Kunqu


Kunqu
(Xigu (sung-drama/opera) genre)
Considered the oldest living theatre in China with a history of over 600 years, Kunqu has influenced most regional music-dramas, including Jingju (Peking opera). It originated in the regions of Kunshan (hence its name) and Suzhou. Later it became the major medium for performing Chuanqi plays in the Ming and Qing periods. Its popularity peaked from the mid-Ming dynasty to the early-Qing dynasty and declined in the middle of the nineteenth century. The form nearly became extinct by 1949. A new production of Fifteen Strings of Cash (Shiwu guan) in 1956 saved the genre. It was made into an opera film whose influence reached the entire country. Since then, Kunqu has been professionally studied and performed (except during the Cultural Revolution) by four generations of excellent performers who are currently distributed among seven troupes: Shanghai Kunqu Troupe (Shanghai kunqutuan), Kunqu Troupe of Jiangsu Province (Jiangsusheng kunjuyuan), Su and Kun Opera Troupe of Jiangsu Province (Jiangsusheng sukun jutuan), Northern Kunqu Troupe (Beifang kunqu juyuan), Beijing and Kun Operas Artistic Troupe of Zhejiang Province (Zhejiang jingkun yishu juyuan), Kunqu Learning and Performing Troupe of Yongjia, Zhejiang Province (Zhejiang Yongjia kunqu chuanxisuo), and Hunan Kunqu Troupe (Hunan kunjutuan). In addition to these professional troupes, about fifteen non-professional Kunqu societies have been revived or newly established since the late 1970s. In 1986, the Ministry of Culture set up a special committee to revive this rich theatrical genre by instituting a policy of ‘protecting, inheriting, innovating and developing [Kunqu]’. The first national Kunqu festival was held from 31 March to 6 April 2000 in Kunshan and Suzhou, with the seven troupes performing the best of their respective repertoires to audiences totalling more than 40,000 people. On 18 May 2001, UNESCO proclaimed Kunqu a ‘masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity’. Kunqu was among the first nineteen cultural spaces or forms of cultural expression around the world to be recognized by the organization. Kunqu is now treated as a Chinese national treasure.
Plays that have been staged and performed since the late 1970s fall into three categories: adaptations or excerpts from masterpieces of the Ming-Qing Chuanqi or Naxi plays; newly written plays with historical themes; and plays with non-traditional themes and innovative performing styles. The first category represents the revival and inheritance of the traditional Kunqu repertoire. Well-known stage productions in this category include: Peony Pavilion (Mudan ting), Peach Blossom Fan (Taohua shan), The Palace of Eternal Regret (Changsheng dian), The Story of the Lute (Pipa ji), Money Slave (Kanqian nu), The Story of the Top Scholar (Huakui ji), The Story of Western Garden (Xiyuan ji), Top Scholar Zhang Xie (Zhang Xie zhuangyuan) and The Story of Thorn Hairpin (Jingcha ji). The second category reflects the recent achievements in producing new Kunqu plays whose subject matter is mainly historical. Representative plays of this kind are Ban Zhao: Woman Historian of the Han Dynasty (Ban Zhao), In Love with Sima Xiangru (Sima Xiangru) and Things of the Past Southern Tang (Nan Tang yishi). The third category refers to modern productions of experimental themes and theatrical styles. Concubine Yang Travels to Japan (Guifei dongdu) is a new play based on a legend concerning a historical figure which also incorporates Japanese theatrical styles; Fighting Upward to Mount Ling (Shang Lingshan) is a fairy tale told in a non-traditional performing style utilizing modern technology and contemporary forms of entertainment, with the aim of attracting young audiences.
The influence of Kunqu has reached beyond mainland China. While there are no formal Kunqu troupes of the same stature in Taiwan and Hong Kong, Kunqu societies have been particularly active among intellectual circles. Since the 1980s, they have been inviting actors, experts and scholars of Kunqu from China to lecture and perform. Among the most noted recent theatrical events in the West were Peter Sellars’ radical adaptation of and Chen Shizheng’s unabridged version of The Peony Pavilion. The former was staged in Europe and America in 1998 and 1999 and incorporated components and acting styles of Kunqu and Western drama and opera. The latter was first commissioned for the Summer 1999 Lincoln Center Theatre Festival and later toured parts of Europe. The Western public is now becoming aware of the existence of this living theatre that is much older than Peking opera.
Swatek, Catherine (2003). The Peony Pavilion Onstage: Four Centuries in the Career of a Chinese Drama. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Wu, Xinlei et al. (eds) (2002). Zhongguo kunju da cidian [Encyclopedia of China’s Kunqu], Nanjing: Nanjing daxue chubanshe.
DU WENWEI

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

Look at other dictionaries:

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