Wu Rujun, director of the Peking Opera in Japan: How to let the beauty of Peking Opera infiltrate the hearts of overseas audiences? (2023)

Highlights: Wu Rujun was born into a family of Peking Opera artists in China. After living in Japan, he created "Wu's New Peking opera" "Linshui Niangniang" is scheduled to open in Tokyo in May this year. The original intention of the creation was to hope that China and Japan would be friendly and promote cultural exchanges between the two countries. "Mei Lanfang fever" in the Taisho period in Japan. How to let overseas audiences feel the charm of Posing Opera.

The new Peking opera "Linshui Niangniang" is scheduled to open in Tokyo in May this year. The original intention of the creation was to hope that China and Japan would be friendly and promote cultural exchanges between the two countries.

Tokyo, April 4 (ZXS) -- How to let the beauty of Peking Opera infiltrate the hearts of overseas audiences?

——Interview with Wu Rujun, president of the Peking Opera in Japan

China News Agency reporter Zhu Chenxi

Wu Rujun was born into a family of Peking Opera artists in China and studied Peking Opera and Jinghu since childhood. After living in Japan, he created "Wu's New Peking Opera" such as "Guifei Dongdu", "Wu Zetian" and "Mengmu Sanqian", which were loved by Japanese audiences. How did the "Meilanfang" of the Taisho period in Japan come about? How to let overseas audiences feel the charm of Peking Opera? Recently, Wu Rujun, president of the Peking Opera in Japan, accepted an exclusive interview with the China News Agency's "East-West Question" to discuss the above topics.

The following is a summary of the interview:

China News Agency: Drama exchanges between China and Japan have a long history. Peking Opera master Mei Lanfang once visited Japan to perform, which triggered the "Mei Lanfang fever" in the Taisho period in Japan. How do you think the "Merlin fever" came about?

Wu Rujun: In 1919, Mei Lanfang's first overseas performance was selected in Japan, and then he performed in Japan twice in 1924 and 1956, showing the charm of Chinese Peking Opera to Japanese audiences. Mei Lanfang is a representative figure of Chinese opera, and when he performed in Japan in 1919, he performed masterpieces of Mei Pai opera such as Peking Opera "Guifei Drunk" and "Heavenly Lady Scattered Flowers", and his performance of the characters was vivid and fascinating.

In order to narrow the distance with foreign audiences, Mei Lanfang and playwright Qi Rushan and others added a lot of dance elements to the repertoire. The ratio of dancing and singing is always there. For example, "The Concubine Drunk" added a water sleeve dance; In "Heavenly Lady Scattered Flowers", Mei Lanfang's costume is like a lotus blooming when she dances, which brings visual impact to the audience. The adaptation increases the appreciation of Peking Opera, and also allows Japanese audiences to feel the charm of Peking Opera.

After the conclusion of the Sino-Japanese Treaty of Peace and Friendship, Sakato Yuzaburo and other famous Japanese kabuki artists went to China to learn "The Lady Drunk" from Mei Baojiu, the son of Mei Lanfang. The friendship between Mei Baoyue and Mei Baojiu and famous Japanese kabuki masters has been passed down as a good story in the pear gardens of the two countries.

In 2001, the "Mei Lanfang Peking Opera Troupe" led by Mei Baojiu, a descendant of Mei Pai, was held in Tokyo, Japan. The picture shows Mei Baojiu playing Yang Guifei in "Concubine Drunk". Photo by Tao Guangxiong

China News Agency: China and Japan belong to the East Asian cultural circle and have deep roots in the field of traditional culture. What do you think are the similarities and differences between Peking Opera and traditional Japanese dramas such as Kabuki?

Wu Rujun: Mei Lanfang once said that traditional Chinese and Japanese dramas "are inextricably linked, and they hear each other's breath and breathe together." In terms of theater art, both China and Japan attach great importance to traditional culture, and most of the drama content is based on traditional stories, which has literary similarities. Traditional Japanese theatrical costumes are more similar to those of the Han and Tang dynasties in China. In terms of stage art, traditional Chinese and Japanese dramas have classical elements such as mountains, water, and green pines, and are presented through abstract anime-style design, giving people a sense of closeness.

