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15 July 2015

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Diversified Art Forms in Hunan

There are 19 kinds of Chinese local operas and nearly 100 performance art troupes in Hunan. Of course, the most influential is the Flower Drum Opera. Other art forms like music, dancing, painting, calligraphy and decorative porcelain  have also achieved notable successes.



Local drama, in Hunan, consists mainly of traditional operas, and local, popular operas, including seventeen varieties and over 5000 repertoires, such as "A Biography of the Patriotic General Yue Fei", "Paying Tribute to the Moon", "A Story of the White Rabbit", "The Investiture of the Gods", and so on. Xiang Opera, Qi Opera , Hengyang Opera, WuLing Opera, Chenhe Opera, Jinghe Opera, Baling Opera , Hunan Kunqu opera, etc, are all specific types of Hunan, local, traditional operas. The local popular operas include Hunan Huagu Opera, Festival Lantern Opera, Yangxi Opera, etc, the first two, however, being the most influential and widely spread.  


Hunan Province is also known as "Xiang". In Hunan Province, The Xiang Opera, a major, local opera, was formed during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The opera was mostly performed in the provincial capital Changsha, and in nearby Xiangtan, hence the name Changsha Xiang Opera. It has 12 types of roles such as Sheng (male role), Dan (female role), Chou (clown or comic role), and 'flower-faced' roles (a popular name for jing or male roles, because of the elaborate facial painting used). Non-martial scenes are accompanied by instruments like flutes and yu-kin, an ancient stringed instrument, while percussive instruments accompany martial scenes.  


The well-known Hunan Huagu Opera is the general name for minor, local opera genres in Hunan Province. Derived from Hunan folk songs, it has developed from a two-role drama (a female and a clown) to a three-role drama (a young female, a young male and a clown). There are more than 400 traditional plays and 300 tunes in its repertoire, of which "Liu Hai", "The Firewood Cutter", and "Flying Kite" won prizes at the national level. Small Suona and percussions are the main accompanying instruments. In terms of modern operatic creation, plays of influence include "Sister and Sisters-in-Law" during the 1950s and "Father Luosi Buying an Ox", during the 1980s. 



During the Qianjia Reign of the Qing Dynasty, the musician, Qiu Zhimu, used the local, ancient music as the basis for the music he developed for a Confucian temple in Liuyang, now a county near Changsha City. His development successfully made up the long loss of "Hu" which was once one of the "eight musical instruments" of ancient Chinese music. It was once said that Yuan Shikai wanted to use ancient music in his coronation ceremony, and that officials were sent out to investigate and select the music appropriate for the grand ceremony. After their investigation, they finally came to conclusion that the ancient music in Liuyang was far more complete than that in Chufu, the hometown of Confucius, although the latter enjoyed great reputation all over the country, at that time.


Sacrificial songs and dances are also an early form of Hunan folk song and dance which have lasted for a very long time. Some wide-spread folk songs such as the "Mourning Song", "Dry Dragon Boat", "Nuo Qiang (a kind of tune)" and "Hunting Song" still retain some ancient references to sacrifice, through which one can see the value the ancient Chu people placed upon sacrifice. Since 1993, more than 500 people, and 300 projects, won prizes in national and provincial competitions. These works include pieces of dance music which have won the Gold medal of national music awards.




Being an important part of Hunan culture, Hunan dancing arts are known for their long history and unique artistic style. According to statistics (which are, as of yet, incomplete), Hunan has more than 400 types of dance, and thousands of plays which incorporate dance.


Hunan folk dance grew out of the Chu culture and Hunan aboriginal culture. During the Tang dynasty, famous court dances, such as "Green Twist", "White Hideous Dance", and "Cudrania Branch Dance" were spread to Hunan. After seeing a dance by the southern beauties of Changsha, Li qunyu, a great poet during the Tang dynasty, wrote the poem, "Climb Up the East Tower to Watch Dancing in Changsha in 9th", giving a vivid description of that dance. Such dances as these hwere merged with local Chu dancing, and the folk dancing of the time, finally resulting in the colorful and distinctive forms of dance now seen in Hunan. Since ancient times, a variety of ethnic groups have lived in Hunan. These include the Miao, Tu Jia , Dong, Yao , Zhuang, Hui, and Wa ethnic groups.Their distinctive customs, life-styles, and cultural traditions have resulted in a variety of dancing arts. The Miao dances include works such as "Incense Burning Dance","Receiving the Dragon Dance", "Shield Dance", "Pioneer Dance", "Tea Tray Dance", "Exorcising Wish Dance", "Duguan Dance (crossing a pass)", "Drum Dance , and "Reed Pipe Dance".  Tujia dances include "Hand waving Dance", "Mao Gu Si (Hairy Hunter’s Dance)", "Eight Precious Copper Bells", "Drum Beating Dance", "Horse Racing Dance", "Flag Making Dance", "Chicken Rounding Dance", "Meichang Dance", "Eight Skirts of Thin Silk", "Funeral Ritual Dance", and so on. Dances of the Dong ethnic group include "Dong People’s Reed Pipe Dance", "Duo Ye", and "Dongdong Tui". The Yao ethnic group is widely distributed throughout the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Hunan, Yunan , Guangdong and Guizhou. Their primary dances include "Umbrella Dance", "Knife Dance", "Shield Dance", "Cavel Short Drum", "Burning Incense Dragon", and some sacrificial dancing.





The Changsha drawing could be traced back to ancient times, which is well-represented in the silk painting in Chu county of Han dynasty. The Changsha painter Yi yuanji in Northern Song dynasty enjoyed a good reputation and was called to enter the palace as a painter. It was said that once there were two swallow nests in the hall, the swallows flew away after seeing the sparrow hawk drawn by Yi, from which we could see his excellent skills. 



Since Han dynasty, Changsha calligraphers have come forth in large numbers. Ou yango xun who creates a separate school of calligraphy, has won worldwide reputation. In Tang dynasty, the Korean king once dispatched a messenger for his works. Masthead of Japan’s "Asia News" is now incorporating Ou yangxun’s characters. The trace of pool in which Ou washes his brushes is still there in Ou’s hometown Shutang mountain of Wangcheng county in Hunan. Monk Huaisu in Changsha who learned Buddhism from childhood, was very fond of writing. He called the place he buried his brushes "brush graves". Being absorbed in copying the model of calligraphy, he became "sage of calligraphy" and was called "dominant" by LiBai, our great poet in Tang dynasty. 


In the University of 0xford and museums of Japan, Korea and some other countries, there are lots of Chinese decorative porcelain, which are from the Changsha Kiln in Tang Dynasty and carved with "Number one in the world" and "well-known in the world” on them. The foreign expert claims that “In history of Chinese ceramics, it makes epoch-making change." 


Decorative Porcelain


The Changsha Kiln was first established in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and its site was found in the town of Tongguan in the suburb of Changsha in Central China's Hunan Province , hence its other name of the Tongguan Kiln.

The kiln prospered at the junction of the late Tang Dynasty and the Five Dynasties (907-960), before gradually declining after the Five Dynasties. The products of the kiln were mainly common house wares like pots and jars. The most prominent achievement of the Changsha Kiln was its invention of underglaze painting technology, which exerted tremendous influences upon the underglaze decoration technologies succeeding it.

The distinctive artistic feature of the Changsha Kiln at that time was its products being the first to incorporate traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy as decorations. (source: