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Hainan opera

en.visithainan.gov.cn | Updated: 2018-01-03

Hainan opera has been a part of Hainan Island culture since three hundred years ago. From the 1740s to the 1790s the number of theatre halls in Haikou where operas were performed for the locals started to slowly grow. But the popularity for the art soared when Huang Kuangsheng, a renowned Hainan opera singer (1875 – 1908), arrived. 

The next hundred years was a century of turbulence for Hainan opera, and by 1939 it was already in decline. In the decade from 1966 to 1976 it suffered further setbacks with troupes being dismissed, schools being closed and music scores and other materials irretrievably being lost. 1978 saw a change in fortune and Hainan opera took a turn for the better as schools reopened, costumes were dusted down and music and singing filled the halls once again. By 1982 troupes were performing in China's Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia.

Hainan opera has three genres, namely drama, action and modern. Currently there are approximately 1,500 classical or traditional plays which encompass drama and action with modern plays. The five classic character roles are sheng, dan, jing, mo and chou, each of which can be further divided into various types of characters and (very) roughly translate into young handsome male, elegant female, colorful character, bearded character and extras.

The older generations of Hainanese are particularly passionate about their opera, for them it's more than just music, it's rather a part of their cultural heritage, a link to previous generations and the history of where they came from. Hainan opera is a reflection of their values, attitudes and communities and they pack out opera halls for professional performances and flock to local parks in the city to enjoy Sunday morning amateur shows. At the start of this new century though, it appears as if the turbulent times for Hainan opera may not be over.

Culture is not static, it develops and changes as people adapt to new, more modern ways of life or are influenced by mass media and popular and international culture as they strive to create new identities for themselves. Connections with cultural heritage can be lost; traditions may come to be seen as archaic and no longer relevant, and even unnecessary in these modern times.

With seventeen professional and more than one hundred amateur opera troupes currently performing in Hainan, Hainan opera seems to be in safe hands for the moment. But there is no doubt that Hainan opera will face a significant challenge in the years to come as it strives to re-engage the internet generations.


Hainan opera [Photo/en.visithainan.gov.cn]


Performance of the Hainan opera [Photo/en.visithainan.gov.cn]