Traditional Chinese and Japanese dramas seem to give the impression of being close together, but a closer comparison reveals that the difference is very far. In Japanese Kabuki, Noh and Kyogen performances, the performers do not sing themselves, but are accompanied by accompaniment. Chinese opera combines singing, chanting, playing and dancing. In traditional Japanese theater performances, the performers sometimes do not take a step for half a day, and sometimes suddenly there is a relatively large movement. The steps of Peking Opera are the outer eight characters, and the steps of Japanese kabuki, Noh and Kyogen are the inner eight characters, which shows the difference between the traditional theatrical performance styles of the two countries. I summarize the performance style of Chinese opera as "movement in motion", and the Japanese performance style as "still in motion".

Japanese Kabuki performance. Photo by Liao Lihua

In terms of clothing, Japanese theater costumes are larger, have longer hems, and are thicker overall, so they move slowly. Peking Opera costumes are lighter in comparison. Influenced by steps and costumes, there are no carpets on the Kabuki stage, and Peking Opera performances require carpets to increase resistance and friction so that the actors can stand firmly.

In terms of makeup, Kabuki is mainly on a white background, and Peking Opera makeup is mainly on a red background. Peking Opera makeup is rich in color, and red orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple will be used on different face characters such as loyal courtiers and traitors to present the characters' personalities, reflecting the face art of Peking Opera.

In 2015, young artists from China and Japan joined forces to bring the classic Peking Opera plays "Farewell My Concubine" and "Da Dengden" to the stage of the Mei Lanfang Grand Theatre in Beijing. The picture shows the curtain call of young Chinese and Japanese artists. Photo by Pan Xulin

China News Agency: What explorations and efforts have you made to promote Peking Opera in Japan? What are the characteristics of your "Wu's New Peking Opera"?

Wu Rujun: At the beginning of my stay in Japan, when I performed Peking Opera, I found that the applause of most Japanese audiences was only courtesy. Due to the breadth and depth of Chinese opera, it is difficult for foreign audiences to truly understand the content for a while when they enjoy it. So, while I was engaged in creative work, I conducted academic exchanges at universities and gave lectures to the public.

The development of Chinese Peking Opera has been from "traditional opera" to "new historical drama" to "modern opera". In order to attract more audiences and young people to appreciate Peking Opera, I decided to innovate Peking Opera, make it popular and popular, and make it more international and vibrant. I have successively created more than 10 large-scale original plays such as "Guifei Dongdu", "Wu Zetian", "Four Beautiful Pictures", "Three Sisters of the Song Family", "Mengmu Three Migrations", "Our Lady of Kong" and "Love Guanyin". These "Wu's New Peking Opera" have been well received in Japan.

Wu Rujun performs "Mengmu Three Migrations". Photo courtesy of interviewee

According to the beginning and transition of the plot, I added Chinese folk dance, classical dance, ballet and modern dance to avoid the monotony of the stage and make it more visible. Dancing is also added between the three to five minutes of scenes, so that the audience's attention is in a relatively concentrated state and can always follow the development of the plot. At the same time, I also added the concept of theme music and character music to the play. Peking Opera is composed of two basic tones, "Xipi" and "Erhuang", and expresses the content alternately by the song card and the skin yellow, and there is no expression form of melody and theme music. I created theme music based on the storyline, expressed the story with music, and then put the melody of the character music representing each character throughout the singing voice to present a catchy singing passage. The theme music includes elements of Peking Opera and Kunqu opera, as well as elements of Chinese folk minor tunes, Western music and electronic vocal music.

Wu Rujun performs "Zetian the Great". Photo courtesy of interviewee

In terms of Peking Opera costume design, the color of traditional Peking Opera costumes is relatively single, and I boldly made some innovations, making full use of color to enhance the three-dimensional sense of clothing. In terms of stage, I borrowed the Japanese "Super Kabuki" and brought the visuals, sound, lighting and other expression techniques of the film to the stage to make the performance more modern. The use of new stage optoelectronic technology, new landscape props, lighting and sound makes the new Peking Opera not only an appreciation of singing and doing kung fu, but also a feast of sound and light dance.

Wu Rujun performs "Qixi Love". Photo courtesy of interviewee

In addition, I have combined Jinghu with foreign electroacoustic instrumental music to create more than 100 Jinghu light music songs such as "Dreamland", "Happy Bird", "Prayer" and "Spring Breeze", which are loved by Japanese audiences. In Jinghu light music, I added tunes such as rumba, disco, tango, etc., and rearranged traditional tunes into serenades. These pieces of music share a common theme – great love and peace.

China News Agency: You have extensively absorbed the directors of the major genres of Peking Opera to form the "Wu Clan Tsing Yi" singing method. How did you discover this unique way of singing?

