The ‘Chun­hua Cup’ Pek­ing Opera Con­test Pro­motes Chi­nese Cul­ture

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Zhou Fu­jing, Pan Yingzhao Edited by Justin Davis Pho­tos cour­tesy of Chun­shu Sub-district Of­fice of Xicheng District

The an­nual “Chun­shu ( Toon Tree) Cup” Bei­jing Com­mu­nity Am­a­teur Pek­ing Opera Per­form­ers Con­test has a his­tory of 16 years and aims to pro­mote Pek­ing Opera. The most re­cent con­test con­cluded in early Septem­ber and drew about 500 am­a­teur per­form­ers and 300 Pek­ing Opera fans. The event is be­com­ing well es­tab­lished and is hotly an­tic­i­pated each year.

The Zhengyici The­atre is one of the best-known venues for Pek­ing Opera per­for­mances. A cou­plet en­graved on the main columns in its in­te­rior reads: “Per­form­ing the sor­rows, joys, part­ings and re­unions of pre­vi­ous dy­nas­ties, opera char­ac­ters are pre­sented to au­di­ences.” Pek­ing Opera has a his­tory of more than 200 years and is the quin­tes­sence of Chi­nese cul­ture. It is also a trea­sure of world cul­ture. In­her­it­ing and car­ry­ing for­ward opera is an im­por­tant part of re­vi­tal­is­ing tra­di­tional, na­tional cul­ture and en­hanc­ing cul­tural con­fi­dence. The the­atre is lo­cated in Xicheng District, which is tak­ing con­crete ac­tions to pro­mote cul­ture. The an­nual “Chun­shu ( Toon Tree) Cup” Bei­jing Com­mu­nity Am­a­teur Pek­ing Opera Per­form­ers Con­test has a his­tory of 16 years and is one ex­am­ple.

The most re­cent con­test con­cluded in early Septem­ber and drew about 500 am­a­teur per­form­ers and 300 Pek­ing Opera fans. The event is be­com­ing more es­tab­lished and ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated.

Emerg­ing at the Right Time

The “Chun­shu (Toon Tree) Cup” Bei­jing Com­mu­nity Am­a­teur Per­form­ers of Pek­ing Opera Con­test be­gan in the Chun­shu Sub­dis­trict of Xicheng District in 2003. It has be­come a renowned, cul­tural brand in the city and en­joys a good rep­u­ta­tion in opera cir­cles.

The Chun­shu Cup con­test is an icon of Bei­jing's opera cul­ture. Its rise is re­lated to Xicheng's opera cul­ture and his­tor­i­cal back­ground. The Chun­shu area is known as the “home­town of opera” and is the ori­gin of Pek­ing Opera. Ac­cord­ing to his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments, the 1.09-square-kilo­me­tre Chun­shu area was home to more than 200 the­atres and guild­halls. The An­hui Guild­hall The­atre, Zhengyici The­atre, Huguang Guild­hall and Yang­ping Guild­hall are known as the “four great the­atres.” These are valu­able build­ings that wit­nessed the ori­gin of Pek­ing Opera and are very pop­u­lar in Bei­jing. Many well-known opera per­form­ers lived in the Chun­shu area in the early days of Pek­ing Opera, as it was near the play­houses in the Qian­men area. Many

fa­mous Pek­ing Opera ac­tors lived there too, in­clud­ing Yu Shuyan, who was one of the four great laosheng (se­nior male role) ac­tors; Xun Huisheng and Shang Xiaoyun, who were two of the four great dan (fe­male role) ac­tresses; dan ac­tor Zhang Jun­qiu and the fa­mous jing (male painted face role) ac­tors Jin Shaoshan and Qiu Shen­grong. This com­mu­nity helped the Chun­shu area be­come an im­por­tant part of the de­vel­op­ment of Pek­ing Opera cul­ture, along with its densely-dis­trib­uted the­atres and guild halls.

