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Traditional Shaoxing Opera Faces Survival Crisis

The traditional Chinese Shaoxing opera celebrated its centennial on Monday but behind its glorious history and grand official celebrations, one could detect its loneliness in the face of modern crazes.

Shaoxing opera was born in China's eastern province of Zhejiang, a coastal city that has always boasted one of the most developed economies in the country and where new fashions and ideas originate.

Opera borrowed many themes from drama and the movies, which were both brand new art forms, and made itself the representative of the pioneer culture about 100 years ago.

But nowadays, as pop music from the America and the Europe become the rage in China and the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Japanese movies and TV series are fighting for the prime-time evening slot, Shaoxing opera is struggling for survival.

The market of the opera is shrinking dramatically as it remains popular only with the older generation.

According to the Zhejiang provincial cultural department, the majority of audiences of China's second largest traditional opera are above 40. And Many teenagers know nothing about Shaoxing opera and have never been to the theatre.

Yang Jianxin, head of the department, said it is understandable that the youngsters are crazy for other art forms but not the traditional operas because "there are abundant artistic and cultural products and the young people have many different choices."

The official acknowledged that the largest problem for Shaoxing opera today is how to become acceptable to the young.
"Shaoxing opera is losing young audience and one of the major reasons is that the art forms of our traditional operas are not familiar to this group."

Not only the Shaoxing opera but all the Chinese traditional operas are endangered by the current crazes.

China's famous scholar Yu Qiuyu said the opera was also a kind of craze which merely met people's aesthetic demands during a certain period.

Yu said it is inevitable that the traditional art forms are substituted by some new ones and people do not have the right to, and actually will not, place traditional culture ahead of the latest crazes.

"Just like the Yuan opera, though it only existed for 75 years, it still enjoyed a remarkable status in China's cultural history," Yu said.

Yet people still do not want to see its extinction.

To save the Kunqu Opera, the forefather of all the Chinese traditional operas, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization added it to the list to be the first batch of the world oral and nonmaterial legacy.

"Looking back over the past century, experience tells us that the revitalization of Shaoxing opera will only hinge on innovation and reform," said Mao Weitao, the ace actress of the Shaoxing opera in China today.

She said her success is down to a successful round of innovation in Shaoxing opera in the 1990s.

The traditional opera should incorporate fashionable elements, which will bring it new vigor and enable it to survive and even thrive, Mao said.

So, on her 100th anniversary, Shaoxing opera, for the first time in history, entered the pub, which was seen as a good attempt to appeal to the youth.

Shanghai Shaoxing opera troupe opened a Shaoxing opera blog on the Internet inviting people, especially the young, to express their opinions toward this traditional art form.

"No matter what the outcome of the attempts are, we will never give up our trying efforts," said Mao, adding that her biggest aspiration is to see Shaoxing opera regain its charm and beauty in this special year.

(Xinhua News Agency March 30, 2006)

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