By holding evening galas or live-streaming performances of Chinese operas, known as gems of traditional Chinese culture, multiple online platforms in China have injected new vitality into the popularization of the refined art and have helped to create a craze for art forms featuring opera elements.
“I have performed Huangmei Opera for 30 years. But I never expected that I would attract so many new fans through live-streaming shows,” said Liu Lihua, head of the Huangmei Opera troupe in Huaining county, Anqing city, east China’s Anhui Province.
Liu said that the troupe has moved its performances online in recent two years due to the negative effects of the COVID-19 epidemic and has held live-streaming sessions on Douyin, a popular short-video sharing platform in China. To her surprise, the troupe’s live-streaming account on the platform garnered 600,000 followers and 3 million likes in just three months.
The popularity of Huangmei Opera on the platform epitomizes the appeal of traditional Chinese opera to an increasing number of people.
Statistics showed that by February of this year, performances of over 300 Chinese opera types had been presented on Douyin, 231 types of which had also been performed through live-streaming sessions. Last year, over 800,000 live-streaming shows on Chinese operas were held on the platform, with each attracting an average of more than 3,200 viewers. The top five most popular operas on Douyin were Peking Opera, Qinqiang Opera, Yue Opera, Huangmei Opera, and Henan Yu Opera.
“Online platforms offer viewers easy access to traditional Chinese operas,” said Wan Quan, a fan of Peking Opera who was born in the 1990s.
The biggest perk of watching online videos featuring Peking Opera is that young fans can acquire knowledge of the art, something which is necessary to truly appreciate the art form, through comments from other internet users, according to Wan.
He explained that when viewers find resonance with operas through online interaction, they will be more willing to continue to learn about opera and enjoy opera performances offline.
Meanwhile, internet platforms have also helped popularize some art forms featuring opera elements.
On China’s popular video-streaming platform Bilibili, Bian Jingting, a vlogger who graduated from the Shanghai Theatre Academy, has garnered about 800,000 followers by uploading videos featuring herself performing Chinese “gufeng” songs in a Peking Opera style. “Gufeng” music is a particular type of music with lyrical, musical, and symbolic references to ancient China that is often produced, consumed, and circulated within online fan communities.
Many viewers commented that they went on to learn more about traditional operas after watching her videos.
Now Bian introduces shows of traditional Chinese operas and related knowledge to her audiences during live-streaming sessions, popularizing Chinese opera culture.
“The reason why songs featuring elements of traditional Chinese operas have become popular among young people, is that young creators are more familiar with new media and make innovations by blending elements of traditional Chinese operas into songs,” said Lin Ling, an associate researcher with the China Institute of Fudan University.
Lin pointed out to better inherit traditional Chinese operas, the industry will continue to attract more audiences and continue to make these operas fun through innovations.