Gourd Engraving: Li Yu Cheng 葫芦: 李玉成
Cultural Heritage

Painting of two opera performers in flowing costumesThe Peking Opera is popular, and its characters are often portrayed on gourds. Dough flower characters are also often related to the opera. Villagers often participate in the operas, which are held in the markets where there is a lot of activity. It is believed that if you worship a god, he will be there, which is the purpose of the operas. Villagers will often pay to be in the opera, because it is not only for their own enjoyment, but for the gods’ pleasure as well. The opera is one of the many forms of folk art that is deeply related to the gods.

Engraved gourdEngraved gourdGourds were originally used as cricket cages. There are two kinds of cricket cages: one is for crickets that are kept for their sounds, and there is the other that is for fighting crickets. If the gourd is for a sound cricket, there will be holes in the cage. The cricket culture of China includes a two thousand year history of singing and fighting crickets. Before the Tang Dynasty (500 BCE- 618 CE) people enjoyed the strong melodies of crickets. During the dynasty (618-906 CE) people began to keep the crickets in captivity to listen to the music they made. In the Song dynasty (960-1278 CE) cricket fighting became widely popular as a sport. During this time it became a popular game and sport for both adults and children. During the Qing dynasty the government officially banned cricket fighting because of its growing popularity. Although it is not banned now, it is illegal to bet on cricket fights. Today, crickets are still popular for their songs and their fighting and can be found in markets and on streets in many Chinese cities.

Peking Opera History

Painting depicting three soldiers on horseback
As an art form combining music, vocal performance, mime, dance, fighting and acrobatics, Peking Opera (also known as Beijing opera) has achieved great success in modern Chinese history and is regarded as one of the cultural treasures of China.

Painting of opera performer with a fan and umbrellaPeking Opera developed in Beijing through the integration of various local styles of Chinese opera. In 1790, four great Anhui troupes came from southern China. Their performance overwhelmed Qinqiang, the local Beijing singing style, and Kunqu, a Chinese opera style that had been quite popular. Many performers started to perform in the new style, and this formed the initial platform for the formation of Peking Opera. Then, around 1828, some Hubei troupes came to Beijing and brought with them another singing style, Hantiao. Hubei troupes often performed jointly on stage with Anhui troupes. As it continued to develop in Beijing, the newly formed opera style was recognized as Peking Opera. Peking Opera developed quickly and was extremely popular in the Qing Dynasty.

Painting of opera performerPainting of opera performerThe Peking Opera repertoire includes nearly 1,400 works and is mainly taken from historical novels, fairy tales, and traditional stories about imperial dynasties, emperors, ministers, and geniuses. There are some particularly famous operas, such as “Journey to the West”, which is based on a great classical novel describing the challenges and struggles faced by Sun Wokong, a monkey-like immortal, on his journey with his companions to obtain a copy of the Buddhist sutras. “Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy” is one of the eight model plays, which were the only plays permitted during the Cultural Revolution in China. This play describes how a communist outwitted a nationalist by strategy and disguise on Tiger Mountain. “Farewell to My Concubine” is a well-known historical story that portrays the confusion of war in the period between the Qin and Han dynasties, and the love between emperor and empress.

Painting of two opera performersPainting of two opera performersPeking opera follows along with other traditional Chinese arts by emphasizing meaning rather than accuracy. The artistic goal of Peking Opera is beauty in every motion and song. With simple gestures, the performer is required to focus on the expression of their character’s complicated emotions. The layers of meaning within each movement must be expressed in time with music. Peking Opera is important to Chinese culture, as its performance style, constuming,and even make up all follow traditional Chinese aesthetics. Also, its music developed from earlier local Chinese operas that included arias, fixed-tune melodies, and percussion patterns. Just like Shakespeare’s plays, the lyrics of Peking opera include elements that suit both refined and popular tastes.