Development of Cantonese Opera - part two

Part two


As described in my last article there have been difficult times for all troupes in Cantonese Opera. Some of the information could be regained by searching old local gazettes. One of this has been the Local Gazette of Panyu County by Ding Renchang. As described in this historic references most troupe members lived in pairs of Red Boats and they adhered to straight rules and norms which as well where a conduct and life style of the members. I didn’t find any photograph of this time nor seems there to be paintings. If you go to one of the museums handling this area you will find some reconstructing they have done on recount of old members of this time. This Red Boats where self sufficient entities indeed.


This gloomy time of Cantonese Opera came to an end in the Tongshi reign (1862 -1874) as the viceroy for the provinces of Guangdong and Guangxi successfully got a consent of the imperial court to lift the ban on performances. As the former leading guild, the Lotus Guild, had been destroyed a new guild and new headquarters where build in Guangzhou and started to be the new centre of Cantonese Opera.

Many of the performers had been acting in different troupes especially in Beijing troupes, but they had not forgotten their old artistic techniques and brought on top new inspirations. This gave the reform of the Cantonese Opera a significant push. At the same time Guangzhou was one of the early cities opened to foreign trade and attracted as well politicians like Dr. Sun Yat-sen and Kang Youwei with their new ideas.

The challenging environment inspired the troupes to new themes and new forms of Cantonese Opera. New scripts often reflected and discussed social evils and part of new ideologies.

Nowadays many people think that Cantonese Opera only reflects old stories of the past, but there are as well some signs of introducing once again new themes and modern influences into this ever changing form of theatre.