Gezai Opera tells the history of overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia
By Li Qing  ·  2022-07-20  ·   Source: Web Exclusive

Gezai Opera Qiaopi on the stage in Beijing on July 16 (YIN KANG)

On July 16, the Gezai Opera Qiaopi hit the stage at Beijing’s Tianqiao Performing Arts Center. Revolving around qiaopi, letters describing feelings of homesickness, the play echoed the correspondence between overseas Chinese and their hometowns in the 19th century.

The qiaopi, popular in Guangdong and Fujian provinces during the 19th and 20th centuries, documented the trials and tribulations facing Chinese working or living overseas, especially in Southeast Asian countries. As a valuable document for overseas Chinese, UNESCO included the records in its Memory of the World Register in 2013.

Su Yanrong, a leading actress in the play, told Beijing Review that Gezai Opera is the best genre to illustrate their stories. “The opera’s weeping tunes convey the sense of frustration and sadness in the romantic relationship between the main characters.”

Gezai Opera, also known as Xiang Opera, is a folk art that has its roots in southern Fujian Province. A huge regional fan base aside, the craft also made its way to Taiwan. Today, cross-Straits exchanges via the Xiamen Gezai Opera Research Center are happening.

Before the pandemic struck, artists from both sides cooperated in the creation of many performances, including Qiaopi, the play’s scriptwriter Zeng Xuewen, who works at the center, told Beijing Review. He added the genre also has a fan base across Southeast Asia.

Wang Liying, Deputy Secretary General of the Beijing-Xiamen Chamber of Commerce, said the Gezai Opera left him feeling homesick. “When the performers were speaking and singing in the dialect, I was transported back to my childhood.”

“We created the play to introduce this group of people to the public and showcase their persistence,” Zeng said.

Feng Xinxin, a member of the council of China Association for International Cultural Exchanges with Overseas Chinese, said the soul of these overseas Chinese still holds significant meaning in the new era.

Different from those in the 19th century, today’s generations have a better life in other countries and regions and promote economic cooperation and cultural exchanges with the Chinese mainland, she said.

What hasn’t changed, is their love for the Chinese mainland and their heartfelt concern about its development, Yang Boxun, Executive Director of The Chinese Overseas Publishing House, told Beijing Review. “At the same time, they have also integrated with local society and contributed to its development.”

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

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