NANNING, Oct. 26 (Xinhua) — As a veteran performer of Zhuang Opera, Ha Dan has made it her life-long mission to keep the over 200-year-old ethnic art alive.
Zhuang Opera, originating in south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, features a call-and-response style, in which the chief performer sings the main storyline while the supporting performers, often donning colorful costumes, chant along.
A national intangible cultural heritage, it draws its musical inspirations from ordinary people’s lives in different times of history.
However, for quite a long time, the traditional art had fallen out of favor among the young generation, who were more attracted to modern appeals such as movies and digital entertainment.
“Since the 1990s when many Zhuang Opera theaters were converted to cinemas, we barely had a chance to perform for years,” Ha recalled. “We didn’t even know whether the opera would survive.”
“It would be a great pity if the traditional opera was extinct while the country is on a fast track to prosperity,” Ha said.
At that time, the number of Zhuang Opera performers was drastically declining. In 1995 alone, 30 of 40 performers in Ha’s troupe chose to quit.
Although Ha chose to stay, she had to moonlight at a local nightclub to support herself financially. She made 150 times more money from singing pop songs than she did from performing Zhuang Opera.
Lyu Guangdong, head of an opera troupe in Bobai County of Guangxi, had the same predicament. He rented the stage of his theater to a model training agency, which was “the only way to pay the 30 performers in my troupe,” Lyu said.
“I wanted to keep performing,” said Lyu, who inherited the role of the troupe head from his grandfather. “When the music starts, I often think of my grandfather. When we perform, it is as if he were present.”
In recent years, Zhuang Opera has made a surprise comeback, with its box office being on the rise across the country.
Experts believe that the resurgence of the traditional opera, like that of traditional clothing and songs, is part of a larger trend to prize tradition, as the increasingly wealthy and modernized Chinese seek to reconnect with their cultural roots.
“It’s cool to watch the same opera that our ancestors used to enjoy hundreds of years ago,” said Wang Xuemeng, 22, a senior from Shandong University of Finance and Economics. “The opera embodies a deep sense of our national sentiment.”
In recent years, the Chinese government has also made great efforts to preserve and develop traditional art forms.
Since 2006, the State Council has listed 1,372 projects as national intangible heritages and provided support to many traditional artists.
In a guideline issued by the central government in 2017, China also aimed to promote traditional Chinese opera in all schools by the end of 2020.
“I’m glad to see that many youths in China have now rekindled their love of traditional culture after Western culture swept the world in the last century,” said Zhou Qiang, deputy director of a traditional opera study center in Guilin, a city in Guangxi.
This year, Ha has performed in more than 100 shows. “I treasure the opportunity of being on stage as if it were my life,” she said.