Red Boat Troupes and Cantonese opera
Yeung, Loretta Siuling
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The Cantonese opera, one of China’s major operas, was inscribed as a valuable world heritage to be preserved by the United Nations in 2009. Because Cantonese people have migrated to many continents, performances, practitioners, and audiences, listeners have expanded to beyond Guangzhou in China, and Hong Kong to diasporas. The Red Boat Troupes were influential in shaping contemporary Cantonese opera. They were performing troupes that used boats for transportation between towns and villages in the Pearl River Estuary from the late Qing dynasty until 1938. These boats were specially designed for opera troupes. The boats also served as sleeping quarters for performers, musicians, apprentices, stagehands, and sailors. Many Red Boats were destroyed during the Japanese invasion of China in 1938. Unfortunately, in just 70 years, no more Red boats seem to exist. This study situates the historical background of Cantonese Opera and Red Boat Troupes. Culture, function, life style, the art, performance practice, aesthetics, and music of Cantonese opera in the Red Boat society are examined. The thesis also looks into the social and economic understandings that brought about the demand for the Red Boat Troupe industry. Changes due to modernity, industrialization, metropolitan living, trade, colonialism, Westernization, and improved transportation affected the development of Cantonese opera. Feminist movement, cross-gender performance, economics, and class issues historically associated with the opera are examined and compared to recent activities in Hong Kong, and in one Cantonese diaspora, Vancouver of Canada. The findings from the research shed light on the genre with a hope of preserving the heritage and increasing the practice and consumption of Cantonese opera.