Opera lover protects art form in Qingpu
Shanghai Daily News
Chen Yongdao is a hero in the town of Baihe, the oldest town in Qingpu
District, for saving the Huju Opera from dying out.
Baihe Town, whose
existence dates back to the Qin Dynasty (221BC-206BC), originated from wetlands
that were home to white cranes, or "Baihe" as the birds are known in
After thousands of years, the town has become urbanized. Growing
with the population are some unique art forms.
Huju Opera was one of them,
although its prosperity lasted no more than 50 years.
The opera, sung in
Shanghai dialect and accompanied by traditional Chinese stringed musical
instruments, including the lute, flute and erhu, a two-stringed bowed
instrument, was introduced to the town in the 1960s.
A group of city artists
who moved to the town to experience various life styles brought the Huju opera
The opera was very popular among Baihe people, because its music,
stories and lyrics were closely related to local life.
"Wherever I am, Huju's
rhythms make my imagination fly back to the small creeks and the delicate
bridges in my hometown," said Sheng Qing, a Qingpu native.
Thanks to the
popularity of the art form, the town was named the hometown of Huju Opera in
1996, even though the opera didn't originate there.
Many residents, from
children to seniors, are able to hum a variety of Huju tunes.
"I started to
love the Huju Opera when I was in primary school," said the 50 year-old Chen,
director of the town's culture office.
"At that time, I always went to the
city's downtown to watch the performances starring famous artists."
the popular opera fell out of favor during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
Dramas with strong political implications soon dominated people's leisure
But Chen never forgot his love for Huju. Three years after the Cultural
Revolution ended, Chen managed to organize a Huju Opera troupe with 38 people
who shared the same dream of reviving the precious art form.
leadership, the troupe travelled all over the city to put on performances. Their
efforts paid off and Huju soon became popular again.
Apart from local
communities, the troupe also visited Jiading District and Kunshan, Jiangsu
It collected 19,000 yuan (US$2,290) in the first three months by
selling tickets for 0.2 yuan to 0.25 yuan each.
"People welcomed our
performances because Huju was so different from those political dramas that it
suddenly enlightened their monotonous lives," said Chen.
opera's booming era in the town only lasted a transitory five years. In 1984,
group members began to worry as their incomes could not cover costs.
number of fans began to decrease because more and more youngsters disliked the
opera," said Chen.
The troupe had to laid off 10 experienced performers and
only kept young actors to control costs.
After working together for nine
years, the troupe disbanded in 1993. Most of its members changed their careers
to something away from the stage.
But, Chen, dedicated to promoting the
town's cultural and art affairs, did not drop the troupe's original dream and
kept spreading the Huju opera.
He never stopped contacting the troupe's
former members and often called them up to practice for fun.
"I often invite
my old acquaintances to restaurants and we held pleasant talks to enhance our
friendships," said Chen.
Chen's efforts were not in vain. Under his
encouragement, many of the amateurs collected their instruments and began to
perform around the city once again.
In 1995, several Huju Opera troupes
formed in local villages. Gradually, the opera began to take roots in local
household as it has became a custom at Baihe weddings or funerals.
actors and actresses performed the opera for free. But as people's incomes grew,
performers began to charge admission to their shows.
There are eight to 10
troupes with a total of 100 to 120 actors and actresses in the town.
past few years, the town has paid subsidies worth about 150,000 yuan annually,
which accounts for 0.5 to 1 percent of its revenues, to help spread the art
The district also takes every possible opportunity and spare no effort
to promote the local troupes.