Chinese traditional opera, Greek tragedy and comedy, and Indian Sanskrit opera are considered as the world's three ancient operas. China boasts more than 300 kinds of traditional opera, mainly using singing and dancing to express the plot. At present, thousands of plays are performed on the stage every year, adding variety to people's cultural life. The Plum Blossom Award founded in 1983 is China's highest prize for opera performers of young and middle age. To date the prestigious award has gone to 460 actors and actresses of 47 kinds of opera, hailing from 29 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities directly under the Central Government, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
Peking Opera (evolved from Kunqu Opera, an even more ancient type of drama) is the most popular and influential opera form. It took shape in the early 19th century in Beijing and combines singing, music, chanting, dancing and martial arts. In over 200 years, Peking Opera has developed over a thousand plays of high artistic value, as well as sets of musical modes and stylized performance movements. Following outstanding Peking Opera performers including Mei Lanfang, Cheng Yanqiu, Ma Lianliang, Zhou Xinfang and Du Jinfang, the emergence of many young artistes has continued to breathe new life into Peking Opera.
In the past few years, the bold experiment by the Peking Opera Theatre of China of combining western symphony with the traditional Peking Opera, won high praise from fellow-professionals. Another important achievement was the recording of 355 classic Peking Operas; classic arias sung by 47 famous performers between the 1940s and the 1960s were collected and paired with acting of young performers, in order to preserve and transmit them down the ages.
Whilst preserving the foundations on which their traditions are based, local operas have made continuous reforms and innovations. Popular local operas include Yueju (Shaoxing Opera from Zhejiang), Huangmeixi (from Anhui), Chuanju (Sichuan Opera), Yuju (Henan Opera), and Yueju (Guangdong Opera). Bold, unconstrained and unique, Tibetan Opera is imbued with religious and Tibetan ethnic flavor.
Modern drama was introduced from abroad in the 20th century, realistic and expressionistic plays being staged for the first time in the 1920s. Chinese drama came of age in the 1930s. During this period, the great dramatist Cao Yu wrote three plays whose profound connation and maturity of style won them the status of classics of Chinese theater -- Thunderstorm, Sunrise and The Wilderness. Today these three plays are still staged and have been adapted into movies and TV dramas many times.
The works of the Beijing People's Art Theater, founded in 1952, represent the high point of Chinese theater. Teahouse and Dragon Beard Ditch staged by this theater have become famous both at home and abroad. During the past two decades, this theater has presented over 80 new dramas, 12 repertory plays, many of which never grow out of date and are always fully booked for every performance.
Avant-garde drama has won quite a large following amongst young people. This genre, performed in small theaters and using modern expressive technique, mainly focuses on themes of modern life. Director Meng Jinghui is the leading exponent of such drama.