At the annual session of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, or CPPCC, held on March 4, Mo Yan presented his views on the protection and innovation of the local folk opera Maoqiang, which originated in his beloved hometown, Gaomi, in Shandong province.
“Maoqiang opera from Gaomi used to be popular in Weifang, Shandong province. When the troupe went on a performance tour, audiences would crowd at the theater at noon even if the show would be on late at night. However, such a scene has become a rarity left in memory.” The Nobel Prize laureate worried about the inheritance and development of Chinese traditional art forms.
Maoqiang opera is a folk opera style developed from local folk songs and gained popularity in the 1860s. It originated in the Jiaozhou area of the Jiaodong Peninsula in eastern China. In 2006, it was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage. Mo Yan’s novel, Sandalwood Death, is written in the style of Maoqiang opera and its English translation was published in 2013.
Chen Xiaoming, a professor in the Chinese Department at Peking University, said that Mo Yan’s works are reflections of China in its transformation. Through literature, Mo speaks on his concerns on the timeless topic of humanity confronting traditional customs and modern culture, the loss of local features due to urbanization and the alienation of history as well as national identity.
According to Gaomi’s publicity officer, the local government has budgeted over 300,000 yuan ($) to collect lost traditional pieces scattered in small theaters or with old performers, and a training school has been built to cultivate new performers of Maoqiang opera.
These measures are just the beginning. In Mo Yan’s eyes, audiences are the key to bringing the traditional art back to life. “What government does is simply to maintain the art form, without audiences, it can never make a difference,” he said.
Maoqiang opera is not the only traditional art that is in danger. By the end of 2014, over 162 traditional operas had been added to the list of national intangible cultural heritage, while the performances are still in decline. Statistics show that over 150 folk operas have become extinct in this decade.
The biggest challenge facing traditional opera is the rising tide of contemporary culture. When asked about practical solutions, Mo Yan said, “Though I am concerned about it, I am not an expert in this field. But I should say that good art creation is not a result of government funds or supports, it must keep up pace with the time and access to the people.”
Mo Yan also presented a suggestion concerning preschool education this year, focusing on education in rural areas.