Wu Rujun: When I sang in Peking Opera, I did not deliberately imitate any one faction. Because everyone's vocal cords are different, the length, short, thin and thick are different. You should sing according to the inner world of the characters you experience, so that the singing will be vivid and natural. I think that for male dan's singing, because the male vocal cords themselves are generous, if you simply imitate a male dan during the learning process, it will be "magnified", and the male voice characteristics will be more obvious. I once learned from Du Jinfang, the actor of Wu Qinghua in the Peking Opera "Red Women's Army". In addition, some female singers in folk song singing, the portrayal of details is also worth learning from male dan. If you can put the crisp sweetness of the female voice into the male dan's singing, it will be attractive.

Wu Rujun performs "Qixi Love". Photo courtesy of interviewee

If you just rigidly imitate a certain sect, it must be a dead end. Not only will you never learn like it, but the more you learn, the less it will be. In Peking Opera performances, the most important thing is a humble attitude to learning. I borrowed and absorbed everything I thought was good in my singing.

Wu Rujun performs "Qixi Love". Photo courtesy of interviewee

China News Agency: This year marks the 45th anniversary of the conclusion of the China-Japan Treaty of Peace and Friendship.

Wu Rujun: My new Peking opera "Linshui Niangniang" is scheduled to open in Tokyo in May this year. The original intention of the creation was to hope that China and Japan would be friendly and promote cultural exchanges between the two countries. "Linshui Niangniang" tells the story of Chen Jinggu, a woman from Fuzhou, praying for rain for the people. According to legend, Chen Jinggu was born in Cangshan Xiadu, Fuzhou, China, and was able to descend demons and help people in distress at a young age, and at the age of 5, he cast spells to pray for rain and drought, and died in Gutian Linshui for the elimination of harm to the people. Rinsui Niangniang is a "land goddess" with the same name as the "goddess of the sea" Mazu, and also has a wide influence in Japan and Southeast Asia. I believe that this faith contains the excellent qualities of the Chinese nation, such as dedication, perseverance, and strength.

The important thing in the play "Linshui Niangniang" is to show the inner world of the characters, and I want to pass on her selfless dedication to everyone. (End)

Respondent Profile:

Wu Rujun is a Peking Opera performance artist in Japan and currently the director of the Peking Opera in Japan. In 1963, Wu Rujun was born in a family of Peking Opera artists, his father is the famous composer and Jinghu performer Wu Lechang, and his mother is the famous Peking Opera veteran actor Wu Fenglou. He studied opera at the age of 4, learned the piano at the age of 9, and was assigned to work in the National Peking Opera of China after graduating from the China Opera Academy at the age of 21. He moved to Japan in 1989. Representative works include "Imperial Concubine Dongdu", "Four Beautiful Pictures", "Three Sisters of the Song Family", "Our Lady of Kong", "Wu Zetian", "Zetian the Great", "Love Guanyin", "Mengmu Three Migrations" and so on. In 2014, he won the "Light of China - Person of the Year in Spreading Chinese Culture".


What are the sets of tunes that are to be followed in a Peking Opera performance? ›

The singing mainly follows two sets of tunes, called xipi, used to express an excited mood such as happiness, anger or agitation, and erhuang, used to express a subdued mood such as loss in deep thought, sorrow and melancholy.

What's the meaning of Peking Opera? ›

Peking opera is a performance art incorporating singing, reciting, acting, martial arts. Although widely practised throughout China, its performance centres on Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai.

What makeup and movements are done in the Chinese Peking Opera? ›

The artistic features of Peking Opera facial makeup are mainly manifested in the three following aspects: distortion, vividness, and allegorical implications. This kind of makeup art uses a form of deformation and exaggeration to express meaning.

What are the elements of Peking Opera roles? ›

In Beijing opera, the actor's roles are divided under four main headings, sheng, dan, jing, and zhou, or male, female, painted face, and comic. Each role has its own vocabulary of gesture, walking, and vocal technique.

What techniques does Peking opera use? ›

Four Means of Artistic Presentation. Beijing Opera presents dramatic plays and figures mainly by infusing four artistic methods: singing, dialogue, dancing and martial art.

What makes Peking opera different? ›

Beijing opera is a colorful, spectacular performance art that dazzles, fascinates, and often puzzles foreigners. A quintessentially Chinese art form, its elaborate costumes and makeup, gestural and acrobatic stage movements, highly symbolic and stylized content, and unique musical style amaze and intrigue audiences.

Why was Peking Opera so popular? ›

Beginning in 1884, the Empress Dowager Cixi became a regular patron of Peking opera, cementing its status over earlier forms like Kunqu. The popularity of Peking opera has been attributed to the simplicity of the form, with only a few voices and singing patterns.

