Traditional Chinese art struggles to regain lost ground (2)

08:36, June 16, 2011      

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According to Tian Qing, head of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection Center of China, listening to Kunqu and practicing yoga have become increasingly fashionable among China's white-collar workers.

This is in sharp contrast with the situation in the 1990s, when Kunqu was faced with diminished audiences and a lack of new plays and performances.

At that time, Kunqu was popular only among elderly citizens living in areas along the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. Only about 200 operas were performed onstage at the time, in comparison with the 1,298 operas staged during the middle period of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), when Kunqu was at the height of its popularity.

Originating during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Kunqu is the oldest form of Chinese opera and is characterized by its unique combination of musical performances and complex choreographic techniques, including acrobatics.

Together with ancient Greek dramas and India's Sanskrit plays, it is one of the world's oldest performance arts.

In 2001, Kunqu Opera was added to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)'s "Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" list. Kunqu opera was the first element of Chinese cultural heritage to be recognized by the group.

Other traditional Chinese art forms have had greater difficulties surviving in modern times. The beautiful sounds of the guqin, a stringed instrument with a history of over 4,000 years, are in danger of dying out, as less than 10,000 people living today can play the instrument

The Nanjing Yun brocade, a traditional silk craft with a history of over1,600 years, also risks disappearing because of its complexity and flagging popularity with younger people.

"This is the epitome of the conflict between tradition and modernity in China," says Shao Xiaoying, a professor of social science at Shanghai's Fudan University.

She says that China's rapidly developing society is perplexed by its new cultural identity as it becomes more eager to embrace new trends that have come with the country's explosive growth, such as popular music and the Internet.

But as these art forms are seen as the life blood of a country's historic identity, China is not willing to let them fade and go.
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