When it comes to evoking the mystery and charm of ancient China, few art forms can compare to Chinese Opera, with its kaleidoscopic costumes, distinctive falsetto singing punctuated by gong, and intricate gestures rich with symbolism. Despite serious competition from more modern forms of entertainment, traditional Chinese performance art in the form of Cantonese opera continues to persevere in Hong Kong, China as a beautiful and timeless craft.
Cantonese Opera was inscribed into the UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009. As one of the major styles of Chinese operas, Cantonese Opera is a highly respected and much-loved art form that blends Chinese legend, music and drama into a vibrant performance style that’s rich with symbolic meaning. It is very popular with audiences in southern China and many parts of SE Asia.
Cantonese Opera Charity Performance
On the evening of September 4th, 2019, Madame Pan Peng, spouse of the H.E. Ambassador Lyu Jian from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China to the Kingdom of Thailand presided the opening of the Cantonese Opera Charity Performance at the China Cultural Centre. The grand event was jointly organised by Cantonese Opera Group (Thailand) and Hong Kong Ladies’ Group to promote the rich Chinese heritage. As the long-standing patron of Hong Kong Ladies’ Group, Madame Pan Peng fully guided the success of the proceedings. The event was graced by the presence of many Excellences namely from the EU, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Poland, and many other VIP guests.
The event came about when Hong Kong Ladies’ Group paid a New Year courtesy call to Madame Pan Peng at the Chinese Embassy in January this year. “No Man is an island.” Madame’s vision was to encourage the promotion of the rich Chinese heritage to share with the local and international communities in Thailand. At the same time, Madame’s compassion for the less fortunate offered another key objective for the evening. Proceeds from the event fundraising benefitted Chaiyapruk Foundation and the Orphanage Foundation of Thailand.
Within the short time frame of eight months, Hong Kong Ladies’ Group, in cooperation with Cantonese Opera Group Thailand had worked tirelessly on this event. The local performers, though branded as amateurs, were those who are true enthusiasts and supporters of Cantonese Opera. Together with the overseas Hong Kong, Chinese performers, they have presented a glimpse of the richness of the Chinese culture. The 200 plus audiences gave full credit to their indisputable passions on the endeavour.
Background history of Cantonese Opera
Cantonese Opera, also known as “Guangfu Opera”, originated in Foshan, Guangdong Province, it is a local traditional opera sung in Cantonese dialect. It is not only popular in the Pearl River Delta, Western Guangdong, Hong Kong, Macau and southeastern Guangxi, but also in SE Asia, the United States, Australia and other Cantonese speaking areas. In the course of its development, Yiyang Opera, Kun Opera, Han Opera, Hui Opera, Qin Opera and many other operas have influenced Cantonese Opera. It has gathered the finest from each of the above and forms its own style. Cantonese opera not only inherited the traditional opera culture, but also carries the distinctive ‘Lingnan’ style.
Elaborated art form of Cantonese Opera
When you watch Cantonese opera or other traditional Chinese operas, you will have an impression that the makeup of the opera is exaggerated, and the contrast is very strong between the two colours red and white. This is because the stage is far away from the audience. The exaggerated makeup is to let the audience see the expression of the actors on the stage clearly. The style of the makeup can also cover and correct imperfections on actors’ faces. For example, red gives the feeling of concave, and white gives the feeling of convex. The contrast of red and white on the nose can make the bridge on the actor’s nose look higher and straighter. Another example is the small curves on the faces of the Chinese opera actors. It is called “Pian Zi” in Chinese opera. The curves are made from human hair. By gluing the hair on the face, it can help the actors change their face shapes. No matter how big or small the actors’ faces are, they can eventually be changed into a standard oval shape.
One very distinctive tradition in Chinese operas, including Cantonese opera, is that, female roles are played by men in an all male opera group and vice versa male parts are played by female in an all female group. This is because in ancient times, men and women were not allowed to perform on the same stage, therefore it was necessary to have all male or all female performing groups. Nowadays even though it is no longer an issue for men and women to perform on the same stage, however this tradition has been preserved. Furthermore, due to facial features of women are often more soft and graceful, they are perfect for playing good looking young men. These days there are more performances of women playing male roles than men play female roles. In most opera costumes, there are two pieces of white cloth in front of the sleeves, and they are called water sleeves. Its function is to help actors to make the dance movements more graceful, and to show the mood changes the characters. Audiences don’t need to understand Cantonese or be familiar with the stories of Chinese history and mythology from which these dramas are written to enjoy this fine art.
