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Nanxi: classical drama in Zhejiang

By Yu Weimin | 2014-03-21 | Hits:
Chinese Social Sciences Today

The oldest fully-developed form of classical Chinese drama, Nanxi (southern drama) dates from the late Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). It is also known as Wenzhou zaju (poetic drama set to music), Yongjia zaju and Yongjia drama (Wenzhou and Yongjia are both cities in Zhejiang Province), and constitutes one of the four traditional forms of clas­sical Chinese drama, the others of which include zaju , chuanqi (legends) and huabu (local op­eras).

Among the numerous plays that have been produced in the course of Nanxi’s nine-century history, many integrated well-known folk songs and ballads, leaving a rich legacy. Counting only those documented within historical records such as The Yongle Canon , Xu Wei’s De­scription of Nan Verse in the Ming Dynasty and Niu Shaoya’s Origin of Nanxi Music Modes in the Qing Dynasty, 167 different varieties of Nanxi have existed or do exist. The scripts, the sys­tem of character classification (an elaborate system of cat­egorizing characters based on position within the drama and social status), musical struc­tures and performance styles of Nanxi laid a foundation for the other fundamental forms of Chinese drama. Notably, Nanxi originated as a form of folk art and its earliest playwrights belonged to the lower classes or were folk artists. Conse­quently, the form as a whole was ignored by scholars from the Song and Yuan dynasties, who even tried to erase it out­right. In contemporary China, however, the academic value of Nanxi is more than recognized, and it continues to be a promi­nent force in fostering the development and prosperity of traditional Chinese drama.

Yu Weimin is from the College of Humanities at Wenzhou Uni­versity.

The Chinese version appeared in Chinese Social Sciences Today, No. 561, Feb. 19, 2014

                                                   Translated by Zhang Mengying

                                                    Revised by Charles Horne

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