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Zhejiang Drama In Its Early Stage
Date:2012-05-27 20:19

Zhejiang Drama In Its Early Stage

  Zhejiang Province is well-known for its well-developed civilization, its ample cultural relics and its prosperous musical resources. The 'beginning of the South Music' - the tune 'Hou Ren Yi' performed by some women in Mt. Tu - can date back to as early as the Xia Dynasty. 'The Song of Yue People', which was still popular in the Zhou Dynasty in Zhejiang Province, was one of them. The Han and Tang Dynasty witnessed an unprecedented boom in music and drama in Zhejiang borne in the form of celebrations and sacred activities. Especially, the plays about joining the armies gained their popularity in the east. With all these nourishments, Zhejiang drama finally grew into a kind of comprehensive art comprised of various elements such as literature, music, dancing, fine arts, martial arts and acrobatics.

Kun Opera The West Garden Tale

In Southern Song Dynasty, as the capital moved down to Lin'an, the political, economic and cultural center transferred southwards as well. Wenzhou, which was located along the seaside in southeast Zhejiang, benefited from its peaceful surroundings, prosperous rural conomy, rich culture, busy water-way transportation and growing population, and got a nickname of 'Mini Hangzhou'. The epochal dawn of Chinese opera beamed from here. The earliest mature form of Chinese opera thus came into being. To differ from Za-Ju, a kind of poetic drama set to music flourishing in the Yuan Dynasty, it was named the 'Southern Opera'.

Records show that Southern Opera can date back to as early as the reign of Emperor Zhao Ji (1119~1125) and it was not until the end of the 12th century when the capital moved southwards did the opera begin to take its complete form.

The Southern Opera was evolved from the folk songs around Wenzhou, thus quickly won popularity in every neighborhood. It was mainly about light and easy subjects such as love, marriage and family life. Its form, accordingly, was relatively free. It could be either long or short, with either several acts or dozens of acts. The popular folk songs as well as the new ditties could work together into the tunes of the opera as long as they were harmonious. People could perform in solo, antiphonal singing, troll, chorus, and so on.

Beijing Opera The Town Of Red Mulberry

Many influential plays in the known drama history are produced by local born playwrights:

Zhang Xie, the No. 1 Scholar wasthe earliest Southern Opera play known so far. It was written by a gifted scholar in Jiushan Society (Jiushan being the other name of Wenzhou) of the Song Dynasty. The story goes as follows: On his way to the state examination in the capital, the scholar Zhang Xie was robbed and left penniless in Mt. Wuji. Fortunately, he was rescued by a poor girl and the two got married. Later on, when Zhang Xie became the No. 1 Scholar of the country, the prime minister Wang Deyong wanted Zhang Xie to be his son-in-law, but he refused. So the daughter of Wang died of depression. However, for some reasons, Zhang Xie stabbed the poor girl ungratefully with a sword on his way to the post. The girl was saved by Wang and became his adopted daughter. After several twists and turns, the couple reunited in the end. (Note: This play has been re-staged by Wenzhou Yongjia Academy of Kunqu Transmission and Study, and is listed as one among the Wenzhou 'New Southern Opera Serial' Project.)

Zhang Xie



The Four Major South Opera Plays

The Tale of the Thorn Hairpin: The Wenzhou scholar Wang Shipeng married Qian Yulian, the thorn hairpin being the betrothal gift. But their neighbor Sun Ruquan coveted the beauty of Qian for long and plotted repeatedly against them. Even after Shipeng won the state examination and became the No. 1 Scholar of the country, Sun bribed Wan Si, the Prime Minister in power and exiled Shipeng to a place far away. When Qian received a forged divorce letter from Shipeng, she threw herself into the river. Fortunately, she was rescued by Qian Zaihe, a resigned cabinet minister. In the end, the couple got reunited. (Note: This play has been re-staged by Wenzhou Yue Opera Troupe, and is listed as one among the Wenzhou 'New Southern Opera Serial' Project.)

The Tale of the White Rabbit: After her husband Liu Zhiyuan was drafted into the army, Li Sanniang was subject to much maltreatment by her brother-in-law Li Hongyi and his wife. She gave birth to her son in the milling shed. The boy was sent to Liu Zhiyuan by old Dou, their neighbor, and was brought up there. Sixteen years later, Liu Zhiyuan became quite better off. One day, in chase of a white rabbit, the son met his mother by a well. At last, the family reunited. (Note: This play has been re-staged by Wenzhou Yue Opera Troupe, and is listed as one among the Wenzhou 'New Southern Opera Serial' Project.)

