Pingju


Pingju
(Tangshan, Hebei sung-drama, opera)
Pingju (Ping opera) is a regional form that emerged around 1910 in the Tangshan area, Hebei province, where it was particularly popular among coal miners and peasants. It incorporates musical elements from narrative song form (Lianhua lao or ‘Lotus Song’; see quyi), folk dance (bengbeng or ‘to caper’), shadow puppet theatre (Luanzhou yingxi), and Hebei opera (Bangzi). Among the forerunners of Pingju are Tangshan laozi (Tangshan narrative song) or Pingqiang bangzi (clapper opera with Ping melodies). The form’s folk roots and colloquial language facilitated its spreading throughout most of northern China, and then to other parts of the country. Pingju’s music features a range of dialogue and declamatory styles, arias (changqiang), airs for melodic instruments and percussion (qupai), and folk melodies.
The arias, accompanied notably by the banhu (two-string fiddle), are sung in melodic and rhythmic modes (banqiang) like most northern opera genres (see Xiqu musical structure).
The first decades of Pingju’s history were dominated by actresses performing both male and female roles. Some collaborated with left-wing playwrights in Shanghai in 1935–6, such as the actress Bai Yushuang (‘Empress of Pingju’) with Ouyang Yuqian in a modern adaptation of the classic story of Wu Song and Pan Jinlian. In the 1950s, Communist authorities saw in Pingju the prospect of promoting plays conveying the appropriate ideology by highlighting the positive image of the common folk and of female heroines, and the inevitability of justice. Pingju’s strong appeal before the Cultural Revolution, evidenced by films such as Flowers as Matchmakers (Hua wei mei, 1963) featuring the famous actress Xin Fengxia (1925–98), continued through the 1980s with a new crop of contemporary plays and actors. Pingju’s accessibility and adaptability explain its continuing success and resilience in a vastly changed country.
ISABELLE DUCHESNE

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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