In a training room in Northwest China's Ningxia Hui autonomous region, more than 30 children are learning martial arts and pantomime, the essentials of Qinqiang, also known as Shaanxi opera.
"I can see our traditional Chinese opera is being rejuvenated through them," said their teacher Wang Yuanyuan.
Wang joined an opera troupe in Zhongning county in the early 1990s when she was just 13, a time when the popularity of traditional Chinese opera started to decline as people had more entertainment options.
"Fewer people watched traditional Chinese operas, in cities or in villages. Sometimes, the audience was even outnumbered by performers. Everyone in the troupe worried about making a living," Wang recalled.
Shaanxi opera, which features folk songs and dances, is a style of opera that thrived in China's northwestern provinces and regions of Gansu, Shaanxi, Qinghai, Ningxia, and Xinjiang. It was added to the country's intangible cultural heritage list in 2006.
In order to prevent the elements of the opera form from dying out, authorities are encouraging the traditions to be passed down to the younger generation.
In 2012, the local cultural center recruited performers like Wang to conduct training. "But in the very beginning, most students were elderly and middle-aged," Wang said.
Recently, seven schools in the county started offering optional courses on Shaanxi opera to students, according to Zhao Chuang, head of the county cultural center.
Wang has been teaching at No.1 Primary School of Zhongning since the school began its opera course in 2015. "I had thought of teaching them some background knowledge only, but the students showed a keen interest on the topic, that's why I started teaching them practical skills too," she said.
"I watch opera performances on TV, and I like their costumes and make-up. Their voice sounds special and interesting," said 10-year-old student Wei Jiayi. Under Wang's instruction, she has mastered the facial expressions and gestures of opera performers.
In recent years, China has been preserving and developing traditional art forms such as opera and calligraphy in schools. The country issued a guideline in 2017, setting a goal to bring traditional styles of Chinese opera into all campuses by the end of 2020.
In 2012, Shaanxi Peking Opera Theater started introducing Peking opera into campuses through performances, lectures, and courses. It has held activities in 38 schools in Shaanxi province.
"Opera plays an important role in Chinese traditional culture but most students lack knowledge of it. By running lectures and performances on campus, students can learn and might find an interest in it," said Sun Yu, director of art education center at Northwestern Polytechnical University.
Liu Yuefang, deputy director of the Bureau of Culture and Tourism in Zhongning county, said that both students and their parents have shown a growing interest in traditional Chinese culture, and embraced traditional operas.
"Instead of only watching operas on TV, I now discuss the plots and performances with my grandfather, a fan of Shaanxi opera. It's really interesting," Wei said.
(Source: China Daily)