Baiju (folk art)

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Baiju (Chinese: 白局; pinyin: bái jú), also called Baiqu (Chinese: 百曲; pinyin: bǎi qǔ), originating from rural Luhe District, formed during the Yuan Dynasty, is a traditional type of singing and a form of Quyi. It has a history of more than 600 years. Though belittled by the upper class, Baiju was very popular among the lower classes. It is also the only kind of old local opera in Nanjing, known as a native art which singing and telling in the Nanjing dialect and particularly rich in rhyme .[1] Baiju is often performed in the form of a solo monologue or in the form of a dialogue, just like Xiangsheng ( a traditional Chinese oral art). When acted, it needs from two performers to five performers.[2] It is very easy to understand with strong local characteristics, but unfortunately, due to the decline of both performers and audiences, the prospects for Baiju are not optimistic. The origin of its name is performers not receiving any pay for their show ("Bai" here means "free" and "ju" here means " a show").[1]


Baiju has a history of over 600 years, although the earliest Baiju performers and tunes are untraceable nowadays. Baiju originated between the end of Ming Dynasty and the beginning of Qing Dynasty, like other folk arts in China which were ignored by the ruling class and literary men. The earliest known of Baiju is mentioned in Li Dou (simplified Chinese: 李斗; traditional Chinese: 李鬥, a drama writer in Qing Dynasty)'s A Record of Yangzhou Gaily-Painted Pleasure-Boats (simplified Chinese: 扬州画舫录; traditional Chinese: 揚州畫舫錄; pinyin:yáng zhōu huà fǎng lù). In the book, the author mentioned a labelled tune of Yangzhou ditty (simplified Chinese: 扬州清曲; traditional Chinese:揚州清曲; pinyin:yáng zhōu qīng qǔ), named the "Nanjing Tune" (simplified Chinese: 南京调; traditional Chinese:南京調; pinyin:nán jīng diào), which was becoming more and more popular. This "Nanjing Tune" was one tune label in Baiju then, and "Nanjing Tune" is still a basic tune label in Baiju today.[3] Baiju was transmitted only by the laboring people.[4] Baiju started from the workers who worked in brocade workshop. As a derivative of cloud-pattern brocade, the entertainment during breaks in work at the cloud-pattern brocade loom rooms marked the beginning of Baiju art. The cloud-pattern brocade workers lived in a painful life. It's a complex and monotonous job to weaving cloud-pattern brocades, even though a journeyman has to spend years of time to finish one. Due to Nanjing's climate, cold in winter and hot in summer, the workers labored in harsh conditions for low pay. To divert themselves from the monotony of their jobs, workers started singing popular ditties, which developed into Baiju. At that time, these workers talked about history, folk tale and social news by the tunes of Ming Qing folk song.[4] Another folk art form in Nanjing called "Hongju" (simplified Chinese: 红局; traditional Chinese:紅局; pinyin:hóng jú), had a close relationship with Baiju. Associated with the fact that Baiju becoming more and more popular among the citizens, and many cloud-pattern brocade workers lost their jobs in the low season, some of them changed their careers.[5] They sang Tunes which were sung in loom room before asking for monetary reward, and the very tunes here they sang called "Hongju". So researchers consider these two labelled tunes as a same art form.

Artistic characteristics[edit]

Baiju is the most important folk art form in Nanjing region at present, which features in singing in the form of typical Nanjing dialect.[2] It is full of local characteristic be subordinate to the language on the premise that languages obey the contents. Performers sing Baiju by the typical Nangjing dialect, on the basis of Nanjing public language.[2] The basic structure of the libretto, processing of each rhythm and the singing form are all in close connection with the language law of the Nanjing dialect. The second feature of Baiju is that it can sing the news to reflect a major event in society in a timely manner. In the old days, workers who made Yunjin worked all day without activities. In order to divert themselves from boredom they echoed each other with the native language about the news story around them. This way of talking and singing news spread fast (one do, people surrounded all can spread it), easy to understand (unlike the official press as written more which is not easy to accept), with strong time (as long as we compile what happened, we can immediately sing). These news scripts criticize the current social evils sharptly and have a far effect. They have become unique tracks of Baiju. The pieces reflect the significant events in a timely manner, plus with simple music, humor and vivid language, so welcomed by the Nanjing normal people.