The Tale of Bowing in Solute to the Moon: The son of the left prime minister of the Jin Kingdom TuoManXingFu was fleeing from calamity. On the way, he was rescued by a scholar Jiang Shilong, and the two became sworn brothers. In the turmoil of war, Wang Zhen, the daughter of War Minister, lost touch with her mother. She also met Jiang by chance and though in adversity, they got married soon. Meanwhile, Jiang's sister Ruilian met Mrs. Wang and became her adopted daughter. Wang Zhen was not satisfied with his daughter's marriage, and managed to separate them. Later, Jiang and TuoManXingFu won top in the art and martial examination respectively. And to everyone's delight, they both married the one they love. (Note: This play has been re-staged by Pingyang Xiao-Bai-Hua (One-Hundred Little Flowers) Yue Opera Troupe, and is listed as one among the Wenzhou 'New Southern Opera Serial' Project.)

The Tale of Killing the Dog: It was written by a Chun'an playwright Xu Tianchen. The two brothers, Sun Hua and Sun Rong, were on bad terms because they were played off against one another by some ill-intentioned guy. In the end, Sun Rong's wife Yang Yuezhen contrived to persuade her husband by killing a dog. ((Note: This play has been re-staged by Wenzhou Ou Opera Troupe, and is listed as one among the Wenzhou 'New Southern Opera Serial' Project.)

The Tale of Thorn Hairpin



The Masterpiece of Southern Tunes - The Tale of Pi-pa(Pi-pa Ji)

The playwright Gao Ming (1305~1359) was not only good at calligraphy, but also excelled in writing poems and prose, not to mention lyrics and tunes. As an office clerk, he was the first one from upper class who was engaged in playwriting.

The story goes as follows: On the command of his father, the scholar Cai Bojie said goodbye to his newly-wed and left for the capital to take part in the imperial examination. He became the No. 1 Scholar of the country. However, he was forced to marry the daughter of the Prime Minister Niu after unsuccessful resignation to office and unsuccessful refusal to the marriage. Three years later, his hometown Chenliu County suffered a big drought. His first wife Zhao Wuniang attended upon her parents-in-law piously but still could not save them from dying of hunger. After she paid off the funeral affairs at the cost of her hair, she took the pi-pa (a traditional Chinese instrument) with her and begged all the way to the capital looking for her husband. The couple finally met each other in a private school. Later the husband and his two wives returned to his hometown to worship their ancestors and were also honored by the emperor.

The theme of the Tale of Pi-pais rather complicated. Cai Bojie's three refusals (refusal to sit for the exam, refusal to marry, and refusal to take an official position) as well as his absolute loyalty and filial piety has brought much discussion in the academic world. But the play is quite successful in structure, the design of the conflicts and the depiction of the characters. Especially when it comes to the pattern, it almost becomes the model for the subsequent inditement of legendaries, hence the title 'the masterpiece of Southern Opera'. It is the Pearl of the South while Za-Ju The West Chamber Tale wellrepresents the North.

In Ming and Qing dynasty, the newly booming genre of opera - legendary, began to fully occupy the stage and attracted many intellectuals into playwriting. The study of theatric theories also mushroomed. Zhejiang theater was reaching a new artistic peak.

The Tale of Pi-pa

In the Song and Yuan Dynasties when Southern Opera first came into existence in Wenzhou, it was performed in the local dialects. In the course of spreading, it absorbed different dialects and folk ditties along its way. So before the 16th century, there existed four tunes competing with each other. Among these four tunes (Haiyan Tune, Yuyao Tune, Yiyang Tune and Kunshan Tune), two were from Zhejiang. Lu Rong of the Ming Dynasty wrote in his book Miscellany in Beans Garden: During the latter half of the 15th century, many people around Zhejiang, even those from the decent families, were pursuing the study of theatric performing. As it was a vogue to do the singing part in Zhejiang, the Haiyan Tune and Yuyao Tune won recognition here first.

Haiyan Tune was named after its birthplace. There are two theories as to its origin: First, Li Rihua of the Ming Dynasty thought Zhang Zi created it in Haiyan during the Southern Song Dynasty; Second, Yao Shoutong argued in his book Whisper in the Outskirt of Music that it was taught to the Za-Ju playwright Yang Zi by musician Guan Suanzhai, and in turn became famous through the performance of a boy singer at his house in Haiyan. Haiyan Tune is characterized by continuous gestures and stretching singing without instrumental accompaniment. It is performed in the official language of Zhejiang and Jiangsu Province and on the red woolen blanket as the stage set in the hall of the house of those scholars and officials. At the time, it was quite popular around Jiaxing, Huzhou, Taizhou and Wenzhou.

