Hebei Province, one of the birthplaces of the Chinese nation, lies on the middle and lower basin of Yellow River. It's also the only one province that has the plain, prairie, plateau, mountains, lakes and seashores at the same time. Due to its long history, brilliant culture an
d favorable natural condition, it has formed a colorful and various folk arts.
Folk arts of Hebei Province, such as local operas, folk vocal art forms, folk songs and dance, country traditional music, folk fine arts, characteristic crafts, Cangzhou Martial arts and Wuqiao Acrobatics, enjoy a great fame at home and abroad. All of these arts show the Chinese cultural tradition from different aspects.
They all originate from the folk lives. Some are carried from the history; Some are transplanted from outside; And some bring forth new ideas in a new form. At last, these folk arts which are well received by the people have formed a marked local feature. They not only make a strong impact in the history, but also have a continuous artistic vitality till now.
In the historical development of folk arts of Hebei Province, they not only are effective for the people to mould their sentiment, entertain their bodies and minds, express their feelings and communicate their thoughts, but also make a historic contribution to social development of Hebei.
After 1949, folk arts of Hebei Province were systematized comprehensively and entered the period of all-round rejuvenation. And these arts which are added the feature of new times have been vigorous since 1978.
At present, with the development of society, science and culture, folk arts of Hebei Province and its special artistic charm are to condense the people, build a healthy spiritual surroundings, promote the communication between Chinese and foreign culture and give service to the economic development. All in all, they play a social role in developing the politic, economy and culture in the great aim of building socialism with Chinese characteristics.
There are many old traditional local operas in Hebei such as Jin and Yuan Mixed Opera which were very popular in Hebei before they spread to the southern area of Jiangsu and Zhejiang.
The opera tunes of Yiyang, Kunshan, Bangzi and Erhuang etc. have been popular in Hebei one after another since Ming and Qing Dynasties. In the last years of 1940s, the most influential and developed local operas mainly are Hebei Clapper Opera and Pingju Opera.
At present, there are more than 30 popular operas including 26 native ones. And the representative operas are Hebei Clapper Opera, Baoding Old Tune, Anguo Old Tune, Pingdiao Laozi Opera, Xinyin Tune, Hengqi Tune, Haha Tune, Four-strand string Opera, Pingju Opera, Tang Opera, Tangshan Shadow Play, Baoding Shadow Play, Nanxin Village Puppet Play, Guyi Exorcising Play, Silk and String Play, Bashang song-and-dance Duet and Haixing Southern Dong Show etc.
Folk Vocal Art Forms
The folk vocal art forms in Hebei, various in the forms and plays, have a long history. And there are over thirty main forms which are popular in all over this province, such as West River Drum, Laoting Bass Drum, Jinzhou Dragon Drum, Zanhuang Flag-Drum, Anguo Man-drawn Drum, Gaoyi Waist Drum, Changshan War Drum, Gaocheng Golden Cymbals and War Drum, Cangzhou Wooden Bass Drum, Wooden Clapper Talks, Shibuxian (ballad singing), Danxian (story-telling to musical accompaniment), Storytelling, Comic Dialogues, Shulaibao (rhythmic storytelling to clapper accompaniment), Clapper Talks, Three-and-a-half Sentences Talking etc.
Among all these vocal art forms, some sing the lengthy stories and others sing the single pieces of paragraphs. There are thousands of various booklists which are handed down for years and millions of professional performers and amateur entertainers who are engaged in these vocal art forms.
Folk Song and Dance
Hebei folk song and dance have forms and contents such as folk songs, Chuige (wing songs) and song-and-dance etc., among which Hebei folk songs are mostly created orally by the people with rich contents and variety of styles to reflect the vast picture scrolls of history and voice the aspirations of the people.
Hebei Chuige is a special sort of performing form of playing national folk music instrument. Suona horn is the main instrument accompanied by pipas, flutes and banhu fiddle and some percussion instruments such as gongs, drums and cymbals etc.
Chuige is performed in the festivals, weddings,, funerals and celebrations. Hebei song-and-dance has the main form of Yangko and 146 other kinds such as variety of lanterns, drums and lion dance, bamboo horses, land boats, flower boat, small vehicles and big-head dance etc., which need stage properties to perform with.
Country Ancient Music
The country ancient music is popular in the rural areas of Hebei. At present, some of them have been preserved intact. They are Guangzong Taipingdao Religious Music in Xingtai, Dajiao (performing a Taorism ritual) and Ceremony Music of Julu Taorist Music Group, Qujiaying Music Society in Gu'an County of Langfang City and Junlu Village Yihetuan Music.
The common character of these four kinds music is the appearance of religion. But they all absolutely represent the tradition of national culture.
So all of them can be regarded as a solemn and refined music for Confucianism and Taorism. These precious ancient cultural heritages are the treasure of our national music. They vie with other music for glamour in the folk music garden since they are so unsophisticated, elegant and special.
Folk Fine Arts
The folk fine arts of Hebei province includes calligraphy and rubbings from stone inscriptions of past dynasties, frescos in temples and mausoleum, and folk paintings, etc.
Among them, the calligraphy and rubbings provide important information for research of historical and cultural relic and the art of calligraphy itself.
Also, the frescos play a quite contributing role in research of fresco art and art history. These treasured cultural heritages are of high art and relic values. Folk paintings originate from the folk lives. On the basis of inheriting traditional painting style, it grew with new innovations and thus became a key component in the folk art of Hebei.
