of Yuan Dynasty works, but there are also works of optimistic romanticism. Many Yuan dramas described not only people's sufferings but also their resistance. The dramatists usually let people win in those works to express their good wishes. In contrast, the arrogant and influential figures in those works are typically given proper punishment in the end.

2.Many excellent dramatists carefully set the suspense in story structure, concentrate the conflicts, highlight the mainline, and plot a compact and ever-changing story. Therefore, many Yuan dramas have strong dramatic effects.

3.A lot of typical characters with distinctive personalities were created in the Yuan Dynasty Dramas, which is a vital sign of the maturity of Yuan Drama. Excellent scriptwriters like Guan Hanqin, Wang Shifu, Kang Jinzhi, and Ji Junxiang were all able to arrange the plot based on the inevitability of characters' personality change, then put those characters in drastic, dramatic conflicts to reveal their full traits in various artistic means. Thus, a vivid character is fully presented before the audiences’ eyes.

4.Yuan Dynasty Drama used a rich and intensely expressive language. In those works, many folk languages were used together with the literary language, making the pieces more popular, straightforward, and lively. A distinct change in Chinese literature creation appeared. Some dramatists like Guan Hanqing and Kang Jinzhi stressed the natural languages, while others like Wang Shifu and Ma Zhiyuan stressed the literary grace.

Legends of Ming and Qing Dynasties

In the Ming Dynasty, the opera became very popular among all classes. The most famous operas were Kunshan Tune and Liyang Tunes.

The court's opera performances were mainly organized by the Jiaofang (imperial musical department) in the early Ming Dynasty. Since Wanli Emperor's reign, institutions like "Si Zhai" and "Yuxi Palace" were set to organize and arrange such performances. Sometimes, the folk opera troupes were summoned to perform for emperors and their families. While the aristocracies and minsters also have private troupes in their houses. Some even made their own scripts and personally rehearsed the performance. Their strict requirements had driven the development of Chinese opera at that time.

The commons could only enjoy operas on certain occasions like temple fairs. The water stage and land stages already existed. Many opera masters came from folk troupes. The scale of opera performance in the Ming Dynasty greatly exceeded that of the Song and Yuan Dynasties.

In terms of music, the different sound has different features. Kunshan Tune epitomized the melodious, delicate southern tune and the exciting, vibrant northern tune to form its own unique singing style. The collocation of tunes and arrangements were more complete and standardized. The performing skills of the performers became more sophisticated to achieve a high degree of characterization and dramatization. The instruments used in the opera performance and the band's organizing were more diversified and more complete so that the specific pieces of opera could be performed rhythmically. It had set an example for the opera performance in later generations.

While the Yiyang Tunes stress more words and less sound, based on this principle, "vocal accompaniment" and "Gundiao (rolling tunes)" were created. The former one was a vocal music art combining the solo and chorus.  It made up for the lack of instrumental accompaniment in Yiyang Tunes and enriched the performing forms, rendering the characters' emotions and setting the atmosphere. While the latter mainly sung the plain and easy-to-understand words to increase the rhythm changes and express more freely. Most Yiyang Tunes only used gongs and drums to perform in temple fairs or public squares, where many people watch. Thus, the early works of Yiyang Tunes were mainly historical dramas that involved a lot of characters and lively scenes. Thus, the Yiyang Tunes were high-spirited overall. They also had a profound impact on the later operas in high-pitched tunes.

In terms of performing, the character roles were more clearly divided, which was undoubtedly the key to enriching and improving opera performance. Especially in the Kunshan Tune, the seven kinds of character roles in southern operas were expanded to 12, making each performer focus on one specific character and perform better. Therefore, performing artists can create many distinctive characters with typical personalities.

The Yiyang Tunes were not as refined as the Kunshan Tune, but they also have their styles and achievements. Yiyang Tunes paid attention to the audience's acceptance ability; they made an effort to use the vivid narration to enliven the stage atmosphere. They stressed the dramatization and action of performance to avoid the solo lyrics in some traditional southern operas. The performers of Yiyang Tunes also valued the character's inner portrayal, which often made viewers sob with the character's suffering. As historical dramas often required martial arts and acrobatics, the scenes of Yiyang Tunes were usually rough and unique.

Local Operas in Qing Dynasty

The Local Operas in the Qing Dynasty is the third stage of classical opera. It has a common art form with modern opera. In the late Kangxi era, all kinds of local operas began to emerge, and in Qianlong's age, those local operas could compete with the Kun Tune. In the late Qianlong's reign, local operas overwhelmed the Kun Tune and became the dominating operas. Peking Opera is formed during the reigns of Tongzhi and Guangxu.

The Local Operas in Qing Dynasty mainly had a mournful and robust style. Musical systems dominated by the plate-type instruments were created, along with that was the creation of the new literary forms of drama. Meanwhile, the structures of the drama scripts were more rigorous and easy for audiences to accept. However, the languages used in the local operas were miscellaneous and inaccurate.

There were a large number of local operas. According to the data of national operas in 1965,  there were 51,867 pieces of traditional operas; tens of thousands of them belonged to local operas in Qing Dynasty.  The peasants or rural artisans created those operas to relate to people's everyday life closely. Some works were based on historical events and novels. Some were based on the Yuan dramas, legends, and stories. There were many types of opera works, like historical operas, women's operas, operas of love and marriage, operas of legal cases, mythical operas, witty operas, and others that couldn't be classified.

Modern Chinese Opera

In the early 20th century, the western drama was introduced into China. During the May 4th movement, traditional morality and classical Chinese were criticized, while democracy and science were advocated. New morality and vernacular writing were the latest trends. Along with this trend formed the new drama form "Dian Drama." During this period, the modern Chinese drama absorbed and learned from western drama and shifted from all schools' inclusiveness to emphasize reality. Driven by the time spirit, the Chinese contemporary drama performers took the responsibility of arousing Chinese people's sensation and patriotism to save the country by performing grief and resisting dramas. With a dozen years of exploration, the modern Chinese drama finally found its way and became mature.

Main characteristics: Learning from western drama, the modern Chinese drama integrated the drama performing with Chinese society's needs to create a popular drama form. There were a lot of great dramatists like Cao Yu and Xia Yan. The professional troupes began to appear, and the performing art gradually reached the world-class.
After the May 4th cultural movement, the traditional operas were severely criticized. Since then, Chinese Opera entered the modern era. The forming of Peking Opera is the result of the popularization of local operas in the Qing Dynasty. Even after Peking Opera became the representative of national operas, local operas continued to develop. According to incomplete statistics, there are about 360 types of operas in various China regions and tens of thousands of traditional opera pieces. Among all these operas, Peking Opera, Cantonese Opera, Huangmei Opera, Ping Opera, and Yu Opera are regarded as the five major Chinese operas. Each local opera has its audiences. People far from their hometown relieve their homesickness by listening to and watching their hometown opera.

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