Chinese legends told through song and dance
Many Chinese legends are told throughout history by song and dance as a form of educational entertainment. One of the popular legend handed over the years in Cantonese Opera is “The death of the Emperor’s daughter.” Princess Changping was the youngest daughter of Emperor ChongZhen in the late Ming Dynasty. Unlike most of the princesses who were forced into arranged marriages, Princess Changping was able to marry the man that she loved, his name was Zhou ShiXian. Sadly destiny made fool of them – the day they were supposed to get married, ended up being the day Ming Dynasty ended! Faced with the collapse of the country and the death of her family, they decided to pretend to surrender to the new Qing Emperor in order to give her father a proper burial befitting of an emperor and beg for the release of the Emperor’s brothers. When everything was done accordingly, they had a wedding ceremony under the Lian Li tree in front of the Hall of Heavenly Purity, and afterwards committed suicide by drinking arsenic laced wine.
China Cultural Centre
The Bangkok Chinese Cultural Centre is the first Chinese cultural centre established in SE Asia. It aims to promote Chinese culture, develop cultural exchanges and cooperation between China and Thailand, and enhance the friendship between our two peoples and the friendly relations between the two countries. The Bangkok China Cultural Center covers an area of 8,222sqm and has a construction area of approximately 7,900sqm. It is currently the largest overseas Chinese cultural centre. The centre building inherits the spirit of the Chinese classical pillar construction, and adopts the dense language of the Thai temple to integrate the classic architectural culture of China and Thailand. The Bangkok Chinese Cultural Centre has a complete functional space, with exhibition halls, theatres, classrooms, libraries, restaurants, etc. It provides the local community with a wide range of services to understand and learn about Chinese culture.
Hong Kong Ladies’ Group
Hong Kong Ladies’ Group is a Bangkok-based, non-profit making social group founded in 1991. Our objective is to assist newly arriving lady expatriates from Hong Kong to adjust to their new environment and to meet new friends through the monthly luncheons and activities. Apart from promoting friendship, unity and mutual support among members during their residence in Thailand, HKLG has also established a charity trust, funds from which are used to help the needy throughout the country. The patron of Hong Kong Ladies’ Group is the spouse of the Ambassador of The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China to the Kingdom of Thailand. Madame Pan Peng is our current patron, and she has graciously supported and sponsored us since her arrival to Thailand. HKLG sincerely hopes that Hong Kong, China continues to enjoy the special privileges of “One Country, Two Systems” and benefit from the rising prosperity of China, and maintain the status of the “Pearl of the Orient”.
Cantonese Opera Group (Thailand)
Cantonese Opera Group (Thailand) was founded in 2007 when a group of Hong Kong Chinese who are enthusiasts in Cantonese Opera, wanted to join forces to promote the art. The key members included Kitty Chow, Winnie Lo, Ellen Liu, Sarintr Tsai, Rity Lee, Chow Man, Cheung Man Leung and Yuky Wan who all are long time resident from Hong Kong and members of Hong Kong Ladies’ Group. Kitty Chow was the first Chairwoman of the Cantonese Opera Group (Thailand). The current Chairperson Winnie Lo is Past President of HKLG.
Heartfelt appreciation for the generous donors and sponsors
The fundraising event received generous donation and sponsorship from various parties, in particular Zhongce Rubber Group Co Ltd for the significant donation. Swissotel Bangkok Ratchada sponsored a sumptuous cocktails reception for the VIP guests and catering for food and drinks to others. Other benevolent corporate sponsors included Primanest and iFree SIM card. The grand project was orchestrated successfully with credit to many indisputable sincere individuals who are members and friends of both HLKG and Cantonese Opera Group in volunteering their time and effort. Both Winnie Lo and I offer our deep appreciation for several individuals in particular, Ellen Liu, Teresa Biesty, Catherine Bowers, and