Dixi drama, literally Ground Opera in Chinese, is considered the forebear of many other forms of Chinese opera. It can be traced back to the 14th century during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), when the armed forces of North China entered Guizhou. Originally it is a sacrificial ceremony performed by the soldiers in Tunpu area of Anshun, Guizhou, to entertain the gods and ask for victory in battle. With its spreading among the populace, Dixi drama has becomes a form of popular entertainment among dwellers around Anshun town, Guizhou.
The birth of Dixi drama is closely related to the station troops in Anshun who came from Anhui Province, Jiangsu Province, Jiangxi Province, Zhejiang Province, Henan Province, etc. The Ming troop set up 24 Military Stations (wei,卫) and 26 Thousand-household Garrisons (suo,所) in Guizhou, among which 3 stations and 2 garrisons were in Anshun, and the soliders in these military administrative communities were called “tun-pu ren”(station people) in the historical materials, and it was due to the tun-pu station people that the Dixi drama appeared accordingly.
Dixi drama was a particular kind of folk drama played by the station people, in which wood carving masks were used. The birth of Dixi drama was related with the station people’s living situation. The main body of Nuo Culture was originally Central Plains Culture. The military Nuo which integrated offering sacrifice, exercising drills and recreation had existed in the troops for a long time. The military Nuo and the folk Nuo popular in the common people in Central Plains were brought to Guizhou after the troops entered this area, and they combined with the local conditions and customs to become Guizhou Dixi Drama centering on Anshun.
In Tunpu around Anshun, Dixi drama is the primary entertainment activity. It is generally staged twice in a year, during the spring festival and the mid-July harvest season. The religious meaning is obvious. People hope the drama can drive away bad luck and bring good harvest. Year after year, numerous locals are attracted to this performance. Sometimes a drama can last a dozen days.
Musical instruments for Dixi drama include one gong and one drum. The drummer is very important during a performance. The stage may be a village square or a vacant ground on the roadside, and the audience usually stands around on the high land for a better view of the performance.
Most of the popular operas are based on historical battle stories, such as Wars between Chu and Han, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the History of the Sui and Tang Dynasties, and Generals of the Yang Family. These stories have been told for hundreds of years but still remain fresh.
The local farmers are the players. They wear fancy wooden masks carved of wood, and dress in cloth shoes, unadorned robes, with banners on their backs and weapons in their hands. Around 40 to more than 100 different masks will be used in each opera. When performing, the players cover their faces with black gauze before placing the masks on their forehead. To the tempos of gongs and drums, the performers wielding wood swords and folding fans, sing the ancient folk stories. Their performance is full of enthusiasm and vibrates with long, loud, resonant voices.
The performance procedure of Anshun Dixi consists of the following parts: “opening the case”, “welcoming the Gods”, “the ritual before the start of the drama”, “sorcerer’s dance in a trance”, “the ritual after the end of the drama” and “closing the case” and so on. “Sorcerer’s dance in a trance ” is the formal performance, and it consists of “the King holds a court”, “send out the declaration of war”, “dispatch troops” and “return the court”. The other parts are activities related with the dispelling evils and bringing in auspiciousness. The station people’s ideology of Gods and spirits endue the Dixi drama with the property of “nuoyuan”. When building houses, praying for blessings and asking for sons, the villagers will also ask the Gods in Dixi performing team (such as Guan Yu and She Taijun) to perform the activity of “opening the gate of fortune” and “Sending princes”.
by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com
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