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History of Kunqu

Suzhou Kun Opera Theater of Jiangsu Province perform a collection of scenes from Kunqu, the Classical Opera of Globalized China, in Ann Arbor on September 27-28, 2012.

In 2001, UNESCO declared kunqu, the 600-year-old grand opera of China, a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” Learn more in this video.

[VIDEO] Six Reasons Why You Should Experience Kunqu

Joseph Lam is the director of the the Confucius Institute at the University of Michigan. We sat down to talk with him about kunqu, the Classical Opera of Globalized China, which will be performed by Suzhou Kun Opera Theater of Jiangsu Province this September.

In 2001, UNESCO declared kunqu, the 600-year-old grand opera of China, a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”

Joseph Lam’s Six Reason Why You Should Experience Kunqu:

1. Kunqu tells heartfelt and imaginative dramas. The Peony Pavilion, for example, tells how an elite, young lady finds love through her dream, death, and resurrection.

2. Kunqu gives unforgettable performances. Kunqu brings historical and fictive characters alive on stage. Experience how kunqu virtuosic actresses act, dance, sing, speak, and dress as Imperial Concubine Yang (719–756), one of four supreme beauties in Chinese history.

3. Kunqu demonstrates Chinese emotions and perspectives. The Jade Hairpin asks, for instance, how a talented and young man should choose between love or his career?
“Captured Alive” warns, what if a ghost of a woman still madly in love came out of her
grave to fetch her former living lover?

4. Kunqu is China’s fashionable and conspicuous consumption. Twenty years ago, kunqu was dying as a classical, but forgotten, theater. Now it is in the midst of a popular performance resurgence that educated, young, and successful Chinese fashionably and proudly claim as their own. Reflecting their modern tastes and realities, current kunqu
productions are grand and luxurious.

5. Kunqu is globally meaningful. As China continues its growth as a global superpower, it exports its performing arts as soft power and creative industries. Kunqu has become a branded manifestation of Chinese culture that global citizens need to know!

6. Kunqu is post-modernly controversial. It mixes traditional performance practices with contemporary acts, blends native aesthetics with imported ones, and packages
performances as both artistic expressions and commercial commodity. It is a 600-year-
old opera that thrives in 21st-century and globalized China. Kunqu is simultaneously
classical and avant-garde, perfectly reflecting today’s China.