Chuanju troupes

Until the twentieth century, opera troupes in Sichuan specialized in only one or, at most, two of the five different musical systems and performance styles that would come to define the modern genre. But in 1912, the founding of the Sanqing Company in Chengdu integrated these five systems in order to achieve a standardized performance art. This art is now known as Chuanju or Sichuan opera. After Liberation, both amateur and state-run troupes flourished, performing traditional and contemporary plays. But the prosperity of Sichuan opera suffered a severe setback with the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966. By 1971, nearly all professional and amateur troupes had been disbanded.
The sudden revival of traditional opera after the fall of the ‘Gang of Four’ resulted in the reestablishment of 130 professional Sichuan opera troupes with about 17,000 theatre workers. The reform of the economic and political systems in December 1978 also sparked a rethinking of the structure of the performing arts troupes. This included abandoning the iron rice bowl, such that theatre workers would no longer be kept on and paid without actively contributing to the troupe. Moreover, with less state funding, opera troupes were now expected to expand or contract in response to market demand. A ranking system for artists and opera troupes was introduced during the early 1980s to regulate their status and state subsidies. The highest-ranking troupes, such as the Sichuan Province Sichuan Opera Company, came to be administered by the Provincial Cultural Department. Troupes on a city, municipal or autonomous-prefectural level were ranked second and administered by the Cultural Bureaux. Troupes at the county level, the lowest rank, were administered by the county Cultural Offices. Since 1982 all troupes have recruited their actors from the provincial professional opera school in Chengdu or its deputized institutions in the regions.
The number of active professional troupes has dramatically decreased since the early 1990s, as many troupes have been disbanded due to financial difficulties and an increasing lack of public interest and support. Already by 1982, the number of troupes had shrunk to 119, and by 1992 only eighty-six remained. The number of active Sichuan opera troupes in 1997 was estimated to be between forty and fifty, with the majority of these troupes state-run. The estimated number of active troupes in 2000 was about twenty. The number of Sichuan opera workers decreased from 10,900 in 1982 to only 2,000 in 2000, with 1,500 older than forty-five. With the decrease in the number of troupes, and thus in the employment opportunities for artists, the annual enrolment of opera students has also decreased dramatically.
An interesting example of how troupes have responded to the changing social and economic environment is provided by the Third Chengdu City Sichuan Opera Troupe, one of the most acclaimed Sichuan opera troupes. The troupe ceased regular performances in 1997 due to lack of audiences and the destruction of its home, the Jinjiang Theatre, the oldest and most famous theatre in Chengdu. Since then, the troupe has successfully toured overseas, introducing the art of Sichuan opera, as part of China’s cultural heritage, to foreign audiences and returning to profitability at the same time. Nowadays many cities and towns in Sichuan have modern entertainment centres but in most cases these are not played by opera troupes. The Jinjiang Theatre, as the ‘cradle’ of Sichuan opera, has been rebuilt recently: a positive sign for the continuation of the opera’s long tradition. There are also a small number of semi-professional or amateur groups performing in public parks, teahouses and even at official functions or family celebrations, still performing almost every day. The environment for Sichuan opera is now governed less by state cultural policies and more by social and economic forces. Theatre workers today must deal with their art as a ‘cultural commodity’.
See also: Chuanju
Dauth, Ursula (1997). ‘Strategies of Reform in Sichuan Opera since 1982: Confronting the Challenge of Rejuvenating a Regional Opera’. PhD diss., Griffith University.
Mackerras, Colin (1990). Chinese Drama. A Historical Survey. Beijing: New World Press.
URSULA DAUTH

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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