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Peking inside the classroom
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A girl from a Peking Opera class in a kindergarten gives a performance for primary school students in Harbin, Heilongjiang province. Zhang Qingyun

The image of a huge cartoon monkey, wearing a bright red Peking Opera mask, is projected on a school classroom wall behind a plump young man, making soft gestures with his not-so-slim fingers. The unexpected visitor - a traditional Peking Opera character - causes the 30 students to erupt with excitement.

Ma Yu's drawing class differs from others thanks to the use of videos projected on the wall. The moving images feature Peking Opera stunts, delicate costumes, legendary Chinese figures and complicated weapons. To boost the mood, background music of clanging drums is added.

"I like painting colors on the masks of different Peking Opera figures like the Monkey King," says Wang Jinghao, an 11-year-old boy, closely following the antics of the monkey making faces on the screen.

Fascinated by Peking Opera from the age of 12, Ma discovered a way to share his passion with students at the Nanluogu Xiang Primary School - one of the very last alley (hutong) schools in Beijing.

"Peking Opera reflects the unique aesthetic view of the East: implicit, profound and symbolic. The kids should know something about it," says the softly spoken, well-groomed 33-year-old.

Ma was unaware the Ministry of Education had launched a pilot program in late February to introduce Peking Opera into 20 elementary and middle schools in 10 provinces. The program teaches 15 arias - a solo vocal piece - with the aim to promote and revitalize traditional Chinese culture.

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