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Wu drama iintroduction

Wu Regional Drama

(Wu ju 婺劇)

The formal name of "Wu Regional Drama" did not appear until after 1949. However, since the mid-Ming (mid-16th century), there were already various kinds of regional dramas, which were distinguished by their different melodies, popular in Jinhua and its surrounding area. The most important ones include:

Gaoqiang 高腔: It can further be divided into four sub-melodies. Originated in the mid-16th and the first half of the 17th century, they were among the oldest melodies of the dramas in the Jinhua area. No longer popular in recent years.

Kunqu 崑曲: It has been regarded as the mainstream of the dramas in the Jinhua area. Being one branch of the famous kunqu drama, it has a popular name "grass-root kun [caokun 草崑]" in Jinhua, because it modified the language and the melody of kunqu with Wu dialect, and also simplified them for their less educated audience.

Luantan 亂彈: Troupes of luantan melody were also called "Pujiang troupe [Pujiang ban 浦江班]," because these troupes were mostly from Pujiang. It combines three melodies originated in different places.

Huixi 徽戲: Originated in the Huizhou area (modern Anhui Province), it transmitted to Jinhua by Hui merchants in the late 19th century.

In earlier times, each of these different melodies had its own plays and troupes. The earliest troupes were gaoqiang, kunqu, and luantan ones. These troupes only performed the plays of the specific melody they belonged to. Later, the distinctions among them blurred, and some troupes began to perform plays of all three kinds of melodies. Such troupes were called "three-in-one troupes [sanhe ban 三合班]". During the late 19th century, when huixi became popular in Jinhua, some three-in-one troupes substitued gaoqiang with huixi. Later, troupes in Jinhua also incorporated some other melodies.

The troupes originally only performed in rural areas, and thus their major audience were less educated peasants. (Only after the early 30s, they gradually performed in towns.) As a consequence, the majority of the plays are those of fast-rythem ones, such as martial art plays.

During 1862 to 1908, there were more than 40 troupes in Jinhua.

In 1949, the government formally called dramas performed in the Jinhua area as "Wu regional drama." The government also supported the founding of some Wu regional drama troupes, and thus produced some excellent actors. During the early 80s, there were twelve troupes. However, in recent years, it is declining.

(Based on interviews in Jinhua and Zhongguo xiqu juzhong da cidian中國戲曲劇種大辭典, Shanghai cishu chuban she, 1995)