Yuyao Tune was also named after its birthplace. Its feature was that instead of the musical accompaniment, it had human voices to perform some tunes somewhere between singing and talking. The lyrics of the Rolling Tune (Gun Diao), as it was called, were vulgar and refined. The rhythm was clear and fast. So it was the tune of commons and its influence extended to Jiangsu and Anhui Province.

Yong Opera Wife In Pawn



     Kunshan Tune and Yiyang Tune were introduced into Zhejiang soon afterwards and the legend playwriting reached its peak with a great number of famous writers and masterpieces coming forth one after another. There were about 50 playwrights who were renowned throughout the country, such as Bu Shichen, Ye Xianzu, Tu Long, Shen Jing, Chen Yujiao, Gao Lian, Shi Pan, Zhao Chaojun, Shen Sheng, Meng Chenshun and Ling Mengchu. Among the 100 influential plays were The Tale of Holly, Luan Bi Tale, The Tale of Night-Blooming Cereus, The Tale of Chiffon, The Tale of Parrot, The Tale of Cherry, The Tale of Red Plum, Jiao Hong Ji, Zhen Wen Ji, The Tale of Frightened Swan Goose, Jiao Pa Jiand The Tale of Eight Righteous Men. The following ones have often been put onto stage till now:

    The Tale of Interlinks by Huzhou playwright Wang Ji. It was during the Three Kingdoms Period when the story took place. The minister Wang Yun and his beautiful adopted daughter Diao Chan, cleverly worked out a set of interlocking stratagems and weeded out the wicked Dong Zhuo.

    The Tale of Boundless Loyalty by Wukang playwright Yao Maoliang. It is about the famous general Yue Fei oppugning the invasion from the reign of Jin and it is the repertoire of all local operas in Zhejiang Province.

The Tale of Jade Hairpin by Qiantang playwright Gao Lian. It is about the love affair between the scholar Pan Bizheng and the nun Chen Miaochang, the two acts - the Music Stirring and the Autumn River - being the most famous ones in the play.

    The Tale of Red Plum by Yinxian playwright Zhou Chaojun. It is about the love story between the scholar Pei Yu and two women Lu Zhaorong and Li Huiniang.

    The Tale of the Colored Brush Pen by Yinxian playwright Tu Longzhi. It is about the famous poet Li Bai. The Act Taibai Gets Drunk is still the repertoire of Zhou Chuanying and Wang Chuansong in Zhejiang Kunqu Troupe.

    When Kunshan Tune reigned through the competition of four major tunes, when legend writing was in the rage, and when Zhejiang Province harvested rich theatrical fruits, Za-Ju of Yuan Dynasty also blossomed in Zhejiang, among which the Four Voices of Apes by Xu Wei was the best and the most influential one.

    The center of Za-Ju of the Yuan dynasty moved southward to Hangzhou which was known for its ample products and beautiful sceneries. Some Za-Ju masters like Guan Hanqin and Ma Zhiyuan were attracted to Hangzhou, and so did many talented performers like Zhulianxiu. The tendency of the shift to the south continued into the Ming Dynasty.

Yue Opera Supplementary Biography Of Mulan



Statistics show that there have been more than 180 kinds of Za-Ju handed down from the Ming Dynasty. Most of the masterpieces were produced by local playwrights. And The Four Sounds of Apes by Xu Wei was the best and most influential one.

    Xu Wei (1521-1593), or Wenchang , was born in Shanyin (the present Shaoxing). He was a distinguished scholar who excelled in poetry, literature, calligraphy and painting. Being tame-less and high-hearted, he was always excluded from the court. His work the Four Voices of Apes is a collective term of four different plays, namely, The Wild Drummer, The Jade Buddhist Monk, The Female Magnolia and The Female No. 1 Scholar of the Country. Among them, The Wild Drummer is of greatest importance, with its allusive story about Mi Heng's beating the drum to criticize the reign of Cao Cao. It can still be seen on stage. The Four Voices of Apes has profound and lasting impact on the theatrical world. Its idea of 'self-worth' was absolutely innovative and was absorbed into the later works like Peony Pavilionby Tang Xianzu.

