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Performance Traditions
Inside the West Kowloon Cultural District's Bamboo Theatre, Hong Kong, 2013.
Inside the West Kowloon Cultural District's Bamboo Theatre, Hong Kong, 2013.
Photo courtesy of the West Kowloon Cultural District

Performance traditions are presented in this program in two venues—one highlights the informal and participatory nature of traditional arts in everyday life; the other provides a more formal format.

People’s Park

From People’s Park in Chengdu to Purple Bamboo Park in Beijing, China’s urban parks are sites where people demonstrate the art of everyday living.

These parks are teeming, vibrant public gathering places, where people regularly gather together for collective exercising, music-making, opera, dancing, game-playing, and socializing. In this common space, people of all ages and occupations actively and unselfconsciously share traditional arts and cultural practices.

Daily activities in the China Festival program’s People’s Park included dancing, games, and martial arts.

Moonrise Pavilion

In recognition of the significance of the moon and reunion in Chinese culture, this program’s Moonrise Pavilion brought together a wide range of traditional music, theater, song, and dance forms. Performers on this stage included representatives from China’s majority Han population, such as members of the Wu Opera Troupe from Zhejiang Province and the Quanzhou Puppet Troupe from Fujian Province, as well as from some of China’s fifty-five ethnic minorities, such as Miao, Dong, and Qiang singers from Guizhou and Sichuan provinces, singers of hua’er songs from Gansu and Qinghai provinces, and musicians from the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Although China officially adopted the Gregorian solar calendar in 1929—marking the 365 days it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun—it still observes a lunar calendar of 354 days—marking the 29.5 days (roughly one month) it takes to cycle from one new moon to the next. The Chinese word for “month,” 月(yue), derives from the word for “moon,” 月亮 (yue liang), just as the English word “month” derives from the word “moon.”

Seasonal festivals bring people together. The roundness of the full moon and the completeness of a reunited family are echoed in the round tables at which Chinese meals are traditionally eaten. Those separated by distance feel connection through the act of gazing at the same moon.

China is the world’s most populous country and second biggest economy. Its rates of industrialization and urbanization are unprecedented. The largest rural-to-urban migration in human history is underway as people move from the countryside to seek work in China’s expanding cities. People face both new opportunities and daunting challenges as they adapt to shifting circumstances and try to reconcile the dynamics of development with cultural and ecological sustainability.

The 2014 Festival program highlighted REUNION and BALANCE, traditional principles that are of greater value than ever in China. Reunions animate and sustain tradition. And as people are increasingly separated from one another by the demands of work and education, they find ways to reaffirm ties to community and cultural heritage both in their daily lives and for special occasions. A traditional Chinese perspective posits that all things - everything from one’s health to a community’s welfare - depends on a balance of internal and external forces. In China today, people are navigating the transformations that emerge from modernization and from frictions between work and leisure, past and present, development and conservation, and global, national, and local traditions.

More than a hundred culture bearers from China participated in the program. Representing 15 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities, as well as some of the largest and smallest of the 56 officially recognized ethnicities, they provided a window into the country’s diversity. They demonstrated how people sustain a rich range of traditions even as communities are disrupted by migration, natural disaster, and the pressures of contemporary life. At the Festival, they demonstrated the artistry with which balance and reunion are realized within and across communities, and between humans and their environment - both through the changing seasons and in a changing world.

James Deutsch and Sojin Kim were Program Curators; Jing Li was Program Coordinator; and Joan Hua was Program Assistant. Advisors and consultants included: Joan Auchter, Rachel Cooper, Robert Daly, Melanie Fernandez, Yong Han, Bill lvey, Joanna C. Lee, Jing Li, Jun Liu, Adriel Luis, Shengde Ma, Jean Miao, Rodrigo Fritz, May Sun, Sue Tuohy, Jingqiang Wang, Sally Van de Water, Lihui Yang, Yuan Yang, Nora Yeh, Juwen Zhang, Zhizong Zhu, and Nina Zolt.

The program was produced by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in padnership with the China lnternational Culture Association, working with the China Arts and Entertainment Group. Additional support was provided by the West Kowloon Cultural District, Hong Kong SAR; and the Guizhou Provincial Department of Culture.

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