Kun Qu opera
Inscribed in 2008 (3.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (originally proclaimed in 2001)
- Kun Qu opera
- © Chinese Academy of Arts
Kun Qu Opera developed under the Ming dynasty (fourteenth to seventeenth centuries) in the city of Kunshan, situated in the region of Suzhou in southeast China. With its roots in popular theatre, the repertory of songs evolved into a major theatrical form. Kun Qu is one of the oldest forms of Chinese opera still performed today.
It is characterized by its dynamic structure and melody (kunqiang) and classic pieces such as the Peony Pavilion and the Hall of Longevity. It combines song and recital as well as a complex system of choreographic techniques, acrobatics and symbolic gestures. The opera features a young male lead, a female lead, an old man and various comic roles, all dressed in traditional costumes. Kun Qu songs are accompanied by a bamboo flute, a small drum, wooden clappers, gongs and cymbals, all used to punctuate actions and emotions on stage. Renowned for the virtuosity of its rhythmic patterns (changqiang), Kun Qu opera has had a considerable influence or more recent forms of Chinese opera, such as the Sichuan or Beijing opera.
The opera has suffered a gradual decline since the eighteenth century because of the high-level technical knowledge it also requires from its audience. Of the 400 arias regularly sung in opera performances in the mid-twentieth century, only a few dozen continue to be performed. The Kun Qu opera survived through the efforts of dedicated connoisseurs and various supporters who seek to attract the interest of a new generation of performers.
These videos (and many more) can also be consulted through the UNESCO Archives Multimedia website
Safeguarding project (05-2002/12-2002)
Rooted in popular theatre, Kun Qu influenced many other forms of Chinese opera. It is characterized by a dynamic structure, rhythmic patterns, typical melodies and complex choreography combining acrobatics and symbolic gestures. Kun Qu is considered the oldest form of Chinese opera still performed.
This project funded the annual National Kunqu Festival in Suzhou, China, where twenty-one prizes were awarded to performers from Kunqu opera schools across the country. The project also enabled many famous Kunqu artists to give training courses to over two hundred students from numerous Kunqu companies. Furthermore, these events and training sessions generated increased awareness regarding the significance of transmitting the Kunqu performing arts. The project also mobilized local, regional and national institutions, which have initiated activities and policies to enhance the dissemination of Kunqu opera.