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History and Development of Yu Opera

As one of the five major types of Chinese Opera, Yu Opera, also called Henan banzi, is the opera that's most likely to be found in local regions and has had a strong influence on the performing arts throughout China.

History of Yu Opera

There are many different versions to the story of the origin of Yu Opera but it is commonly agreed that the history of Yu Opera can be traced back to the mid-late Ming dynasty. It began as a kind of folk music that spread throughout the Henan province and it was during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795) that Yu Opera became popular among the upper class. According to recollections of aged artists, in 1912 when they studied the art of Yu Opera, the most famous ten counties within Henan where the Yu Opera was popular were Xiangfu (nowadays Kaifeng), Qi, Chenliu(now a town of Kaifeng), Weishi, Zhongmou, Tongxu, Yifeng, Feng(now a town of Lankao), Fengqiu, Yangwu(now a town of Yuanyang) and eight famous sites in other provinces: Huaiyang, Xihua, Shuangshui, Xiangcheng, Shenqiu, Taikang, Fugou, Luyi. As the phenomenon spread, different styles of singing began to develop, such as the Fuxiang tone in the Kaifeng region, the East Yu tone in Shangqiu, the West tone in the Yang region and the Shahe tone in Luohe.

Development of Yu Opera

After the revolution of 1911, more Yu Opera performances were held in teahouses in the city. Some famous teahouses in Kaifeng were desperate to put on the show of the popular performance groups like the Yicheng group and the Tianxing group. In the countryside, Yu Opera was mostly performed during idolatrous processions. Along with the increasing number of teahouses and playhouses staging professional Yu Opera performances, the number was also increasing in the other cities of Henan province like Zhengzhou, Xinyang, Luoyang and Shangqiu which showed to what extent Yu Opera had developed. 

At the end of the ‘20s and ‘30s, the development of Yu Opera entered a new stage due to the improved innovation of the performance and stage arts. Increasingly more Yu Opera theatres were being built in Kaifeng which attracted famous artists from around the land, only enhancing the reputation of Yu Opera.

From the Anti-Japanese War to the founding of the People's Republic of China, many Yu Opera groups formed in Xian, Shaanxi province. Approved by the Ministry of Culture, The Henan Yu Opera Theatre was established in March 1956 and by this time many scriptwriters and directors had created a lot of classical works including Peasant Takes A Wife, Liu Hulan, Marching Forward and Madam Chun Heung-lin.

Nowadays, Yu Opera is not only popular throughout the Henan province, but also in neighbouring provinces.