Kunqu stands as the oldest extant genre of Chinese theatre and has had far-reaching influences on Chinese literature, stage performance, music, and dance. In 2001, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) proclaimed kunqu, along with 18 other forms of cultural genres, as a masterpiece of “the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.”
Kunqu took shape in the mid sixteenth century in the lower Yangtze region of China and gained nationwide popularity in the following three hundred years. The scripts of kunqu are known for their refined, lyrical beauty; works such as Tang Xianzu’s The Peony Pavilion (1598) and Hong Sheng’s The Palace of Eternal Youth (1688) are regarded as masterpieces of Chinese literature and poetry. In performance, singing, recitation, movement, martial arts techniques, and acrobatic stunts are fused into a single dynamic, flowing, and harmonious performance. These well-integrated stage actions not only bring the audience sensory enjoyment but also add depth to the characters and convey the dramatic themes.
Kunqu has developed into a profound performing tradition and has provided literature, training, and inspiration for later genres of Chinese theatre. It is both a critical landmark and living tradition of Chinese performing arts and culture.