The Guilin Opera: A Storied Chinese Tradition

Guilin Opera is a beloved artform celebrated in southern China. In fact, it is one of country’s ten major opera styles. Utilizing Guilin dialect (桂林话, Guìlín huà) and other regional languages (方言, fāngyán), this traditional performance art tells stories of tragedy and comedy.

The History of Guilin Opera

Guilin Opera originated during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) when Chinese opera spread to Guilin from the north. Once in Guilin, it was adapted by locals and assumed a life of its own.

The artform is closely related to the Qi opera traditions of southern Hunan. In the past, artists from Guilin and Hunan worked and studied together. As a result, their theatrical traditions utilize similar names and singing styles.

Guilin borrows many scripts from Beijing Opera and most performances are held at temple fairs. During these gatherings, actors give uninhibited performances that tell historical stories. In urban areas where opera tends to be more sophisticated, performances often tell romantic stories of young women and men.

guilin opera performance

What is Caidiao?

Caidiao (彩调剧, cǎi diào jù) is another kind of theater in Guangxi Province. As with Guilin Opera, Caidiao originates from the singing and dancing traditions of rural Guilin, yet is livelier and easier to follow than its counterpart.

Stories in Caidiao are lifelike and express the traditions of local ethnic minority groups. Actors generally speak and sing at the same time. Caidiao stories usually follow romances between men and women or the admiration of nature.

Chinese fans and handkerchiefs are common stage props. Actors will often use these items to imitate other materials, bringing a greater sense of fantasy to the audience.

Experience Guilin Opera in Person

Want to learn even more about the diverse, fascinating traditions of Chinese opera? CLI’s Chinese language and culture programs can greatly enhance your understanding of China and its rich traditions.

If you're planning a trip to Guilin, don't forget to check out other aspects of Guilin's unique culture, like Guilin rice noodles.

We've included photos below of an opera performance we held at The Chinese Language Institute in June 2019! We look forward to welcoming you to Guilin soon.

guilin opera

Guilin opera

Guilin opera

Guilin opera

Chinese Vocabulary Related to Chinese Opera

中国戏曲Zhōngguó xìqǔChinese opera
桂剧GuìjùGuangxi Opera
戏服xìfúclothing (only used for theatre)
戏妆xìzhuāngmakeup (only used for theatre)
音乐剧yīnyuèjùmusical theater
歌剧院gējùyuànOpera house
舞台艺术wǔtái yìshùstage arts
头饰tóushìhead ornament
传统乐器chuántǒng yuèqìtraditional music instrument
二胡èrhúerhu (two-stringed bowed musical instrument)
luógong (musical percussion instrument)

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