Innovation of Ancient Art PerformancePeony_Pavilion_(牡丹亭)1

Believing to be the mother of more than 300 genres of traditional China operas, Kunqu is over 600 years old. Kunqu shows the very spirit of ancient Chinese music and the art of performance since it follows the strictest performance principle that the artists must perform to the accompaniment of some specific traditional Chinese musical instruments.

Kunqu opera made its name in the Ming dynasty and reached its peak in the late 16th century. In 2001, kunqu was enlisted in UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, and since then this ancient opera began to revitalize in modern times.

Like many other traditional art performances, Kunqu also faces challenges and opportunities in modern times. One of the crucial questions is how to balance inheritance with innovation? How to meet the changing taste of audiences while maintaining the root of the art itself at the same time?

The new adaptation of “A Dream of Red Mansions” may set a successful example of mixing modern elements with traditional performance. The joining of the violin in the original band made the music sweeter and was well accepted by the audience.

In recent years, innovation makes the ancient opera popular again among young generations. This is primarily due to the youth-version of “Peony Pavilion” in 2004, an adaptation made by Bai Xianyong, a Taiwanese writer. The stage settings may seem too contemporary for some critics, but it attracted massive young audiences to the theater, who got a chance to appreciate the beauty of an ancient art performance.

The rejuvenation of Traditional Chinese Opera

Traditional Chinese operas have the reputation of being one of the three major ancient operas of the world, along with the Greek tragedy and comedy and the Indian Sanskrit opera. They are filled with the traditional culture of the country, containing poems, music, dancing, painting, fashion, martial arts and other forms of art.

Even when the traditional operas in China once lost its vitality in the late eighties, when people went to the theatre sometimes they found the number of actors on the stage exceeded the audience, fans still managed to carry out various activities related to this ancient art. They went to parks with friends and performed amateur opera performance.

The revival of traditional operas is currently underway. Someone commented: “Society has rediscovered the value of tradition and intangible cultural heritage, and the government and opera troupes are attaching more and more importance to resurrecting traditional operas.” (Beijing Review, 2016)

Now many prestigious opera artists are passing on their skills and expertise to young opera fans. More and more students enter the art school to learn this particular ancient cultural heritage. Since 2008, Peking Opera has become part of primary school curriculum in Beijing.

Preserving an Intangible Heritage in a Tangible way

As the only cultural heritage in Guangdong province, Cantonese opera carries the cultural memory of both the Lingnan region and overseas Chinese. This ancient art performance was enlisted in the World Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. Designed in line with the traditional Lingnan garden, the Cantonese Opera Art Museum carries forward a mission of reserving Cantonese opera culture, Lingnan traditional garden culture, Lingnan culture spirit. Such a museum provides not only space for exhibition, research, and education, but an area filled with intangible cultural heritage, the unique regional cultural memory of people in Lingnan. (GUO & LI, 2015)


Reference list:

Guo, Q., & Li, X. (2015). Integrated conservation of the Cantonese opera art museum and intangible cultural heritage. International Archives of the Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences – ISPRS Archives, 40(5), 187-193.

Keep the Show On. (2016, June 02). Beijing Review, p. Beijing Review, Jun 2, 2016.

An Orchid in a Traditional Garden. (2017, July 27). Beijing Review, p. Beijing Review, Jul 27, 2017.

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