Arts and Crafts of Hebei
There are a large number of traditional and rich artistic handicrafts in Hebei province, not only the old-line traditional earthen arts, such as Kiln Ding, Kiln Ci, Kiln Xing and Black Pottery, but also the wonderful carving arts, such as stone carving, bone carving, wood carving and shell mosaic.
In addition, there are also vivid ornaments include the cloth-pasted picture, filigree, filigree head ornaments, artificial amber, and also exquisite manual weaving arts, such as tapestry, wickerwork, reed-woven applique and embroidery, all kinds of literature and sport facilities, such as brush pens, Inkstones, balls, many hand-made products, such as paper-cut, mud-mold, flour-mold, kite, palace lantern and festive lantern.
Folk Martial Arts
Chinese folk martial arts have 129 kinds of boxing, among which there are 52 originated in Hebei Province. They are mainly distributed over Cangzhou, Baoding, Tangshan, Langfang, Hengshui and Xingtai etc.
The extant and most influential kinds include the Cangzhou Baji Boxing, Cangzhou Pigua Boxing, Cangzhou Yanqing Boxing, Yongnian Shadow Boxing of Yang Style, Yongnian Shadow Boxing of Wu Style, Langfang Eight-diagram Palm Exercise, Xingtao Plum Boxing and Shenzhou Xingyi Boxing etc.
Acrobatics in Hebei Province has a history of more than 2,000 years. China has several homelands of acrobatics. But Wuqiao in Hebei Province is the most famous one at home and abroad for its long history and a good foundation among local people. Wuqiao is a birthplace and a cradle of acrobatics.
As early as in the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-589), acrobatics was developed in a large scale. But it became famous in China after Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). Since then it has been developed and carried forward. Acrobatics in Wuqiao has become more delicate and covers more schools. Also many national or world famous acrobats have been cultivated here.
Acrobatics in Wuqiao falls into many schools. In the mid-Ming Dynasty, acrobatics in Wuqiao had developed two schools. One was based in Beimu Village and famous as the East School. The acrobatics of East School was popular in Ningjin, Nanbi and other counties. Another was based in Cangshang and Fandun villages and famous as the West School. Acrobatics of West School was popular in Wuqiao County. The acrobatics of the West School was divided into several branches with the Lius, the Qis and the Taos being famous ones. The acrobatics of the Lius was formed in the mid-Ming Dynasty and was famous for martial arts and horsemanship. Most of its traditional items involve martial arts. In addition there are balancing of jars and swordplay. In the reign of the Qing Emperor Xianfeng (1851-1861), Liu Yonggui, manager of this branch, developed horsemanship represented by the item "Lord Guan's Swordplay." He enriched acrobatics performances with opera art. The acrobatics of the Qis was formed in the late Ming Dynasty. This branch was famous for such items as xinghuo, mengzi and ciqingzi. Later it developed qigong. The acrobatics of the Taos was developed in early Qing Dynasty. It was famous for its traditional magic. At the beginning, all branches had no contact at all and had their own land.
In the late Qing and early Ming Dynasty, all branches learned strong points of others and gradually integrated. In 1917 Sun Fuyou recruited talents from other branches and organized a large acrobatics troupe. According to their special skills, the troupe performed items in following four categories: martial arts, animal training (including horsemanship), magic and others. Later, more and more items have been developed.Investigations show that in early 1910s, acrobatic items in Wuqiao fell into 13 kinds: martial arts, balancing with head, juggling with feet, hand tricks, trick-cycling, horsemanship, trick above the ground, wire-walking, jumping through the rings, mouth tricks, magic and others (such as kicking the shuttlecock and juggling diabolos) of the four categories of martial arts, animal training, magic and others.
Today Wuqiao has developed more new acrobatic items including lion dance, dragon lamp dance, hoop dance, colorful silk strip dance, flying trapeze, and large magic.
In history, Wuqiao cultivated many famous acrobats. Only in the Qing Dynasty, many national and world famous acrobats were natives of Wuqiao, such as the Chengs who trained bear for five generations, great juggler Mu Chenglin, Yao Zhenkui who won the golden medal and praise from king of Ethiopia, Jiang Decheng who was the forefather of Chinese folk conjurer and presented items in the imperial palace several times and Sun Fuyou who founded China's first circus and was famous in Southeast Asia.
All the acrobatic troupes in China and 28 acrobatic troupes of foreign countries have acrobats of a Wuqiao native. A saying goes, the acrobatic troupes are not really ones without acrobats of a Wuqiao native. Wuqiao today has 29 acrobatic troupes with some 900 acrobats.Owing to its good name at home and abroad and a good foundation among local people, Hebei Province has since 1987 held China Wuqiao International Acrobatic Festival on eight occasions (in 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999 and 2001). Each time, the festival attracted acrobatic troupes from some 100 countries from Asia, Africa, Europe, America and Australia. In general the festival is held in the last week of October or the first week of November in the other year. It is held in the capital city Shijiazhuang of Hebei Province. The insignia for the festival has an iron lion against a green background symbolizing peace and friendship. The festival has the golden lion, silver lion and copper lion prizes. It has promoted the exchanges of acrobatic art and also pushed forward the social and cultural development of Hebei Province.