March 25, 2008 / 5:46 PM / 10 years ago

Boos and cheers greet Peking Opera debut in schools

BEIJING (Reuters) - Peking Opera is debuting in Chinese classrooms as part of an effort to promote traditional arts, drawing mixed reviews from students who find it hard to learn the complex gestures and high-pitched vocals.

Students dressed in Peking opera costume play during an opera course at a school in Beijing March 7, 2008. REUTERS/Jason Lee

China’s initial plan to add Peking Opera to the music curriculum angered music lovers who said untrained teachers would turn students off, and the Education Ministry later announced the program would not be compulsory.

Beijing Xiyi Primary School in central Beijing is one of the first schools to adopt the scheme, which will be rolled out to 200 schools across 10 provinces in China.

At the primary school, all children from the age of six to 12 have to take Peking Opera lessons. Some are less than overwhelmed by the 200-year-old art.

“Sometimes the tune and the notes make too many u-turns. And the movements are really hard too, like they push your legs up,” said Wang Kaiwei, a 9-year-old schoolboy.

Internet users have criticized the program, arguing that forcing students to study classic song and dance could backfire and make them lose interest.

Zhang Shurui, an 11-year-old student, said Peking Opera was not for everyone.

“Anyone can sing, but not everyone can sing Peking opera. Without years of practice and training, you cannot sing Peking opera,” Zhang said.

But Liu Bingjun, the school’s principal, agreed with the government’s aim of encouraging young people to develop an interest in China’s ancient culture and traditions.

“We were afraid that young people will not like Peking Opera and this art form is going to fade out after this generation. People who run the educational department also had similar worries,” Liu said, adding that the lessons were an experiment.

Some children also liked the idea of opera lessons. Twelve-year-old Wang Gege said she had often wondered about how the opera singers’ faces were painted.

Dramatic make-up and elaborate, colorful costumes are an essential part of Peking Opera, along with the trilling vocals.

In media commentaries, people questioned how music teachers, themselves untrained in Peking Opera, would educate students in the sophisticated art.

It is not the first time China’s Education Ministry is causing controversy with its ideas for improving the curriculum.

An attempt to introduce compulsory dance classes aimed at improving children’s social skills and fitness drew fire from some parents, concerned the waltz and other ballroom steps might encourage flirting between the dance partners.

In the province of Henan, parents voiced concerns that a compulsory course teaching children the martial art of “Shaolin boxing” might lead to children becoming more violent, local media reported.


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