1. Write a one or two sentences summarising the history and origins of Kunqu Opera. Where in China does it originate from? What is its cultural and historical significance?


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 (near Suzhou, in modern Jiangsu Province).

Kunqu (崑曲; pinyin: Kūnqǔ; Wade-Giles: k’un-ch’ü), 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 is listed as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO since 2001.


The significance of Kunqu Opera lies both in the cultural and historical field.


  • Music
  • The style originated in the Wu cultural area. It is listed as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO since 2001.
  • It is a synthesis of drama, opera, ballet, poetry recital, and musical recital, which also draws on earlier forms of Chinese theatrical performances such as mime, farce, acrobatics, ballad recital, and medley, some of which go back to the third century B.C. or even earlier.


  • It evolved from the Kunshan melody and dominated Chinese theatre from the 16th to the 18th centuries.
  • 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.
  1. Identify the unique performance conventions required by a performer in this theatre tradition:
  2. Gesture
  3. Face
  4. Body
  5. Movement
  6. Voice
  7. List the key production elements of the tradition that are intrinsic to the performance convention being explored (such as basic costume, props, set pieces or stage layout)

The use of Chinese fan

There are specific and detailed regulations about the use of a fan in Kunqu. It applies to characters which are well-educated or romantic.For instance, scholars, daughters of rich and powerful family and officials. Sometimes immortals and crowns use specially-designed fans to help the expression of their roles.

Stage language

The language on Kunqu stage is an artificial language, which does not originate from Kunshan or Suzhou, neither does mandarin. It is based on mandarin with Kunshan elements.


As Kunqu’s name contain qu,which means song and opera in Chinese. The poetic monologue/dialogue of the play are written to fit the sequence of tunes, which is called qupai.


Dance movements have highly stylised gestures. Not whole body is engaged.


Among all forms of Chinese traditional theatre styles, Kunqu uses a minimum of props and scenery, which helps the players express through dance. The opera encourage the audience to imagine the scene themselves.


Costumes are exaggerated versions of the style of dress during Ming dynasty and make no attempt to fit in the story. What is unique in Kunqu is a kind of very long sleeves called water sleeves.

Fundamental feature

Slow pace     exquisite  delicate     soft and gentle   elegant

  1. When complete: look at the following course syllabus from the Chinese University of Hong Kong on “The Beauty of Kunqu Opera.” Identify one of the week subtopics that are of interest to you to explore and note more. For example, Week 5 looks at the complex facial makeup of the painted faces role-type; watch one or more of the videos and take notes in your journal.

Week 2: The Beauty of Kunqu Music

The music plays in the Kunqu opera plays a major role. Firstly deriving the name “Kunqu”, which means, the music of the region Kun, in the Jiangsu province. It definitely needs to be taken into consideration as an important part of the analysis for multiple reasons:

  • Music or tonalities are present in the entire play or opera.
  • The rhythm, tones, pauses in the music, and therefore in the opera, are very similar to all plays. These aspects have been standardised in the past centuries.
  • It determines and leads the audience to parts in the opera where monologues or dialogues are being said, and differ them from moments in the play, where songs are simply put in place.
  • There is no such thing as a monotone dialogue or monologue as for the character They say their specific lines, in a way that is chanted, but not sung, and follow very closely the tonality in the background music
  • The music’s melody and the lyrics or lines in the opera are intertwined, due to the nature of the Chinese language. It is important to mention, that, although the language used is not officially mandarin or a specific dialect, the tones in words still affect the meaning of such. This is the reason why, the  music vibrant sounds and moments are present, due to the nature of some vibrant word pronunciation.

Additional information can be added concerning the instruments used in the orchestra:

  • Dizi: Horizontal bamboo flute.
  • Sheng: Bamboo wind organ.
  • Sanxian: three chord lute.
  • Percussion: drums, cymbals, bells, and wooden clappers,

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