What is a fact about Peking Opera? ›

Peking Opera has a 200 year history. It is believed to have originated in 1790, when four opera troupes from Anhui province came to Beijing to perform at the 80th birthday of the Emperor.

What does the red color on makeup in Peking Opera mean? ›

In the Peking Opera Lianpu, the red face symbolizes the loyalty and bravery of Guan Yu; the black face symbolizes the serious Bao Zheng and the obtrusive Zhang Fei; the white face symbolizes the ferocious and tyrannical Gao Qiu, and suspicious Cao Cao.

What do the colors of Peking Opera mean? ›

Originally, only three colors were used -- red, white and black -- each with its own symbolic meaning. Red is the color of loyalty, integrity and courage; black suggests a serious and taciturn disposition, including strength and roughness; white reveals a crafty and suspicious character.

Who is the main female role in Peking Opera? ›

Qingyi is the main woman roles in traditional Chinese drama. Qingyi is the most important role in Peking Opera and plays dignified, serious, and decent characters, which are mostly wives or mothers. The roles dress in yellow clothes and feature a small range of motion, and singingwith a pure and high-pitched quality.

What are the four main skills of Peking opera? ›

Peking Opera has a number of very predictable elements. The drama is presented for the enjoyment of the audience through the medium of four specific skills of the performers. Specifically, these skills are singing, dialog, dancing, and martial art.

What are the 5 female roles in Peking opera? ›

The Dan (Tan) or female role can be divided into six main parts which principally indicate character; Qing Yi(Ch'ing I), modest and virtuous; Hua dan(Hua tan) flirtatious; Gui Men Dan(Kuei Men Tan), a young, married girl; Dao Ma Dan(Tao Ma Tan), a stronger, more forceful character, usually a woman general; Wu Dan(Wu ...

What are the materials expected to be seen in Peking opera? ›

Peking Opera costumes are unique in every aspect. The materials selected are elegant high-grade silk products, the designs are very dignified, colors are very bright, and they portray exquisite, meticulous workmanship. The various and vivid images embroidered on the costumes exhibit rich expression.

What is the main style of Peking opera? ›

The main musical styles of Peking opera are xipi and erhuang. Xipi features high-pitched, lively tunes, while erhuang features steady, deep tunes. Each style has various kinds of meter, which are called banshi.

What influence did Peking opera have? ›

The Peking opera introduced the Japanese to Chinese culture and even led to some collaborations, including the melding together of Chinese opera and Japanese Kabuki.

What does the color white masks of Peking Opera symbolize that the character who wore it is the villain of the play? ›

White suggests sinisterness, treacherousness, suspiciousness and craftiness. Commonly seen on the stage is the white face for the powerful villain. It highlights all that is bad in human nature: cunning, craftiness, and treachery.

Why do Chinese decorate with red? ›

Red is a popular color in Chinese culture, symbolizing luck, joy, and happiness. It also represents celebration, vitality, and fertility in traditional Chinese color symbolism. Red is the traditional color worn by Chinese brides, as it is believed to ward off evil.

Which face mask color of Beijing opera represents the personality of loyalty? ›

Red represents loyalty and courage in Chinese culture. Because his face is mostly red, it suggests an overall positive character. The taijitu on his head tells the audience that he is a Taoist master and has an immense knowledge of the universe.

What does the color pink mean in Peking Opera? ›

The Elegance of a Pink Mask

The West typically associates the color pink with femininity. But in Chinese opera it will instead symbolize elegance and dignified standards or behavior. A character of high social standing or refined sensibilities might don a mask with pink coloration.

What color is nobility in Peking Opera? ›

Purple stands for uprightness, sophistication and cool-headedness). The reddish purple face likewise shows a just and noble character, for instance, Hou Yi with a purple three-tile face was a grain offficer versed in black magic in the opera “Green Dragon Pass.” Black symbolizes roughness and fierceness.

Which color represents cruelty in Peking Opera? ›

The white mask symbolizes mistrust and cunning. The yellow mask symbolizes ferocity and ambition. The green mask symbolizes bravery, brutality, despotism, vehemence and irascibility.

What gender is Peking opera? ›

Peking Opera had become strictly a male-dominated art. However, since women play major roles in society and no opera or story could be complete without them, women needed representation in plays and operas.

Who is the unmarried woman in Peking opera? ›

Huadan is the vivacious and unmarried woman role inPeking Opera. Compared to a Qingyi, a Huadan is not of such a high social class, and she will take the attention of the audience with her coy, coquettish, and quicker movements.

