Yue Opera (Guangdong)

Yue Opera, also called Cantonese opera, is a local opera of the Han nationality. Originally called Guangdong Great Opera, the Yue Opera originate from the south opera. Since the 1522-1566, the Yue opera began to appear in Guangdong and Guangxi. It is a blend of different forms, including the “singing, acting, recitation and acrobatics”, the background music, the drama stage costumes as well as the abstract form. The Yue opera was listed in the first group of 518 national intangible cultural heritage list on May 20, 2006, and in the human non-material cultural heritage list by the United Nations educational, scientific and cultural organization on September 30, 2009.

Guangdong Opera culture

The Historical Evolution

The Yue opera originated in the rise of the Qiyan folk songs. The earliest record about Yue opera can date back to 221 BC, the pre-qin period.


The Qiyan folk song reached an all-time high in 500 - 1500 AD. Other than that, it formed a generation of literary style - Tang Poetry. However, the Qiyan folk song was always in the position of lower society, and influenced by external music appreciated by the ruling class, so there is no great development in it.

Many plays of the Yue opera were handed down by the Yuanzaju in Yuan Dynasty. The traditional repertoire of Yue opera and Yuanzaju are even the same.

The Yue opera not only absorbed the features of YiYangQiang but also the characteristics of Hui opera, Han opera, Xiang opera and Gui opera in Qing Dynasty. The repertoire, tone, music and performance way of Yue opera are basically same with theirs.

At the beginning of 20 century, the end of the Qing dynasty, the tide of opera evolution aroused by the Chinese intellectual swept across the whole country. In 1903, a piece of article criticized that the opera at that time was too pedantic to stirring up the spirit of citizen. Before long, the works reflecting malpractices was gradually appeared. One of the result that influenced by Yue opera should be the “Zhishi class”. Ten years before and after the Xinhai revolution, more than 30 Zhishi classes have appeared in Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Macao.

By the 1930s, there were only all-male classes and all-female classes in the Yue opera, for the law of Hong Kong Legislative Council banned the mixed class. Since then, the Yue opera was very popular. The different performances were mainly played on some old-style theatre in almost every day of a week. At that time, the Yue opera was not only popular in the area of Guangdong, Guangxi, Hong Kong and Macao, but also in Chinese communities of Southeast Asia, Australia and America. Besides, there were some generations of artists, fixed Yue opera troupe, guilds, and concert venue in Southeast Asia.

In the 1950s, the People's Republic of China positively excavated excellent play, inherited the tradition of Yue opera, comprehensively renovated the artistic form of Yue opera and cultivated a group of new artists. The Guangdong Opera House was set up in 1958. The Guangdong Cantonese opera school and the Guangdong Cantonese opera school at Zhanjiang were established in 1960 and 1962 respectively. They are comprehensive professional schools which are fund for the cultivation of Yue opera for the first time in the history of Yue opera.

The Performance Process

The performance process of Yue opera can be divided into four basic categories--singing, dialogue, acting and acrobatics. The singing means the skill of vocal. There are different roles with different ways of singing, including Ping throat and Zi throat. Commonly, the Ping throat means the tone of speaking. It is used by the young man's role in performance. The Zi throat is eight-times higher than the Ping throat. It features with falsetto to play the role of female. In addition to the classification of scale, the classification of voice features is feasible. The Big throat features with rough voice. The Yue opera absorbs different places of unique singing, for example the south voice and the wooden fish from Fujian Province, the folk songs and Banyan from local areas.


The acting means figure, namely the body performance. It consists of Shoushi, Taibu, Zouwei, Guanmu, Zuoshou, Shenduan, Shuixiu, Lingzigong, Xugong, Shuifa, abstract performances and traditional skills.

Dialogue means reading lines. The player use dialogue to make the plot, the thoughts and feelings of characters clear.

Acrobatics means acrobatic fighting, such as Wushuixiu, Shuifa, Wanshanzi, etc.


More about Chinese Opera:

  • Yu Opera(Henan)
  • Yue Opera(Guangdong)
  • Yue Opera(Shanghai)
  • Huangmei Opera