The area of­fers much po­ten­tial for the Chun­shu Cup con­test. Sev­eral years ago, the for­mer Xuanwu District un­der­took a pro­gramme in­volv­ing “cre­at­ing a cul­ture brand for each sub-district” to ex­plore and col­lect the cul­tural trea­sures scat­tered among or­di­nary peo­ple. The pro­gramme was car­ried for­ward and pro­moted by host­ing colour­ful cul­tural fes­ti­vals and ac­tiv­i­ties. Var­i­ous cul­tures were ex­plored such as the opera cul­ture in Chun­shu area, the di­a­bolo cul­ture in Guang'an­men­nei area, the Wu­douzhai stilts and folk dances in the Dashilar area and the folk art in the Tian­qiao area. By com­bin­ing these cul­tures with res­i­dents' pref­er­ences, each area formed its own dis­tinc­tive mass cul­tural brands, and the Chun­shu Cup Pek­ing Opera con­test emerged at a good time.

The first Chun­shu Cup con­test was held at Huguang Guild Hall in 2003. Or­gan­is­ers in­vited 34 con­tes­tants from 23 com­mu­ni­ties in eight sub-dis­tricts to join the con­test. Though the amount of par­tic­i­pants was not high, it was a great en­cour­age­ment to the or­gan­is­ers. Yin Shuchang is an am­a­teur per­former at the Hongx­ian Pek­ing Opera Club and helped set up the con­test. He was sat­is­fied with the re­sults. Yin re­called: “The sev­eral months of prepa­ra­tions proved worth­while, and we were happy to see the re­sults. We had no idea how many par­tic­i­pants would join the con­test when we sent in­vi­ta­tions to cul­tural cen­tres. We went back and forth sev­eral times in or­der to per­suade peo­ple to ac­cept the in­vi­ta­tion.”

Yin con­tin­ued: “I made a speech at the con­test's open­ing cer­e­mony on be­half of the am­a­teur per­form­ers from the com­mu­ni­ties. Many el­der Pek­ing Opera ac­tors were seated in the au­di­to­rium and worked as judges. Both the in­di­vid­ual con­tes­tants and group teams per­formed well. These vet­eran artists were glad to see that peo­ple wanted to con­tinue to carry opera for­ward.” Opera cul­ture was an im­por­tant part of the first Chun­shu Cup con­test. Tal­ented, am­a­teur Pek­ing Opera per­form­ers had a chance to get some ex­po­sure with the pub­lic. From then on, pro­fes­sional ac­tors and am­a­teurs from com­mu­ni­ties shared the opera stage. The con­test of­fers a plat­form for Pek­ing Opera am­a­teurs to show­case their skills and com­pete and of­fers more op­por­tu­ni­ties to in­herit and pro­mote this na­tional quin­tes­sence.

In­no­va­tion and Ex­plo­ration

The con­test has been en­gaged in ex­plo­ration since its begin­nings. It has al­ways ad­hered to the prin­ci­ple of es­tab­lish­ing its base in com­mu­ni­ties and serv­ing the res­i­dents. It has made great ef­forts in car­ry­ing for­ward and pro­mot­ing Pek­ing Opera.

Pek­ing Opera must be bet­ter in­te­grated with mod­ern life to help it de­velop in an ever-chang­ing mod­ern so­ci­ety and let peo­ple see its charm. There­fore, each con­test has a theme that is closely linked with so­cial con­text. The third Chun­shu Cup con­test was held in 2005. That year was the 60th an­niver­sary of the vic­tory of the Chi­nese Peo­ple's War of Re­sis­tance against Ja­panese Ag­gres­sion and World War II. The con­test that year added a mod­ern zhez­ixi com­pe­ti­tion themed “re­sis­tance against Ja­panese ag­gres­sion.” Zhez­ixi in­volves the high­lights of a play and can be plays made up of short scenes from longer ones. This part of the con­test en­riched var­i­ous con­tent and was fresh. Con­tes­tants and au­di­ence mem­bers could learn some his­tory from this sec­tion of the con­test.

