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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), Kun opera or Kunqu Opera, is one of the oldest extant forms of Chinese opera. It evolved from the Kunshan melody, and dominated Chinese theatre 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
Kunqu - Dan.jpg
A Kunqu performer's portrayal of Hu Sanniang

Kunqu singing techniques are said to have been developed during the Ming Dynasty by Wei Liangfu in the port of Taicang, but linked to the songs of nearby Kunshan.[2] Kunqu performance is closely inter-related with the performance of many other styles of Chinese musical theatre, including Peking opera, which contains much Kunqu repertoire. The emergence of chuanqi plays, commonly sung to Kunqu, is said to have ushered in a "second Golden Era of Chinese drama". Kunqu troupes experienced a commercial decline in the late 19th century. However, in the early 20th century, Kunqu was re-established by philanthropists as a theatrical genre that was subsequently subsidised by the Communist state. Like all traditional forms, 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 performed professionally in seven Mainland Chinese major cities: Beijing (Northern Kunqu Theatre), Shanghai (Shanghai Kunqu Theatre), Suzhou (Suzhou Kunqu Theatre), Nanjing (Jiangsu Province Kunqu Theatre), Chenzhou (Hunan Kunqu Theatre), Yongjia County/Wenzhou (Yongjia Kunqu Theatre) and Hangzhou (Zhejiang Province Kunqu Theatre), as well as in Taipei. Non-professional opera societies are active in many other cities in China and abroad, and opera companies occasionally tour.

There are many plays that continue to be famous today, including The Peony Pavilion and The Peach Blossom Fan, which were originally written for the Kunqu stage. In addition, many classical Chinese novels and stories, such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Water Margin and Journey to the West were adapted very early into dramatic pieces.

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

In 2006, Zhou Bing acted as 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

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]