Jingju


Jingju
(‘Capital [sung]-drama’, a.k.a. ‘Peking Opera’)
Also called Jingxi (capital theatre) and Guoju (national drama) and commonly rendered as ‘Peking opera’ in English, Jingju is a regional form of Xiqu (sung-drama/opera) that developed in Beijing beginning in the late eighteenth century and has been the predominant form in China since the mid nineteenth century. Jingju’s extensive body of plays, broad range of subject matter, lavish costumes, falsetto voices for youthful roles, and wealth of acrobatic and martial techniques have greatly influenced other forms of Xiqu. Jingju follows banqiangti musical structure, belonging to the pihuang musical system (see Xiqu musical structure); its instrumental music is led melodically by a small, high-pitched two-string spike fiddle (jinghu) and features extensive percussion. Two primary styles developed in the early twentieth century and have re-emerged since the Cultural Revolution: the more conservative and traditionally pure Jingpai ([Bei]jing style) or Beipai (Bei[jing] style), and the more commercially and artistically experimental Haipai ([Shang]hai style).
More than any other form of Xiqu, Jingju has been the focus of attention of the PRC government. Beginning in the 1940s, with the creation of Driven up Mount Liang (Bi shang Liangshan) inspired by Mao Zedong’s 1942 Yan’an Talks, the CCP has intimately concerned itself with the lives and works of Jingju artists. Party attention to Jingju reached its peak during the Cultural Revolution, when all but revolutionary modern Xiqu plays were banned, and of these, only selected Jingju plays were designated as ‘model works’ (yangbanxi).
After the Cultural Revolution, Xiqu and especially Jingju experienced a brief resurgence of tradition. Once-banned plays and the older actors who had starred in them drew large audiences. But the novelty wore off, and shrinking and aging audiences, coupled with progressive reduction in state support during the 1980s and 1990s, produced a crisis situation in Jingju, prompting economic and artistic efforts at amelioration. Troupes have been reduced in size or disbanded; the 248 Jingju troupes in 1978 were reduced to 213 by 1984 and 126 by 1990, and some further reduction clearly continued throughout the 1990s as well. Many troupes have opened ‘extra income enterprises’ such as restaurants and hotels, and are booking high-priced performances targeted to foreigners. Other economic measures include out-reach efforts aimed at building audiences among elementary and secondary school students, and attempts to tie income to productivity.
Some artistic efforts to increase audiences have involved realistic acting and staging techniques borrowed from Huaju (spoken drama). Others have used elements from other forms of Xiqu and Chinese performing arts, such as the ‘face-changing’ (bianlian) technique from Chuanju (Sichuan opera) and a vast array of musical influences. The latter also include elements from Western concert and other more recent musical styles, and the use of Western musical instruments has been common since the early 1970s. Further creative efforts include the expansion of traditional modes of performance. For instance, the chou or comic male Xiqu role type is traditionally a supporting character, but a number of new plays featuring chou in the leading role have been created, such as A Pig Butcher Places First in the Imperial Examinations (Tufu zhuangyuan) and The Seventh-Rank Sesame Seed-Sized Official (Qi pin zhi ma guan). New plays have also been developed for targeted audiences. The Shanghai Jingju Company (Shanghai jingjuyuan) has been creating plays for targeted audiences since the early 1980s. The award-winning Cao Cao and Yang Xiu (Cao Cao yü Yang Xiu), created for urban intellectual audiences, is among the most successful.
Wichmann, Elizabeth (1990). ‘Tradition and Innovation in Contemporary Beijing Opera Performance’. The Drama Review 34.1: 146–78.
Wichmann-Walczak, Elizabeth (2000). ‘“Reform” at the Shanghai Jingju Company and Its Impact on Creative Authority and Repertory’. The Drama Review 44.4: 96–119.
ELIZABETH WICHMANN-WALCZAK

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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