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Qinqiang Opera: ancient artistry passed on through modern persistence

By Liu Ning, Wang Jiashu, Zhang Ruohan (People's Daily Online)    15:29, July 28, 2020

24-year-old Lyu Jiangtao has been learning Qinqiang Opera for 10 years. His parents are both performers of the opera, and have had a great influence on his interest and talent.

Also known as Luantan, Qinqiang Opera is a local opera that is popular mainly in northwest China's Shaanxi Province, as well as its neighboring regions, such as Gansu and Qinghai provinces and the Ningxia Hui and Xinjiang Uygur autonomous regions. It boasts the most ancient, affluent, and largest musical system of all Chinese operas.

The opera first originated from local folk songs and dance forms in the Yellow River Valley of Shaanxi and Gansu provinces -- the birthplaces of Chinese culture. According to historical records, the high-pitched local opera dates all the way back to the Qin Dynasty (221 BC-207 BC). Its time-honored history has given Qinqiang the reputation as the forefather of all styles of Chinese opera.

Qinqiang singing is famous for being bold and unrestrained, using a very masculine voice from the Northwestern part of China. But Lyu explained that’s the case for certain roles like “Hualian” - a male character with a painted face.

“Qinqiang is actually a very exquisite art form. The music and singing is gentle and delicate,” Lyu added, “Other roles like ‘Dan' (female roles) and ‘Sheng’ (male roles) sing parts that are rather fine and smooth, and have a very melodic sound.”

24-year-old Lyu Jiangtao(R) has been learning Qinqiang Opera for 10 years. He teaches Jeffrey Moeller(L) from People's Daily Online some basic skills of the opera. (Photo: Zhang Ruohan/People's Daily Online)

Its repertoire usually features such themes as anti-aggression wars, conflicts between the loyal and the treacherous, and struggles against oppression, as well as a number of other topics of strong human interest that reflect the honest, diligent, brave, and upright character of the local people.

Training the basic skills of Qinqiang Opera is painstakingly challenging. Leg stretching, kicking, waist bending, somersaults are just a few of Lyu’s daily training routines as well as those of his fellow classmates at the Shaanxi Opera Research Institute.

“I had injuries and accidents. I cried. I had fights with my parents.That happened a lot,” said Lyu. “But that’s what one has to go through in order to master the opera,” he added.

“In this era of rapid development, it’s rare to see a class of students so keen on learning traditional Chinese culture. And that’s an honor for Qinqiang Opera,” said Yang Hongtao, one of Lyu’s teachers at the Shaanxi Opera Research Institute.

“To tell the truth, fewer and fewer people are learning Qinqiang,” Lyu said with a sigh. “But this art form has to be inherited and passed on. It’s a great tradition of the Chinese nation. Its culture and its spirit will never be forgotten.”

“It doesn’t matter how much I earn, because I’ve loved it since I was little.

And we will pass it on,” Lyu added. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)
(Web editor: Liu Ning, Hongyu)

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