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Performing Arts in China

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Chinese man playing traditional instrument erhu on street.


Opera: China boasts more than 300 forms of traditional opera, of which Peking Opera is the most popular.  It took shape in the early 19th century in Beijing, hence the name.  Peking Opera is a unique art combining drama, singing, music, dancing and martial arts into one.  There are more than 1,000 works in the repertoire, developed over 200 years.  In the 50 years since the founding of New China, the state and people have paid great attention to Peking Opera.

A lot of new works have been staged, with themes ranging from historical stories, modern revolutionary war and socialist construction to everyday life.  At the same time, a group of outstanding Peking Opera actors and actresses have emerged, including Mei Lanfang, Cheng Yanqui, Ma Lianliang, Zhou Xinfang, and Du Jinfang.  To develop the quintessence of Chinese culture many artists and opera fans have done a lot of work to promote this genre, even 
attracting foreign audiences.

Spoken Drama; The early years of New China witnessed vigor in the sphere of spoken drama.  The Young Generation, Teahouse and other excellent spoken dramas had a great impact on many young people.

After the end of the "cultural revolution" in 1976, spoken dramas witnessed prosperity again, when When All the Sounds are Hushed, When Maple Leaves are Red, and other wrathful works which complained about the crimes of the "Gang of Four" who brought calamities to China and its people, appeared.

Afterwards, such works as Chen Yi Comes Down from the Mountain, Great General Peng Dehuai and Sun Yat-sen eulogized the great achievements of revolutionaries of the older generation with great admiration. 


At the Crossroads has been performed in many countries.  Three martial heroes meet in an inn.  They quarrel, and attempt to secretly kill each other in the dark.  The skillful acrobatics called for in this opera are both thrilling and humorous.  Combat routines in the Peking Opera repertoire such as this one combines Chinese martial arts and the dramatic art and the actors and actresses must undergo strict physical and skill training from childhood before they can live up to such routines.  Outstanding among them was the late Mr. Gai Jiao Tien, who performed these militant acts still with ease even at the age of 70.

Mei Lanfang, who always played female roles, introduced Peking Opera to Japan, the United States and the USSR as early as the 1920s and 1930s.

The Peking Opera Institute, founded in 1950, has trained a lot of excellent Peking Opera actors and actresses who have inherited the artistic achievements of previous generations and developed new characteristics of their own.  At the same time, the other local operas have made reforms continuously, on the basis of keeping their basic traditions.

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A large number of traditional-type spoken dramas were produced.  For instance, such new costume dramas as Song of the Great Wind, Tang Emperor Li Shimin, Wang Zhaojun, and Song-tsen Gampo were filled with the vehement spirit of the time.  Also, many rearranged or transplanted ancient, modern and foreign spoken dramas were staged.  After the Chinese Dramatists' Association set up the Cau Yu Chinese Dramatic Literature Prize, such excellent spoken dramas as Mayor Chen Yi, Warm Currents Outside the Room, Duet Romance, Weddings and Funerals, Tang Poet Li Bai, and A Crouching Tiger on Mount Zhong won the prize successively.

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The past 90 years or so have seen such excellent movies as Angels of the Street, Spring in a Small Town and Yellow Earth, and eminent movie artists such as Ruan Lingyu, Xie Jin and Zhang Yimou.

In the 20 years since introduction of China's reform and opening to the outside world Chinese film workers have kept forging ahead and a galaxy of talented movie artists have come to the fore.  Artistic productivity and creation have been unprecendentedly vigorous.  The period from the mid-1980s to the early part of the 1990s is usually called the second climax of the development of Chinese movies.  During this period, with the ideological emancipation of the Chinese people, Chinese movies started to reach a stage of unprecendentedly democratic and active artistic creation.  A number of excellent movies, such as The Founding of New China, Zhou Enlai, and Qiu Ju Goes to Court were shot.

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In the 1990s, China entered an age of particularly active economic growth.  Movies advocating patriotism, collectivism and the striving for a happy life through honest labor have become the mainstream of creation.  The outstanding examples of these were The Great Turning Point, The Opium War, and Red River Valley.

Another conspicuous phenomenon is the creation of movies with the themes of "good people and good deeds," as well as ethics. For example, In the Days Since I Left Lei Feng, which hailed the spirit of Lei Feng, a soldier who was always ready to help others and is well known to the Chinese people, was very popular.  The creation mode of mainstream Chinese films has been gradually improved, and now meets the demands of the market.

Another feature of Chinese movies in the 1990s is the introduction of first-class foreign movies to China, which have stimulated the interest of Chinese audiences, brought more profits to cinemas, and stimulated film workers' ideas and creativity, thus pushing forward the reform of the systems of creation, distribution and showing of Chinese films.  The preliminary establishment of the independent producer system in the 1980s changed the situation in which state investment was the main form of funding for movies.  The investment in movies is tending to become more rationalized, and financing channels and the themes of movies are becoming more diversified.

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As early as in the Spring and Autumn period, the art of acrobatics made its debut in China.  The first type of acrobatics developed was strength acrobatics, with warriors whirling heavy wheels with their hands.  In the Han Dynasty, acrobatic shows became important amusements frequently enjoyed at palace banquets as well as celebrations of the common people.

Ancient acrobatics was handed down from generation to generation.  Performances include such well-known ones as "Jumping Through Hoops." "Diabolos," "Tightrope Walking," "Juggling with the Feet," "Juggling with the Flower Jar," "Plate Spinning," and "A Pagoda of Bowls."  After the founding of the PRC in 19499, acrobatics developed rapidly, with the encouragement of the Chinese government.  

Now, there are nearly 100 acrobatic troupes above the county level, and thousands of non-governmental acrobatic troupes.  A large contingent of professional and part-time acrobats has come into being.  China has sent hundreds of acrobatic troupes abroad to perform in over 100 countries and regions.  

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From 1981 to 1997, China won gold prizes on 35 occasions, such as the "Prize of the President of the Republic of France," and the top prize at the "Tomorrow and the Future" International Acrobatic Festival held in France.  So far, China has won 85 gold prizes at international acrobatic contests.  The superb skills of Chinese acrobats have been praised by people all over the world and China has been recognized as the leading country in the acrobatics field.

There are many places where acrobatics is a local specialty, such as Liaocheng in Shandong Province, Yancheng in Jiangsu Province, Puyang in Henan Province, Tianmen in Hubei Province, Guangde in Anhui Province and Wuqing near Tianjin.  In particular, Wuqiao in Hebei Province has gained a shining reputation both at home and abroad.  Since1987, the China Wuqiao International Acrobatics Festival has been held once every two years.

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