Regional Styles of Chinese Opera

Chinese opera is a traditional form of entertainment combining music and theatre, and dates back to at least A.D. 300. There are more than 16 diverse styles, often bearing the name of the region or province in which they developed. Some feature spoken dialogue — all include distinctive musical accompaniment, singing, stylized movement, elaborate costumes and symbolic masks or makeup.

Regional operatic forms have their roots in history, and often bear the name of the region or province in which they developed. It is not uncommon for different styles to develop within a single province, due in part to the size of Chinese provinces and the range of dialects spoken in each region. Some of the major regional opera styles are listed below in alphabetic order.

Chao Ju (Chaozhou Opera)

This regional opera style comes from Guangdong Province, and is one of the oldest forms of Chinese opera. Its musical style is influenced by the Yiyang and Kunqu forms, as well as by clapper percussion and the pihuang melody style. It is known for its comedy, and Chao Ju generally includes ten different roles for clowns.

Chuan Ju (Sichuan Opera)

This form comes from Sichuan Province, and blends together five regional styles, including the lantern play, which is local to Sichuan. Chuan Ju focuses on myth and legend, with a repertoire that features stories of ghosts, demons and animal spirits. Acrobatic and martial arts skills are common aspects of Sichuan Opera. The unique bianlian ("face-changing") technique of Sichuan Opera has also earned it particular acclaim among Chinese opera professionals.

Gan Ju (Jiangxi Opera)

This regional style comes from Jiangxi Province, and is famous for its high-pitched music and rich orchestration. Gan Ju performers use formal acting techniques and the style is simple and direct, reflecting daily life in the region.

Hebei Bangzi (Hebei Clapper Opera)

This is a variation on Kunqu Opera, but is more accessible to regional audiences because it uses many northern expressions. It comes from Hebei Province, which borders to the north. The singing is high-pitched and uses jingqiang — a recitation style popular in Beijing Opera — accompanied by the clear, strong rhythm of the clapper.

Hu Ju (Shanghai Opera)

This form is very popular around Shanghai, and is sung in the Shanghai dialect. The music is soft and melodic, and its popularity is largely due to its beautiful songs, colourful costumes and elaborate sets.

Huangmei Xi (Huangmei Opera)

This is another major form of opera in Anhui Province, characterized by its peasant folk dance. The music is gentle and sung in a natural voice. It is currently one of the most melodic of all regional opera forms. The dialogue is in vernacular language, and is easily understood by audiences across China.

Hui Ju (Anhui Opera)

This regional opera form comes from the southeastern province of Anhui. It is a mixture of the Yiyang and Yuyao styles and is a clapper opera. The erhuang and xipi musical forms together resulted in the pihuang style, which played a vital role in the development of Beijing Opera.

Jin Ju (Jin Opera)

This is also called Shanxi Clapper Opera because it comes from Shanxi Province in central China. It is famous for its singing style, which is generally fast and high-pitched. In addition to the clapper, musical accompaniment is provided by an orchestra consisting of strings, winds and percussion. Another interesting aspect of Jin Opera is the tradition of female actors playing male roles.

Jing Ju (Beijing Opera)

Beijing Opera (or Peking Opera) is one of China's most recent theatrical forms, despite the fact that it has existed for over 200 years. It is widely considered the highest expression of Chinese culture, and is one of the world's three primary theatrical systems. Artistically, Beijing Opera is perhaps the most refined form of opera in the world, and is dear to the hearts of the Chinese people. Although it is called Beijing Opera, its origins are not in Beijing but in the Chinese provinces of Anhui and Hubei. The two main melody forms in Beijing Opera — xipi and erhuang — come from Anhui and Hubei opera, and Beijing Opera later absorbed music and arias from additional opera forms and musical arts in China.

By the end of the Qing Dynasty (A.D. 1644–1911) there were more than 300 different local opera traditions, differing not only in the dialects used in the librettos, but also in staging, acting style and music. Storylines drew primarily on the Kunqu opera style or popular novels. Most of China's opera styles are largely local, dominating a specific region within a province. Beijing Opera, however, has a wider scope than any other form of Chinese opera, partly because it is so closely connected with the capital, and partly because it combines the best of several different opera styles. Almost every province in China has more than one Beijing Opera troupe. Beijing and Tianjin are considered the key bases for Beijing Opera in the north, while Shanghai is the base in the south.

Long Jiang Ju (Longjiang Opera)

This opera style is based on a traditional storytelling form called "two-person turnabout", which is very popular in China's northernmost Heilongjiang Province. Long Jiang Ju expands upon the two-person turnabout, incorporates northeastern folk music and has a strong local identity. Like other forms of Chinese opera, the performance includes acrobatics and martial arts.

Ping Ju (Ping Opera)

This popular form combines local storytelling styles and folk dances from the Tangshan area in Hebei Province. In Ping Opera, the most important roles are the male and female clowns. The singing and performances are rich in scenes from village life, and the singing uses the Tangshan dialect and slang, which are similar to Mandarin but with a different accent. This singing style has a particularly comedic effect, and is popular across China.

Qin Qiang (Qin Opera)

This regional dramatic form comes from Shanxi Province, where China's famous ancient state of Qin was established. This style uses clapper accompaniment, and the singing is generally high-pitched. The melodies are divided into two categories: joyful and tragic. Unlike many other forms of Chinese opera, which use a limited number of roles, Qin Opera has 13 different types of role.

Shao Ju (Shaoxing Opera)

This local opera style comes from the town of Shaoxing. Its musical style is a blend of Yiyang and Luantan, and uses a clapper musical style. Acting is characterized by broad gestures and stylized martial arts movements.

Yu Ju (Henan Opera)

This is also known Henan Bangzi (Henan Clapper Opera) and is popular in Henan Province. There are four major forms in Henan Opera, and two categories: comedy and tragedy.

Yue Ju (Yue Opera)

This local opera form comes from Zhejiang Province in southeastern China. It is rooted in local storytelling traditions and rice-planting songs, and is a relatively new operatic style. It is heavily influenced by Shaoxing Opera, another style from the same province, and became popular in Shanghai in the early twentieth century. It is famous for its modern costumes, elaborate sets and stage lighting.

Yue Ju (Cantonese Opera)

This is the most popular theatrical genre in the southern province of Guangdong (formerly Canton), as well as in Chinese communities throughout the world. In common with other regional forms, it involves music, singing, martial arts, acrobatics and theatre.

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