Chinese Music and Drama
Chinese Drama - Chinese Opera
Traditional drama, often called "Chinese opera," grew out of the zaju (variety plays) of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) and continues to exist in 368 different forms, the best known of which is Beijing Opera, which assumed its present form in the midnineteenth century and was extremely popular in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) court. In Beijing Opera, traditional Chinese string and percussion instruments provide a strong rhythmic accompaniment to the acting. The acting is based on allusion: gestures, footwork, and other body movements express such actions as riding a horse, rowing a boat, or opening a door. Spoken dialogue is divided into recitative and Beijing colloquial speech, the former employed by serious characters and the latter by young females and clowns. Character roles are strictly defined. The traditional repertoire of Beijing Opera includes more than 1,000 works, mostly taken from historical novels about political and military struggles.
In traditional Chinese theater, no plays were performed in the vernacular or without singing. But at the turn of the twentieth century, Chinese students returning from abroad began to experiment with Western plays. Following the May Fourth Movement of 1919, a number of Western plays were staged in China, and Chinese playwrights began to imitate this form. The most notable of the new-style playwrights was Cao Yu (b. 1910). His major works-- "Thunderstorm," "Sunrise," "Wilderness," and "Peking Man"--written between 1934 and 1940, have been widely read in China.
Chinese Traditional Music
Chinese music appears to date back to the dawn of Chinese civilization, and documents and artifacts provide evidence of a well-developed musical culture as early as the Zhou dynasty (1027- 221 B.C.). The Imperial Music Bureau, first established in the Qin dynasty (221-207 B.C.), was greatly expanded under the Han emperor Wu Di (140-87 B.C.) and charged with supervising court music and military music and determining what folk music would be officially recognized. In subsequent dynasties, the development of Chinese music was strongly influenced by foreign music, especially that of Central Asia.
Chinese vocal music has traditionally been sung in a thin, nonresonant voice or in falsetto and is usually solo rather than choral. All traditional Chinese music is melodic rather than harmonic. Instrumental music is played on solo instruments or in small ensembles of plucked and bowed stringed instruments, flutes, and various cymbals, gongs, and drums. The scale has five notes.
Chinese Traditonal Folk
Folk and variety arts have a long history in China. One of the oldest forms of folk art is puppetry. Puppeteers use various kinds of puppets, including marionettes, rod puppets, cloth puppets, and wire puppets in performances incorporating folk songs and dances and some dialogues. The subject matter is derived mainly from children's stories and fables. The shadow play is a form of puppetry that is performed by moving figures made of animal skins or cardboard held behind a screen lit by lamplight. The subject matter and singing style in shadow plays are closely related to local opera. Another popular folk art is the quyi, which consists of various kinds of storytelling and comic monologues and dialogues, often to the accompaniment of clappers, drums, or stringed instruments.
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Part of material from this page is based on Library of Congress Country Studies