Not only a tal­ent com­pe­ti­tion, the con­test is of ed­u­ca­tional sig­nif­i­cance and is keep­ing pace with the cur­rent era. New themes are in­tro­duced ev­ery year. The con­test in 2007 was part of the “Har­mo­nious Com­mu­ni­ties, Happy Olympics—head­ing for 2008 Bei­jing Com­mu­nity Cul­tural Ac­tiv­i­ties for Tal­ent” se­ries in the city. The qual­i­fi­ca­tion com­pe­ti­tions were held in com­mu­ni­ties across the mu­nic­i­pal­ity's 18 dis­tricts. Or­gan­is­ers chose “The Opera of Bei­jing City” theme to en­cour­age ex­ten­sive par­tic­i­pa­tion and di­vided con­tes­tants into three groups: chil­dren dressed in opera cos­tumes that sang and wore make-up, adults that sang with­out make-up, and adults that wore cos­tumes and sang and wore make-up.

The Bei­jing Sum­mer Olympics were held in 2008, and joy per­me­ated the city. The sixth Chun­shu Cup Pek­ing Opera con­test fea­tured the “Grand Olympics Build­ing Har­mony, Daz­zling Op­eras Praise the Charm of Bei­jing” theme. It se­lected award-win­ning per­for­mances from the pre­vi­ous con­tests to cel­e­brate the Olympics.

In 2009, the Sev­enth Chun­shu Cup con­test in­volved cel­e­brat­ing the 60th an­niver­sary of the found­ing of the Peo­ple's Repub­lic of China. “Pro­mot­ing Opera Art to Cel­e­brate the Birth­day of the Na­tion, Writ­ing a New Chap­ter for Pek­ing Opera” was cho­sen as its theme. It fo­cused on the singing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion of mod­ern reper­toire and col­lected works themed on the na­tion's 60th birth­day. Am­a­teurs from other cities and for­eign Pek­ing Opera fans were in­vited to par­tic­i­pate and ob­serve. Pro­fes­sional Pek­ing Opera troupes were also in­vited to give in­struc­tions and per­form.

The eighth Chun­shu Cup con­test in 2010 was a high point. The year marked the 220th an­niver­sary of the An­hui Opera Troupe en­ter­ing Bei­jing and was of great sig­nif­i­cance for Pek­ing Opera's de­vel­op­ment. The con­test con­veyed the con­cepts of in­her­it­ing and pop­u­lar­is­ing this na­tional quin­tes­sence and fea­tured more cat­e­gories for con­tes­tants. It aimed to dis­cover more young Pek­ing Opera fans. Per­form­ers were from ages 5–75, the most ex­ten­sive range of the event to date.

2018 marks the 40th an­niver­sary of China's re­form and open­ing-up, so the con­test fea­tures the “youth peo­ple in­her­it­ing na­tional quin­tes­sence and prais­ing 40-years of re­form and open­ing up” theme.

Themes that re­flected the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the era make the con­test more in­ter­est­ing. Peo­ple feel com­pelled to par­tic­i­pate, and the con­tent be­comes more colour­ful and in­no­va­tive. A great op­por­tu­nity is pro­vided for Pek­ing Opera fans of all ages to show­case their skills. Groups for the dis­abled and care-givers con­vey warmth and pos­i­tive en­ergy. The chil­dren's group and fam­ily group

bring vi­tal­ity to the con­test. It used to be dom­i­nated by el­der par­tic­i­pants. The es­tab­lish­ment of the in­no­va­tion group opens the door for Pek­ing Opera fans with fresh and bold ideas. Pek­ing Opera fans in Bei­jing have ex­changed ideas with fans from An­hui Prov­ince. The Chun­shu Cup con­test now fea­tures a net­work edi­tion. It so­licited ex­cerpts of per­for­mances from peo­ple na­tion­wide and launched an on­line vot­ing sys­tem.

The 2018 con­test fea­tured in­no­va­tion and in­ter­ac­tion. The Opera Cul­ture Sea­son of­fered an op­por­tu­nity to watch opera and other ac­tiv­i­ties such as the “Pek­ing Opera Draw­ing Ex­hi­bi­tion,”“pek­ing Opera Cos­tume Show,”“cul­tural Sea­son Logo So­lic­i­ta­tion” and “Renowned Pek­ing Opera Ac­tors Per­form­ing in Com­mu­ni­ties.” The con­test en­cour­ages am­a­teurs to create new Pek­ing Opera plays and to re­de­fine what this na­tional quin­tes­sence is. New ideas are col­lected and new con­cepts and el­e­ments are in­cor­po­rated into Pek­ing Opera.