Why did male actors sometimes play female roles in Peking opera? ›

In traditional Chinese opera, cross-dressing is common practice, with male actors performing female roles and vice versa. Dressing up as the opposite sex often serves as a metaphor for the loss of one's identity or for gender dysphoria. Frequently, it also carries implications of same-sex romance.

What is the main goal of the performers in Peking opera? ›

Stories in Peking Opera

Singing to express emotion is the main element of these performances. The martial plays emphasize acrobatics, featuring action and combat. Most plays were created during China's imperial era, although new plays are being created as well.

What is the Peking opera costume called? ›

Xifu (Chinese: 戏服; pinyin: xìfú), also known as Chinese opera costume in English, are the stage clothes and attire worn in Chinese opera, such as Kunqu, Cantonese opera, Beijing opera, Huangmei opera.

Are Peking opera actors all male? ›

They may be played by male or female actors. In the early years of Peking opera, all dan roles were played by men, but this practice is no longer common in any Chinese opera genre.

What strange instrument is used to accompany Peking Opera? ›

Yueqin: Sometimes known as the "moon guitar", this instrument has four strings, a short neck with frets, and a round wooden sound box. It is especially important for Beijing opera, performing most of the main melodic lines.

What wind instrument is used in Peking Opera? ›

The primary melodic instruments are the two-stringed fiddles jinghu and erhu, and the yueqin 'moon guitar' (second audio clip). The pipa lute, dizi flute and double-reed suona (first audio clip) are also used for specific sorts of dramatic scenes.

What melodies are used to accompany Peking opera? ›

The Music of Beijing Opera

The melody may be classified into two groups: "Xipi" and "erhong." The performance is accompanied by a tune played on wind instruments, percussion instruments, and stringed instruments.

What are the 3 categories of musical accompaniment used in Peking opera? ›

These instruments can be divided into four categories: wind instruments, plucked instruments, bowed instruments, and percussion instruments.

What is used to accompany singing in Peking opera? ›

Performances use an orchestra different from what we see in the West. The orchestra sits out of audience view, split into divisions called civil and military. The civil part of the orchestra, made up of string and wind instruments, accompanies singing.

What are the following categories of melodies played in the Peking opera? ›

The music of Beijing opera can be divided into the Xipi and Erhuang styles. Melodies include arias, fixed-tune melodies, and percussion patterns.

What style of music or vocal techniques used in Peking opera? ›

The main singing style in Peking opera is metrical, with lyrics similar to lüshi poetry, each line consisting of seven, 10 or more characters, and the final characters of most lines rhyming with each other.

What style of music was used in Peking opera performance sample? ›

Peking opera grew out of Huiju opera, a folk opera originally popular in the regions south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River in the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

What style of music was used in Peking opera performance? ›

Since the 18th century jingxi (or jingju), popularly known as Peking opera, has arisen as the principal form of Chinese music-drama.

What are the four 4 artistic method of Peking opera? ›

Four Sources of Creative Presentation in Beijing Opera

Peking Opera depicts dramatic plays and figures mostly by integrating four artistic methods namely singing, dialogue, dancing, and martial art.

What is the female role in Peking opera? ›

Dan is the term for female roles in Peking Opera. The roles can be divided into six subtypes based on characters played. There is Zhengdan (Qingyi), Gui mendan, Wudan (acrobat), Laodan (old women), Huadan, and Daomadan (a stronger, more forceful character).

What are the two styles of Peking opera? ›

The main musical styles of Peking opera are xipi and erhuang. Xipi features high-pitched, lively tunes, while erhuang features steady, deep tunes. Each style has various kinds of meter, which are called banshi.

What four main skills do the performers of Peking opera utilize? ›

Peking Opera features four main types of performers. With their elaborate and colourful costumes, performers are the only focal points on Peking opera's characteristically sparse stage. They utilize the skills of speech, song, dance, and combat in movements that are symbolic and suggestive, rather than realistic.

What are the four main role types Peking opera features What do you call to a gentleman roll? ›

There are currently four main role categories in Beijing Opera. They are Sheng - Male Role, Dan - Female Role, Jing - Painted Face Male and Chou - The Comedy Role.

Why does Peking opera sound like that? ›

Nine hundred years ago, the Chinese opera was performed outside, so the actors had to sing loudly. Their voices weren't supposed to sound pretty, just loud. It takes a lifetime of studying to be an actor in the Chinese opera. Historically, children were sold to the opera to begin training when they were young.

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