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Traditional Chinese崑曲
Simplified Chinese昆曲
Literal meaning"Kun[shan] Melody"
A scene from The Peony Pavilion

Kunqu (Chinese: 崑曲), also known as Kunju (崑劇), K'un-ch'ü, Kun opera or Kunqu Opera, is one of the oldest extant forms of Chinese opera. It evolved from the local melody of Kunshan and later came to dominate Chinese theater from the 16th to the 18th centuries. The style originated in the Wu cultural area. It has been listed as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO since 2001.[1]


Gu Jian, allegedly a transmitter of the Kunshan music in the Yuan dynasty
A Kunqu performer's portrayal of Hu Sanniang
Kunqu performance at the Peking University

Kunqu tunes are believed to have been developed during the Ming Dynasty by Wei Liang Fu (魏良輔) from the port of Taicang, but linked to the songs of nearby Kunshan.[2] Wei created Kunshan tunes modified from songs of Haiyan (海鹽) near Hangzhou and Yiyang (弋陽) of Jiangxi, and he combined the nanxi rhythms which often used flute, and the northern zaju where plucked string instruments are preferred. The created elegant Kunshan tunes are often called "water mill" tunes (水磨調, shuimo diao). The first Kunqu opera, Washing Silken Gauze (浣紗記, Huan Sha Ji) was created by Liang Chenyu (梁辰魚) who was born in Kunshan and used Kunshan tunes throughout the opera.[3] Kunqu is a form of chuanqi plays, and its emergence is said to have ushered in a "second Golden Era of Chinese drama".

The most famous of Kunqu opera is The Peony Pavilion written by Tang Xianzu. Other important works include The Peach Blossom Fan, and The Palace of Eternal Life.

Kunqu performance influenced the performance of many other styles of Chinese musical theater, including Peking opera, which contains much Kunqu repertoire. Kunqu was referred to as Yabu (雅部, "elegant drama"), and it came under competition from a variety of operas (e.g. Shaanxi Opera, Clapper Opera, Yiyang tunes, Peking Opera, etc.) termed Huabu (花部, "flowery drama"), and as a result, Kunqu troupes experienced a commercial decline in the 19th century. However, in the early 20th century, Kunqu was re-established by philanthropists and was later subsidized by the Communist state. Like most traditional forms of Chinese opera, Kunqu suffered setbacks both during the Cultural Revolution and again under the influx of Western culture during the Reform and Opening Up policies, only to experience an even greater revival in the new millennium.

Today, Kunqu is professionally performed in seven major Mainland Chinese cities: Beijing (Northern Kunqu Theater), Shanghai (Shanghai Kunqu Theater), Suzhou (Suzhou Kunqu Theater), Nanjing (Jiangsu Province Kun Opera), Chenzhou (Hunan Kunqu Theater), Yongjia County/Wenzhou (Yongjia Kunqu Theater) and Hangzhou (Zhejiang Province Kunqu Theater), as well as in Taipei. Non-professional opera societies are active in many other cities in China and abroad, and opera companies occasionally tour.

In 1919 Mei Lanfang and Han Shichang, renowned performers of kunqu, traveled to Japan to give performances. In the 1930s, Mei performed kunqu in the United States and the Soviet Union and was well received.[4]

Its melody or tune is one of the Four Great Characteristic Melodies in Chinese opera.

In 2006, Zhou Bing acted as a producer and art director for Kunqu (Kun Opera) of sexcentenary. It won Outstanding Documentary Award of 24th China TV Golden Eagle Awards; it won Award of TV Art Features of 21st Starlight Award for 2006.





  1. ^ "Kun Qu Opera". UNESCO Cultural Sector - Intangible Heritage.
  2. ^ according to Southern Lyrics Sung Correctly (南詞引正) by Wei Liangfu, a famous musician of the Ming Dynasty
  3. ^ Fu, Jin (2012). Chinese Theatre. Cambridge University Press. pp. 48–50. ISBN 9780521186667.
  4. ^ "Kunqu | Chinese theatre". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2021-05-06.

Further reading[edit]

  • Xiao Li (2005). Chinese Kunqu Opera. Translated by Li Li and Liping Zhang. Long River Press. ISBN 1-59265-062-7.

External links[edit]