This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of modern Chinese drama. For a century, after the efforts of generations of artists, local drama has grown to become an art form with Chinese characteristics and an important part of China's stage performances.
Compared with traditional Chinese operas, which feature stylized, fictitious and strongly rhythmic movements, modern drama is more realistic. The birth of modern drama, once considered an alien art form, and its evolution in China, are a mirror of the social changes the country has gone through.
A century ago, China, struggling in a desperate semi-feudal and semi-colonial state, was in urgent need of social reform. Reflecting social responsibility and the state of humanity, modern drama in China developed in tandem with the country's growth, and was always ready to portray the feelings of the Chinese people throughout history.
Looking back at the evolution of modern Chinese drama, people will be able to see the reflection of specific periods in history through classic works. No drama in any nation has played such an important role in a nation's political and social life as Chinese drama has done.
After a century of development, modern Chinese drama has gradually formed its own style, through the combination of foreign influence and the art of traditional Chinese operas. Many world-class playwrights, directors, performers and stage artists have emerged in China in the last hundred years, and active involvement in social affairs, indigenous forms of expression and abidance to realism have been the three major features of modern Chinese drama.
Today, modern drama and many traditional dramas alike are facing a challenge from other forms of art and entertainment and their popularity is on the decline. To many young people, dramas are not as convenient to enjoy as TV shows and entertainment found on the Internet. It seems that stages and theaters that once inspired and brought great enjoyment to the Chinese people are almost a thing of the past.
At present, the number of performances a year by the most active state-owned drama troupe in China is less than one third of its counterpart from a European country. The situation of some local troupes is even worse. Stricken by a shortage of funds for years, they cannot afford to rehearse or present classical and other currently relevant stage plays.
Things seem to be different concerning commercial productions funded by businesses, which are always blamed for high ticket prices and a focus on visual effects rather than artistic quality.
On the contrary, some low-cost plays staged by private troupes in Beijing and Shanghai have been dynamic, though they are immature artistically and simple in production. However, the reality for them is also simple-without funding, their non-profit performances will not survive.
Will modern drama disappear in China? Perhaps there is room for some optimism. With a more effective network for drama in a more open social environment, various types of dramas will find their own ways to emerge. While financial support from the government is needed, many other aspects of dramatic arts should be market driven.
Right now, major cities in China have been busy with various activities to commemorate the 100th birthday of modern Chinese drama. Besides recalling old memories, it is more significant if they can trigger deeper thinking about drama in the future and how it can recapture its former glory.