Or­gan­is­ers en­cour­age in­no­va­tion, and Pek­ing Opera is per­formed in new ways. A large sym­phony orches­tra re­cently per­formed at the con­test. The over­all per­for­mance com­bined el­e­ments of mod­ern “crosstalk,” a dance show and Pek­ing Opera. New pos­si­bil­i­ties are be­ing ex­plored for this art form.

The Chun­shu Cup con­test has be­come a well-known event for am­a­teur Pek­ing Opera per­form­ers. Opera fans ea­gerly look for­ward to it in Bei­jing and China.

Spir­i­tual and Phys­i­cal Train­ing

Pek­ing Opera em­pha­sises per­form­ers' hands, eyes and bod­ily move­ments. These as­pects are em­bod­ied in singing, speak­ing, act­ing and ac­ro­batic fight­ing. To in­herit and de­velop the art of Pek­ing Opera, am­a­teur per­form­ers should have phys­i­cal and men­tal train­ing and a good plat­form. There is no end to this art and its learn­ing process.

Al­though the Chun­shu Cup is open to am­a­teur per­form­ers, there is still a high bar that must be cleared to par­tic­i­pate. The re­quire­ment that “all con­tes­tants sing, act and wear make-up” goes back to the Fourth Chun­shu Cup. Be­fore that, singing was per­mit­ted with­out make-up and act­ing, in ad­di­tion to the sec­tion that sang, acted and wore make-up. Ob­vi­ously, it takes more time for the group that sings and acts while wear­ing make-up to pre­pare for the stage. It costs at least an hour to do one's hair and make-up be­fore a per­for­mance. In ad­di­tion to dif­fer­ences in ap­pear­ance, singing with­out act­ing and wear­ing make-up in­volves sim­pler re­quire­ments for per­form­ers of Pek­ing Opera, who pay at­ten­tion to vo­cal mu­sic and li­bretto. Singing and act­ing with makeup re­quires the per­form­ers to have mas­tered many skills. It is said that “a minute of on­stage per­for­mance comes from 10 years of off­stage ef­forts.” Per­form­ers have to em­brace the plots in all as­pects, such as bod­ily move­ments, singing, act­ing and so on. The per­fect com­bi­na­tion of singing and act­ing is val­ued. It is of course more dif­fi­cult for a sin­gle per­son to sing and act. This reg­u­la­tion has put higher re­quire­ments on the com­mu­nity of am­a­teur per­form­ers and brought the Chun­shu Cup to a higher level of pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

Now that stan­dards are higher, will the com­pe­ti­tion shut out some am­a­teur per­form­ers who are pas­sion­ate about Pek­ing Opera? Li Dong­mei, deputy di­rec­tor of the Chun­shu Sub­dis­trict Of­fice, shook her head. “It won't hap­pen,” she said.

In­stead, am­a­teur per­form­ers who have gen­uine pas­sion for Pek­ing Opera end up im­prov­ing their abil­i­ties to adapt to the ad­justed com­pe­ti­tion re­quire­ments. Li Dong­mei has seen a change in the over­all level of the par­tic­i­pants who are in­volved with the con­test dur­ing the eight years since she took over prepa­ra­tion work for the Chun­shu Cup in 2010. She ex­plained: “In the past, many con­tes­tants chose to sing with­out act­ing or wear­ing make-up. Af­ter the reg­u­la­tions changed, they took the ini­tia­tive to study it and im­proved the move­ments of their hands, eyes and bod­ies. There is a greater aware­ness of per­form­ing. The over­all level of the per­form­ers has im­proved in re­cent years.”

