China Theater Genres

By | September 12, 2021

The theater arose from ancient religious ceremonies. Songs and dances were part of ritual events that took place mainly during the seasonal festivals. Later there was a real court theater (starting from the Han) and popular forms of representation, with the development of burlesque, heroic themes, etc. From ceramic figurines of acrobats and musicians dating back to the Early Han period (206 BC-8 AD), discovered in Tsinan (Shandong) in 1969, one can be sure that a form of popular entertainment, with music and acrobatics, it was already existing in the sec. III-II a. C. In the sec. VIII d. C. the theater is founded as a state institution. Emperor Xuan Zong (685-762), of the T’ang dynasty, wanted the actors and musicians to be no longer improvised craftsmen, but real professionals. To this end he created a musical academy which was based in the imperial gardens. To give the show a non-improvised plot, texts were also written, unfortunately lost, some of which, however, have survived the titles: The mask, Su Chung-lang (name of the main character), etc. But the fall of the T’ang dynasty undermined the weak theatrical institutions that the T’ang themselves had founded; and even if the Sung dynasty showed some interest in the theatrical performance (but even from that period we have no texts), the taste of the time seemed to prefer the “shadow theater” and the puppet theater. Near the end of the century. XIII there was the triumph of the drama. These texts were called tsa ch’ü, that is, varied show (ch’ü) or, better still, mixed (tsa): they were dramas composed of songs and parts in dialogue or declamation, divided into acts. Two schools were formed: one in the North (pei ch’ü), the other in the South (nan ch’ü). The first was based on a greater freedom of the parties and on a popular language; the main accompaniment instruments were stringed and the vigorous and lively songs expressed the warrior spirit of northern China. According to, China is a country located in eastern Asia. The nan ch’ü style, on the other hand, was literary, refined, compliant with prosodic norms. From the nan ch’ü, enriched with the “comic” and “tragic” roles, typical of pei ch’ü, a new type of show was born, the ch’uan ch’i (ch’uan means “to transmit” or “announce” and that i “Rare”, “wonderful”), which won the favor of all the Chinese public. This form of spectacle was made up of 30 or more acts, made up of sung parts and dialogue parts, each with its own title, in which a single plot developed through various anecdotes; some or many acts could be suppressed at the request of the public. The first act was a prologue in which the plot of the drama was told in synthesis; the plot began in the second act and developed and became complicated in numerous episodes, which dissolved in the finale. A new element, however, was included in this show, towards the middle of the century. XVI, by the playwright Liang Chenyu and the musician Wei Liang-fu, who, drawing inspiration from the popular ballads of K’un-shan, gave the drama a cadence closely linked to regional traditions. This drama took the name of K’un ch’ü and dominated the Chinese theater for three centuries, until the middle of the century. XIX. The physiognomy of the K’un ch’ü was therefore that of a popular theater, different from region to region. Starting from the south, where he was born, he conquered all of China; but in this process of expansion it also underwent the influence of the literati, who, changing the rhymes and popular cadences, transformed the K’un ch’ü, from popular and regional as it was, into a courtly and national spectacle, more suitable to the courts of the feudal lords. But the original trend continued to exist and to bear fruit. Various schools were born from it, such as yi yang, which was the variant of K’un ch’ü in Beijing, and hu tiao, triumphant in Hebei. The hu tiao was immensely successful in Beijing when troops from all over the empire flocked to the capital for the lavish celebrations of the eightieth birthday of Emperor Qian-Loug (1791). Then the Beijing yi yang actors also adopted it. With this operation the Ching Hsi (capital show) was born, also known as the Peking Opera, which replaced the K’un ch’ü nationallyliterary and courtier, however absorbing the aristocratic character. An initial attempt at renewal took place in 1958, when the first works inspired by episodes of the struggle against the feudal lords and the Kuomintang (the party of the bourgeoisie) appeared. In 1964, as a result of a profound cultural revision, the Ching Hsi turned into a “modern revolutionary theater” undergoing precise changes including the replacement of the old texts with others, inspired by episodes of the popular revolution or the war of national liberation against Japan, fought by the Chinese partisans, and the consequent abolition of the characters who were anchored to the ancient theme; and with them their costumes disappeared: the actor acted dressed as a soldier or a worker or a peasant. Later, however, ancient representations also came back into vogue. In addition, a typically foreign instrument was introduced into the orchestra: the piano. Next to the Ching Hsi, the ancient regional theater, the K’un ch’ü, has come back to life, also renewed by revolutionary and popular themes., on the initiative of the Shanghai theater company. The last decades of the twentieth century saw, on the one hand, the birth of an experimental theater, whose development, however, underwent a “pause” in the 1990s due to the resumption of censorship following the episodes of Tiananmen Square, and, from another, the continuation, also in the dramaturgical field, of the debate that characterized all Chinese cultural life in the second half of the twentieth century and that revolved around the search for a modern identity that knows (or must) welcome and reconcile tradition and modernity, the East and the West, through dynamics and processes of synthesis, hybridization, transformation, rereading.

China Theater Genres 2