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Performing Arts


( UNESCO Masterpiece: Proclamation 2001 )

Kunqu Opera


(from left)
1) Beifang Kunqu Dandaohui written by Guan Hanqing, performed on the stage. (Hou Yongkui acts as Guan Yu, Cheng Zengkui as Zhou Cang )
2) Kunqu Mudanting performed on the stage. (Yan Huizhu as Du Linniang, Yue Meiti as Chun Xiang )
(c) Traditional Opera Research Institute of Chinese Academy of Arts

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The performance of Kunqu is a mutual cooperated art with various kinds of performing mediums e.g. singing, dancing, presenting and reciting.

Reasons for selection


Area where performed

Kunqu originated around Kunshan, Jiangsu province and it is handed down in the area of Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Shanghai and Beijing and other places.

Essential elements of the performing art

Music, Dance, Theatre

Detailed explanation

In the late the Yuan Dynasty, the Nanxi opera was spreading around Kun Shan area. It combined the local dialogue with the music of the area, and then was sung and improved by a musician whose name was Gu Jian, so Kunqu was formed. During the Jiaqing emperor's reign in the Min Dynasty, Wei Liangfu, a musician, summed up the achievements of Kunqu's performance, and absorbed the quintessence of the Haiyan Qiang and Yiyang Qiang music, and finally transformed and promoted the art of Kunqu and created shimodiao (a Chinese traditional opera tune). Thereafter, a legend of Kunqu Wanshaji written by Liang Shengyu was performed on the stage, it broadened the influence of Kunqu. Kunqiang (a rhythm scheme)became one of the four shengqiang (music tune)of Nanxi opera and leaped to the most important position during the Wan Li emperor's reign in the Ming Dynasty. After it spread in Beijing, Kunqu became a traditional opera of the whole country. The division of roles of Kunqu is meticulous and its rhythm scheme is exquisite, mild, smooth and melodious. The accompaniment instruments are normally the xiao (bamboo flute), the sheng, and pipa, etc.

Publication and textual documentation

HU Ji and LIU Zhizhong
1989 Kunjufazhanshi History of Kun Qu Opera .
Beijing: Theatrical Publishing House of China. In Chinese.

The repertoires of Kunqu reserved highlights from operas include 400 items totally. Pipaji, Jinchaji, Beiyuting, Mudanting, etc. have the whole musical notation or almost complete music notation on the gongchepu notation (a traditional Chinese musical notation). Now the qupu of the highlights from operas are stocked like: Nashiyinqupu, Ehyungequpu, Liuyequpu, the Encyclopedia of Kun Qu and the Collection of Qu Pu, etc. Notes of Examining and Appreciating the Ancient Operas is a shengduanpu (the register of dancer's posture)of the early time.

Audio documentation


Visual documentation

Shiwuguan and Xiyuanji were shot to films.

Institution/organisation involved in preservation and promotion


Data provider

Mr. Wang Ankui
Traditional Opera Research Institute of Chinese Academy of Arts
Address: 17 Qianhai Xijie, Beijing, 100009, China