Shandong Culture

Passionate spirits preserve Lyuju Opera's beauty

By Owen Fishwick (China Daily) Updated: 2017-07-18

Unlike cherry blossoms and peonies, which bloom in spring, plum blossoms first appear in winter, braving the cold before the snow and frost melt away. As such, in Chinese culture they have come to symbolize robustness and strength.

So, the plum blossoms that decorate the stage curtain at the Guangrao Lyuju Opera Center in Shandong province's Dongying city provide a fitting metaphor for the hard work, skill and perseverance of the actors who perform there.

Lyuju Opera holds a special place in the history and culture of Dongying. Dating back more than 100 years, its performance was a mainstay of big events and festivals, when great local actors would don traditional silk robes and tell stories reflecting the social values of the times, to the accompaniment of a series of Chinese instruments such as pipa, a four-stringed Chinese musical instrument, zhuiqin, a bowed string instrument, and dulcimer.

Passionate spirits preserve Lyuju Opera's beauty

As Shandong's best-known local opera, it ranks as one of the eight main regional operas of China. In 2008, it was listed as an item of national intangible cultural heritage.

But despite such praise, and similar to many ancient traditions across the world, Lyuju Opera has waned in popularity due to the simple fact that the world changes.

Today there are a million ways to find entertainment, whether on televisions, computers or phones. Traditional forms of entertainment such as opera and theater must compete for the attention of people who are often too busy or distracted.

Hope is not lost, however. Like the robust plum blossom, Lyuju Opera is being kept alive by passionate people devoted to ensuring the art form does not become lost to the ages.

Song Aidong, head of the Guangrao Lyuju Opera Center in Dongying, is one of those passionate people. She says that although the costumes they use today are no longer made of silk due to the high costs, and that they can only afford to use pre-recorded music, the spirit of Lyuju Opera lives on and is being promoted to the younger generation.

That spirit is clear to see in the heavily made-up faces of the performers on stage, as they deliver their lines with the same passion and poise you would expect from a piece that has been meticulously rehearsed for weeks. "The opera center is a base to promote Lyuju Opera, but we also visit local schools too," Song said. "The children especially like to wear the costumes and play the traditional instruments."

But unlike modern entertainment and its generic appeal, Lyuju Opera carries a personal connection with the people of Dongying county - it tells their stories, remembers their history, and preserves their identity. And it's the personal connection and historical links that make Lyuju Opera so important, according to Song.

So, as the curtain closes on another thoroughly entertaining performance at Guangrao Lyuju Opera Center, I feel reassured that Lyuju Opera remains in safe hands. It is thanks to passionate people, such as Song, who dedicate their lives to preserving the art form, that future generations will be able to cherish and enjoy Lyuju Opera for many years to come.

The author is an editor of China Daily and his email is

Passionate spirits preserve Lyuju Opera's beauty

(China Daily 07/18/2017 page12)