Li's state­ment was ver­i­fied by the Hongx­ian Pek­ing Opera So­ci­ety. Yin Shuchang is a mem­ber. Es­tab­lished in 1997, the so­ci­ety has gained pop­u­lar­ity in the Chun­shu area and is a fre­quent guest of the Chun­shu Cup. For more than two decades, Yin and other mem­bers of the so­ci­ety have had weekly meet­ings. They are com­mit­ted do not change this sched­ule un­der any cir­cum­stances. Am­a­teur per­form­ers take turns singing at their events. Par­tic­i­pants give each other feed­back and lis­ten care­fully. The so­ci­ety has also reg­u­larly in­vited pro­fes­sional teach­ers from the cul­tural cen­tre to give lec­tures. Yin stated: “Singing, act­ing and wear­ing make-up re­quires a cer­tain de­gree of pro­fi­ciency and can be dif­fi­cult for am­a­teur per­form­ers. The cul­tural cen­tre's teach­ers help us im­prove our per­for­mances. In re­cent years, with the de­vel­op­ment of the Chun­shu Cup, am­a­teur per­form­ers from all over the coun­try have com­peted with peo­ple from the so­ci­ety. There­fore, the sit­u­a­tion is now more chal­leng­ing. Par­tic­i­pants need to con­stantly im­prove them­selves. In ad­di­tion to daily train­ing and invit­ing teach­ers, mem­bers of the so­ci­ety also travel to other prov­inces and cities from time to time to carry out in­ter­provin­cial ex­changes and build ties. They aim to ab­sorb the strengths of other groups, rec­tify their short­com­ings and de­velop the abil­ity to chore­o­graph and create with pur­pose. The so­ci­ety has been very fruit­ful. They have spe­cial “play­wrights” that in­no­vate on the reper­toire of Pek­ing Opera, and their mu­si­cal ac­com­pa­ni­ment is pro­vided by mem­bers of the so­ci­ety.

The changes in the Hongx­ian Pek­ing Opera So­ci­ety are com­mon with other groups also. In re­cent years, per­for­mances on the stage of the Chun­shu Cup have been dif­fer­ent from the past. In the early years, reper­toires were quite ho­mogenised. There is now more of a trend to­wards vari­a­tion and in­no­va­tion. In ad­di­tion to rep­utable clas­sics such as Records of the Red Lamp, Mu Guiy­ing As­sum­ing Com­mand and oth­ers, there are also less-known se­lec­tions such as Soup with Eight Trea­sures, the Block­ade with the Pearl Cur­tain and oth­ers. Some mar­tial arts-re­lated per­for­mances like Steal­ing Sil­ver from the Ex­che­quer have been staged as well. Some mu­si­cians who have been in­volved talked about what it is like to pro­vide ac­com­pa­ni­ment for these kinds of per­for­mances. Li Dong­mei sum­marised: “It is not a triv­ial chal­lenge, be­cause ac­com­pa­ni­ment mu­sic is nonex­is­tent for many se­lec­tions. Con­tes­tants are try­ing to change their se­lec­tions to avoid re­peat­ing works that other peo­ple use. This also shows that the con­tes­tants are study­ing and prac­tic­ing hard.”

Able Per­sons Come out in Suc­ces­sion

Pek­ing Opera is a na­tional per­for­mance art form and cul­tural trea­sure that needs to be car­ried for­ward. The Chun­shu Cup en­ables more and more peo­ple to en­joy the charm of Pek­ing Opera and to help main­tain and up­date this quin­tes­sence of Chi­nese cul­ture. Chun­shu Cup has fa­cil­i­tated ac­com­plish­ments by am­a­teur per­form­ers of Pek­ing Opera.

Some of the cup's per­form­ers have ap­peared be­fore the gen­eral pub­lic.