Cultural values[edit]

A reflection of Nanjing dialect’s quintessence

Experts can find valuable research materials from Baiju so that they can push on the study in Nanjing local language and ancient Chinese language. Nanjing local language stems from two parts: one is ancient Chinese vernacular, the other was labor people. In Baiju plays, words’ pronunciations are in accordance with languages which are mentioned above.

Reproduction of local peoples' real life

Most of these plays retain a large sum of customs and conditions of the people at that time. Some tracks sing the praises of happiness and luckiness. Some are concerned with folk and history stories. Some show the beauty of landscape. Some reflected important news during those days.

Relationship with Yangzhou Melody and Ming and Qing Dynasty folk songs

During the course of transmission, Baiju was affected by Yangzhou Melody and Ming and Qing Dynasty folk songs. Finally, Baiju formed with unique characteristics.

Inspiration in contemporary education

In the globalization times, many countries had paid attentions to the development of national culture. Some people may regard Baiju as low-grade music while this kind of opinion is contrary to culture diversification. Only when we look back on the local music, can we understand the true value of local culture.


The development of Nanjing Baiju depended on the brocade indestry in Nanjing. Over 30,000 brocade looms were in Nanjing in the Qing Dynasty, from the reigns of Emperor Kangxi, Yongzheng to Qianlong. Because of the weavers'cooperation, many Baiju tunes became widely popular among them, such as Picking Immortal Peaches etc.

Baiju had became a totally theatrical form which possesses narratives, talking, singing, characters and a number of tune names. Zhang Yuanfa, an aged Yun brocade artist who was born in the 60th year in the Qing Dynasty, reign of Emperor Guangxu. According to his utterance, Baiju performance was held in Han Mansion. His father said it would also be held at Ullambana as a Buddihist festival. During this festival, Taiping Heavenly Kingdom held ceremony for soldiers in its capital Tianjing.

Baiju was prevalent at Ullambana when Emperor Guangxu was in the reign. It created stories based on social news and big events.

Recent times[edit]

Xu Chunhua, a Nanjing Dialogue teacher from the movie "The Flowers Of War" directed by Zhang Yimou. She has established the group of Nanjing Baiju in Nanjing Normal University which has draw great attention in media. From her point of view, this cultural heritage not only needs to be protected, but also needs to be developed and recreated. This must be done by the young people. The aim of the group is to keep the initial feeling of Baiju. "It's pretty popular between college students" she said, "Because they are accostumed to rock and roll and such things, when given a new way to treat the ancient cultual, they feel really good."


[1] [3] [6] [7]


  1. ^ a b c "Nanjing Baiju - China culture". 1927-11-12. Retrieved 2012-06-05. 
  2. ^ a b c Wu Ge, & Wan Xiu-mei. (2006). Local art of Nanjing: the artistic characteristics and cultural value of Nanjing Baiju (论南京地方曲艺"南京白局"的艺术特色和文化价值). Hundred Schools in Arts (艺术百家), 88 (2), 186-189.
  3. ^ a b Ren Feiyi. (2010). The blossom of Quyi blooming on the cloud-pattern brocade—a discussion on the artistic characteristics of Nanjing Baiju (盛开于云锦之上的曲艺之花—试论南京白局的艺术特征).Yellow River of the Song (黄河之声), 319 (10), 80-81.ISSN 1810-2980.
  4. ^ a b Xue Lei. (2011). Local art of Nanjing: the history and the current situation (南京白局的历史与现状). Journal of Jiangsu Institute of Education (Social Science Edition), 27 (5), 171-121. ISSN 1671-1696.
  5. ^ Xue Lei. (2011). Local art of Nanjing: the history and the current situation (南京白局的历史与现状). Journal of Jiangsu Institute of Education (Social Science Edition) (江苏教育学院学报 (社会科学版)), 27 (5), 171-121. ISSN 1671-1696.
  6. ^ Wu Ge, & Wan Xiu-mei. (2006). Local art of Nanjing: the artistic characteristics and cultural value of Nanjing Baiju (论南京地方曲艺"南京白局"的艺术特色和文化价值). Hundred Schools in Arts (艺术百家), 88 (2), 186-189. ISSN 1003-9104.
  7. ^ Xue Lei. (2011). Local art of Nanjing: the history and the current situation (南京白局的历史与现状). Journal of Jiangsu Institute of Education (Social Science Edition) (江苏教育学院学报 (社会科学版)), 27 (5), 171-121. ISSN 1671-1696.