    Besides plays, Xu Wei also accomplished much in theoretical research about dramas. His South Ci Poetry Record was the earliest and the only work on Southern Opera, which expounded and researched into the full range of Southern Opera from the origin, development, styles, the language, tune pattern, dialects, specific terms to playwrights and masterpieces. Some of its theories - its recognition of the function and position of local operas, the prototype theory, the idea of 'self worth' and Romanism - have had great impact ever since then.

Yue Opera Supplementary Biography Of Mulan

The Ming Dynasty witnessed a bumper crop in both playwriting and theatrical researching, especially during the mid-Ming period, there were a great number of famous playwrights, theorists and masterpieces. In areas around Shaoxing came forth the Mid-Yue School, a school of theatrical theories, which was headed by Xu Wei. Most of the members in the school were both playwrights and theorists, with identical or similar views on playwriting, critique and theatrical aesthetics. The representatives were Xu Wei, Wang Jide, Lv Tiancheng, Qi Biaojia, Meng Chengshun, Ling Mengchu, etc. In addition to the above mentioned Southern Ci Poetry Record by Xu Wei, the other works of the Mid-Yue School included the following:

    The Law of Tunes by Wang Jide. Wang Jide, with a courtesy name of Boliang and a pseudonym of Fangzusheng, was born in Guiji (the present Shaoxing). The Law of Tunes is the first systematic and comprehensive theatrical monograph. Composed of 40 chapters and covering all categories of theatrical theories, the book lays emphasis on research, while holding in high esteem the 'Prototype Theory' of Xu Wei.

  Appreciating Tunes by Lv Tiancheng. Lv Tiancheng, with a courtesy name of Qinzhi and a pseudonym of Yulansheng, was born in Yuyao. Appreciating Tune is not only a critical work on the playwrights and their works of the Ming Dynasty, but also the earliest directory so far of legend playwrights and their brief biographies. Its theory about beauty in both lyrics and tunes is very impressive.

Five Daughters Offering Birthday Felicitations



Among others are Appreciating Tunes in Yuanshan Hall and Appreciating Plays in Yuanshan Hall by Qi Biaojia, Miscellaneous Reading Notes on Tan Tunes by Ling Mengchu, Heng Qu Zhu Tan by Zhang Qi and Directory of Ancient and Modern Famous Plays by Meng Chengshun. The Mid-Yue School directly pointed out the problems existing then in the playwriting and reviewing, and offered salutary advices to rid the vulgar. Their influence was so great that their ideas were deeply rooted in the works of theatrical theorist Li Yu of early Qing Dynasty.

    Li Lu (1610-1680), or Zhefan, was born in Lanxi. He never threw himself into the official career, but was heavily involved in playwriting and other theatrical activities. His masterpieces are the Ten Tunes of The Old Man With A Bamboo Hat, which is legendary, and Leisurely Feelings - on Lyrics and Tunes, which is a theoretical work. The Ten Tunes of The Old Man With Bamboo Hat consists of ten legendary plays, namely, The Mistake of Kite, Life In Vain, Flatfish, Caution Against Marriage, Jade Hair Clasp, A Clever Reunion, Courting The Phoenix, Fancy Destiny, Mirage and The Tender Company. Among them, the Mistake of Kite is the most well known and is often seen on the stage until now. Li Yu's collection of legendaries were well plotted with simple language, thus easy to be staged, but sometimes they might be too delicate.

    The most influential work of Li Yu is his theatrical theories. His Leisurely Feelings is a book on gourmet, plaything, gardening, internal decoration, voices, lyrics and tunes. Among these, there are three chapters, namely, On Lyrics and Tunes, On Rehearsal, and On Performancedealing with principles of playwriting and stage art respectively. They are full of pointed and profound ideas so that they are regarded as the milestone in the history of Chinese artistic theory development. His emphasis on clear theme, fewer main threads, seamless plots and mixture of truth and deceit not only sums up the traditional playwriting practice, but also serves as a guide for the playwriting and performance of the day due to its strong pertinence and feasibility. And his impact could still be felt in today's theater. Li Yu well epitomizes the Chinese theatric theories of the Qing Dynasty.

Li Yu

During Emperor Kangxi and Qianlong's reigns in the Qing Dynasty, both the commodity economy and the society experienced a great upgrowth due to the incorruptible and just political circumstance. The Kun Opera was in the fashion. However, the tune circle was chained in sentimental love stories between gifted scholars and beautiful ladies and legendary playwriting was rather dull. It was at this moment that 'Hong in the south and Kong in the north' stood out and caught people's eyes just like two bright comets shooting over the sky. They were esteemed as the two monumental artistic models of the realistic legendary plays. 'Hong in the south' here refers to the Zhejiang playwright Hong Sheng and his magnum opus The Palace of Eternal Life.