In the Eighth Chun­shu Cup, Ba­teer, a five-year-old boy play­ing a dan role, which is a fe­male role in Pek­ing Opera, made his first ap­pear­ance on­stage. He be­came pop­u­lar and won a “spe­cial spring branch award” in the chil­dren's group for his role as Con­sort Yang in Drunken Con­sort Yang. He later won first prize in the in­di­vid­ual project at the third “Na­tional Opera Cup” opera com­pe­ti­tion for stu­dents in the same year and won the top prize in the project group at the com­pe­ti­tion. He has been called “the youngest male per­former in a fe­male role in Pek­ing Opera” and “a prodigy of Pek­ing Opera.” Ba­teer later per­formed a Pek­ing Opera of the Sect of Mei Lan­fang (18941961, a renowned Pek­ing Opera per­former) at an in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural her­itage evening party in Bei­jing. Mei Bao­jiu (1934-2016), a mas­ter of Pek­ing Opera, hap­pened to see the per­for­mance and was im­pressed. Mas­ter Mei then brought Ba­teer to var­i­ous evening par­ties and other ac­tiv­i­ties. He also per­son­ally taught him and helped him de­velop. Mei ar­ranged for him to per­form at the Bei­jing Spring Fes­ti­val Gala in 2012 and 2013 as well as at the Bei­jing In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val sev­eral times. Mei Bao­jiu, Hu Wenge (1967-, a renowned Pek­ing Opera per­former) and Ba­teer rep­re­sented three gen­er­a­tions of the Pek­ing Opera Sect of Mei Lan­fang at the 2014 Hu­nan Satel­lite TV MidAu­tumn Fes­ti­val Evening Gala. They sang Drunken Con­sort Yang, which is one of the sect's clas­si­cal works. The story has been pop­u­lar in re­cent years.

Lu Wei is a Qing Yi (“black cloth,” a fe­male role in Pek­ing Opera) per­former who was born in the 1990s and is very knowl­edge­able about the art form. Pek­ing Opera has be­come a part of ev­ery­day life for him. Li Dong­mei is proud of him. She stated: “Ever since Lu Wei and I be­came friends on Wechat (Chi­nese so­cial me­dia plat­form sim­i­lar to Face­book and What­sapp) with each other, I have seen him post in­for­ma­tion about Pek­ing Opera al­most ev­ery day.” As a staunch fan of Pek­ing Opera, Lu Wei has par­tic­i­pated in com­pe­ti­tions and other Pek­ing Opera-re­lated events and ac­tiv­i­ties about of dif­fer­ent scales. He won the Golden Prize at the Fourth Na­tional Pek­ing Opera Fans and Am­a­teur Per­form­ers TV Com­pe­ti­tion. De­spite be­com­ing more pop­u­lar, Lu Wei did not for­get his orig­i­nal as­pi­ra­tions. As long as the sub-district of­fice holds ac­tiv­i­ties re­lated to Pek­ing Opera, he will al­ways make time for their events. He hopes that “ev­ery­one can sing Pek­ing Opera to­gether.” The Chun­shu Cup fea­tures am­a­teur per­form­ers who love Pek­ing Opera cul­ture like Lu Wei and helps con­tinue the art of Pek­ing Opera.

“There are many sto­ries like his that are re­lated to the Chun­shu Cup,” Li Dong­mei ex­plained. One year, the Chun­shu Cup com­pe­ti­tion co­in­cided with the first heavy snow in Bei­jing. Li wor­ried that con­tes­tants from sub­ur­ban dis­tricts and coun­ties such as Yan­qing and Fang­shan would not be able to show up. She un­ex­pect­edly found that all of the con­tes­tants were present be­fore the open­ing of the event. It turned out that many con­tes­tants checked into ho­tels in the area when they read the weather re­port, so they would not have prob­lems with trans­porta­tion.

Zhang Yi­juan (1948-2018) is a se­nior Chun­shu Cup judge as well as an opera ed­u­ca­tor a Pek­ing Opera per­former who plays fe­male roles. She has wit­nessed the growth of the Chun­shu Cup. Li Dong­mei men­tioned: “We have in­vited Teacher Zhang to be a judge at ev­ery com­pe­ti­tion. No mat­ter how busy she was, she al­ways made it and has never de­clined.” When the 15th Chun­shu Cup was held in 2017, Zhang went to the com­pe­ti­tion, con­ceal­ing an ill­ness that she had. Zhang even­tu­ally died in early 2018. Li Dong­mei be­came sad when re­call­ing what Zhang. She said that Zhang had moved her and ex­pressed the views of the older gen­er­a­tion of artists re­gard­ing Pek­ing Opera. Zhang wit­nessed the con­fi­dence of the Chun­shu Cup and its abil­ity to help carry for­ward this quin­tes­sence of Chi­nese cul­ture.

The award cer­e­mony for the 8th Chun­shu Cup con­test

Per­form­ers in their cos­tumes

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