Athousand-year-old art form is not only alive, but thriving in Central China.
Beizhuang is a folk art form popular among the people of Zhenxidian Village, Songxian County in Central China's Henan Province.
Passed down from generation to generation, beizhuang has developed into a complex performance featuring many aspects of the folk culture of Central China. It combines ballad singing, story telling, music, stilts-walking and acrobatics.
The performances are not only a feast to the eyes but also appealing to the ears.
Performers of beizhuang range from babies, sometimes only three months old, to older people over 60.
Like other traditional Chinese operas, the roles on the beizhuang stage fall into four categories: sheng (male), dan (young female), jing (painted face, male) and chou (clown, male or female). These roles can be loyal or treacherous, beautiful or ugly, good or bad, but all vividly manifested.
Performers are divided into several groups to present different scenes.
Each group is comprised of young children and experienced adult performers. Generally young children are placed on a prop which is an iron rack designed for the scene.
The adult performer ties the prop around his waist and shoulders.
In each performance the adult performer shoulders the weight of the child and the rack - between 25 and 40 kilograms.
The performance of beizhuang is accompanied by an orchestra of a dozen musicians playing traditional instruments like suona, gong and drum.
The classic tune which was first created by the villagers' ancestors has been passed down for generations.
The number of performers can range from over 100 to only a dozen. It mostly depends on the different repertoires.
Most of the repertoires have been adapted from historical events and folk legends, such as "Xiyouji (Journey to the West)," and "Baishe Zhuan (White Snake)."
Beizhuang used to be performed in the village, especially on festive occasions. Over the past few years, the folk art form has attracted increasing attention outside the village.
(China Daily December 10, 2003)