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date: 28 January 2020

Beijing operalocked

  • Nancy Guy

Extract

Beijing opera, still referred to by many English-speakers as Peking opera, is one of the most highly developed and best known of Chinese opera forms both in China and abroad. Before the 20th century, Beijing opera was not commonly performed outside of Beijing and a few other centres. Its enormous popularity in the early 20th century, however, carried it to the status of ‘national opera’.

Following a long-observed custom of including opera in birthday celebrations, opera troupes from around China poured into the capital to take part in the celebrations for the Qianlong Emperor's 80th birthday in 1790. Among the theatrical participants were troupes from Anhui province in central-eastern China, who specialized in the performance of the xipi and erhuang music. Xipi and erhuang came to form the core of Beijing opera music, and it is believed that 1790 marks the first time that they were heard together in Beijing. Historians, therefore, take this year to represent the beginnings of Beijing opera. It was many years, however, before the opera evolved into an independent form with its own unique identity....

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