Anhui Opera, believed to be the mother of Peking opera, can be traced back more than 300 years. Now, some elementary school performers are retracing the steps of former generations and bringing the artform back to Beijing. But they are not waiting until they reach their destination to show what they can do.
The town of Fuling, in Jixi County, is regarded as the cradle of Anhui Opera. Back in 1790, performers from Anhui traveled to Beijing to mount a production before Emperor Qianlong in celebration of his 80th birthday. From there, the artform was taken up in the capital and, combined with elements from other sources such as Hubei Opera, formed Peking opera.
Bold singing and postures are the hallmark of the Anhui original. With the guidance of their teachers, students are rehearsing ‘Flooding the Seven Armies’. This classic piece follows General Guan Yu’s victory over warlord Cao Cao, during China’s ‘Three-Kingdoms’ period, when Guan Yu gained the upper hand by drowning his enemies.
In this staging, the honor of playing Guan Yu was bestowed on a girl.
An Anhui Opera performer said: “I like to perform on stage. I also like to play Guan Yu because I feel close to his personality. Passing on Anhui Opera, which is a cultural heritage of our region, is a very significant thing. We’ll try to put on our best show for Beijing locals, let them know the beauty of our art.”
On June 28, having put on make-up and costume at the railway station, student performers treated surprised passengers to a traveling performance, to mark the opening of a new rail service between Fuzhou and Beijing.
It has been 200 years since the inaugural pilgrimage of Anhui-Opera performers to Beijing and the court of Emperor Qianlong, sowing the seeds of the quintessentially Chinese artform of Peking opera.
At the time, it took three days aboard the fastest dragon boat going through the Grand Canal, to reach the capital. But now, these student performers can traverse the distance in only four hours, proving that modern transportation not only speeds the journeys of commuters, but the transmission of culture.