   Hong Sheng (1645~1704), with Fangsi as his courtesy name and Baiqi as his pseudonym, was born in Qiantang (the present Hangzhou). This highborn playwright was actually dismissed from office and ended up in poverty. All these were due to his magnum opus The Palace of Eternal Life. His works included 12 legendaries like The Palace of Eternal Life and Blue Coat Wet with Tears as well as Za-Ju like The Four Lovely Women. The Palace of Eternal Life was produced out of his decades of hard work. It was about the ever-lasting love between Li Longji, an emperor, and Yang Yuhuan, his imperial concubine. Once the work came out, it was an instant success. At that time, there were hardly any performers who would not play this tune and the pay was ever increasing. Combining love story with An Lushan’s rebellion of the time, The Palace of Eternal Life has a profound realistic moral which serves as a precaution for the later generations. In addition, with the scenes being refined and precise, and with lyrics and tunes being unique and prominent, it could be heard playing in almost every household. Ever since its birth, it has been popular on the stage. Acts like Love Promise, Surprising Misfortune, Denouncing the Traitor, and The Ring of the Bell are repertoires for Kun Opera troupes, north and south.

The Palace of Eternal Life



At the end of the Qing Dynasty, all tunes thrived into intense competition with one another. By right of long years of accumulation in culture and theatric experiences, local operas mushroomed in Zhejiang province, which was always known as 'the cradle of operas'. Among the influential ones were Tanhuang of Ningbo (Yong opera), Tanhuang of Huzhou (Hu opera), Tanhuang of Yuyao, Sanjiao Xi (Mu Opera), Wulin Troupe (Hang Opera), burlesque, and Yue Opera, with Yue Opera being the most rapidly developing and the most influential one.

    Yue Opera, originated from Sheng County within Shaoxing area, was first known as 'mini singing troupe', or 'Didu Troupe', or 'Shaoxing Opera'. In the mid 1930's, in order to differ from Shaoxing Major Opera, it was renamed after the ancient Yue State as Shaoxing used to be the capital of that state about 2000 years ago. At its birth, it was a kind of singing along the country roads of Shang County during the Qing Dynasty. It had experienced three stages from roles in the play performed all by males, then by a mixture of males and females, to finally all by females. When it moved into Shanghai, there emerged some outstanding actresses like Shi Yinhua, Zhao Ruihua, Wang Xinghua and Yao Shuijuan. In 1942, Yuan Xuefen initiated reforms in Yue Opera. Together with an excellent stringed instrument player Zhou Baocai, she created several basic tunes like Chi Tune and Xianxia Tune. After certain elements of movie and drama were introduced into the performance of Yue Opera, it became a most important opera style next to Beijing Opera in China characterized by beautiful singing and lyrical plot. In the early 1980's when full scale construction was underway and when cultural development was greatly encouraged by the government, a number of Yue opera performing troupes with a contingent of outstanding actors and actresses have emerged, as best represented by the rising of Zhejiang Little Hundred-flower Yue Opera Troupe with leading performers such as Mao Weitao, He Ying, Dong Kedi, He Saifei and Fang Xuewen. Similar troupes also appeared in Shaoxing and Ningbo. The fresh blood from the Westlake side and other parts of Zhejiang Province well proves that there is no lack of successors in the bright career of Yue opera.

Yue Opera The Love of Pear Blossoms

At the beginning of the Republic of China (1912-1949), there was a decline in Zhejiang playwriting and the same dreariness could be felt on the stage with fewer performances. However, it was the time that a giant was born in the theoretic field of tunes. He was the world famous scholar Wang Guowei.

    Wang Guowei (1877-1927), with a courtesy name of Jing'an and a pseudonym of Guantang, was born in the town of Yanguan in Haining. He was a famous scholar on literature, history and drama. In his lifetime, he produced a large number of works, such as Record on Tunes, Tunes of Song and Yuan Dynasties, Origin of Opera, Quote of the Performers, Roles in Ancient Plays, and Operas of Song and Yuan Dynasties. Especially in the last book mentioned above, he brought relatively scientific viewpoints into the research of operas of the Song and Yuan dynasties and examined and demonstrated the origin, the formation, the characteristics and the achievements of Chinese operas. The book is the pioneer in ancient opera research and opens up a brand new subject of theatric works that used to be blank in the history of Chinese culture.

Wang Guowei

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