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Yue opera

Cantonese opera is one of the major categories in Chinese opera, originating in southern China's Cantonese culture. It is popular in Guangdong, Guangxi, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Malaysia. Like all versions of Chinese opera, it is a traditional Chinese art form, involving music, singing, martial arts, acrobatics, and acting.

Guangdong's Music scene is a treasure trove of the instrumental folk and Cantonese opera music that has been traveling around the Pearl River Delta area for centuries.


There is a debate about the origins of Cantonese opera, but it is generally accepted that the opera form was imported from the northern part of China and slowly migrated to the southern province of Guangdong in late 13th century, during the late Southern Song Dynasty. In the 12th century, there was a theatrical form called "Southern style" , which was performed in public theaters of Hangzhou, then capital of the Southern Song Dynasty.

With the invasion of the Mongol army, Emperor Gong of Song dynasty, called Zhào Xiǎn , fled with hundreds of thousands of Song people into the province of Guangdong in 1276. Among these people were some Narm hei artists from the north. Thus narm hei was brought into Guangdong by these artists and developed into the earliest kind of Cantonese opera. Many well-known operas performed today, such as The Purple Hairpin and Rejuvenation of the Red Plum Flower, originated in the Yuan Dynasty, with the lyrics and scripts in Cantonese. Until the 20th century all the female roles were performed by males. Beginning in the 1950s massive waves of immigrants fled Shanghai to destinations like North Point. Their arrival boosted the Cantonese opera fanbase significantly.


Cantonese opera has much in common with other Chinese theatre genres. Commentators often take pride in the idea that all Chinese theatre styles are but minor variations on a pan-Chinese music-theater tradition, and that the basic features or principles are consistent from one local performance form to another. Thus, music, singing, martial arts, acrobatics and acting all feature. Most of the plots are based on Chinese history and famous Chinese classics and myths. The culture and philosophies of the Chinese people can be seen in the plays. Virtues like loyalty, moral, love, patriotism and faithfulness are often reflected by the operas.

Some particular features of Cantonese opera are:

Cing sik sin (程式煽) - formulaic, formalised.
Heoi ji seng (虛擬醒) - abstraction of reality, distancing from reality.
Sin ming sing (鮮明勝) - clear-cut, distinct, unambiguous, well-defined.
Zung hap ngai seot jing sik (綜合藝術形式;) - a composite or synthetic art form.
Sei gung ng faat (四功五法) - the four skills and the five methods, a simple codification of the basic skills and techniques of acting and singing.

The "four skills" and "five methods" are a simple codification of the areas of special training for theatre performers, and also stand as something of a metaphor for the most well-rounded and thoroughly trained performers. The "four skills" apply to the whole spectrum of vocal and dramatic training: singing, acting and movement, delivery of the "speech-types" and martial and "gymnastic skills," while the five methods are categories of techniques associated with specific body parts: hands, eyes, body, hair, feet or walking techniques.


Other than being simply a form of entertainment, it can carry messages or lessons, which was particularly important before widespread formal education. The government often used theatre to promote the idea of be loyal to the emperor and love the kingdom. Because of this, the theatre was often examined by the government. If the underlying message was not considered beneficial, the theatre would be banned. As time progresses, fewer and fewer performance houses are also left to preserve the art, an example is Hong Kong's Sunbeam Theatre, which remains one of the last facilities dedicated to the Cantonese genre.

Types of play

There are two types of Cantonese opera plays: Mou (武, "martial arts") and Man (文, "highly educated", esp. in poetry and culture). Mou plays emphasize war, the characters usually being generals or warriors. These works contain action scenes and involve a lot of weaponry and armour. Man plays tend to be gentler and more elegant. Scholars are the main characters in these plays. Water sleeves (see Frequently Used Terms) are used extensively in man plays to produce movements reflecting the elegance and tenderness of the characters; all female characters wear them. In man plays, characters put a lot of effort into creating distinctive facial expressions and gestures to express their underlying emotions.


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