Traditional Opera

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There are countless ties between the emergence of Daoist operas and the spread of immortal tales in society, so the scripts all have immortals as protagonists.

The form of the Daoist opera came into being in the Song dynasty. According to chapter "moral operas" in Records of the Listener ( 夷堅志 Yijian Zhi ), in the Song dynasty, Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism all publicized their own doctrines by means of operas, which consisted of both songs and spoken parts, generally having the features of operas. In the Yuan dynasty, many men of letters were enthusiastic in the creation of Zaju (a poetic drama). Zaju has certain roles and acting procedures, and its content and style are also strictly regulated. Since it synthesized the functions of "speaking, singing and acting", common people quite appreciated it and regarded it as fashionable. According to Register of Demons ( 錄鬼簿 Lugui Bu ) by Zhong Sicheng, there were more than 400 kinds of Zaju of the Yuan dynasty. Regarding the titles of the operas recorded, about forty works that compose 10 percent of the whole have Daoist activities as subjects and immortal figures as protagonists. Correction of Tunes of the Taihe Era ( 太和正音譜 Taihe Zhengyin Pu ) by Zhu Quan of the Ming dynasty classifies Zaju of the Yuan dynasty into 12 categories. The first category "conversion to Dao by immortals" and the second category "living in seclusion and loving Daoism" are basically Daoist operas. According to Selections from the Yuan Dramas ( 元曲選 yuanqu xuan) of the Ming dynasty, Supplementary Selections from the Yuan Dramas (元曲選外編 yuanqu xuan waibian ) by Sui Shusen of today and Collection of the Ancient Versions of Dramas ( 古本戲劇叢刊 Guben Xiju Congkan ), there are still as many as 17 existent Daoist dramas of the Yuan dynasty. Besides, some works, such as Tale of the Peach-Blossom Girl's Marrying Duke Zhou for Her Magic Skill's Losing Efficacy ( 桃花女破法嫁周公 Taohuanü Pofa Jia Zhougong ), do not have immortal figures as the protagonists, but they are deeply affected by Daoist thought.

Daoist cultivation aims at transcending mortality and entering the sacred. In Daoist operas of the Yuan dynasty, this pursuit is further specified. For example, Lu Dongbin, Li Tieguai and the like in the operas all have unusual abilities. They can either revive from death, or eliminate disasters, save mortals, and transform animals and plants, getting them out of the abyss of misery. In the dramatists' wording and purport, the Daoist immortals have not only superb magical arts, but also incomparable dwelling places. The works often display the wonderfulness and delightfulness of Daoist Grotto Heavens ( 洞天 Dongtian ) and Blissful Realms ( 福地 Fudi ).

In order to form a contrast with the laudation of the sacred immortal realms, Daoist operas of the Yuan dynasty expose much of the tragedies in the official circle in the human world. For instance, Tale of a Handan Daoist's Awaking from His Golden Millet Dream ( 邯鄲道省悟黃梁夢 Handan Dao Xingwu Huangliangmeng ) takes Huang Gechen's life-long hustle and bustle as an example to persuade people into realizing human worries before it is too late. Though told by immortals, it actually reflects many intellectuals' discontent with the dark society at that time.

After the Yuan dynasty, creation of Daoist operas increasingly developed. A few works, such as Walking Alone in the All-Embracing Heaven ( 獨步大羅天 Dubu Daluotian ) by Danqiu represent the flourishing creation of Daoist operas in the Ming dynasty. Compared to Daoist operas before the middle of the Yuan dynasty, those after the Ming dynasty tend to weaken the exposition of social contradiction. Their plots keep the previous appearance of immortal legends. Regarding their idea, the works contain evident preaching elements. When the immortal figures in the operas try to convert people to Daoism, they must fix attention on propagating the transitoriness of human life. If writers at the beginning of the Yuan dynasty creating Daoist operas had the tendency to criticize the unfair social phenomena, Daoist operas created after the late Yuan and early Ming dynasties express Daoist purport in the aspect of cultivation and practice.