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Traditional Yunnan Opera

Yunnan Opera, or better called Dian Opera, is the Yunnanese version of Chinese classical opera and has a history of more than 200 years. It integrates the various operas styles in the Qianlong Period of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Taking the advantages of other kinds of operas in the middle of the Qing Dynasty, Dian Opera is sung in Yunnan dialect accompanied by local music and special minority tunes and has become a brand-new opera style on it’s own since the Ming Dynasty.

The Dian operatic tunes are sonorous and smooth, the stage characters includes Xiaosheng (young male), Laosheng (bearded older male), and Choujue or Clown (male characters with painted faces) etc. With its Yunnan characteristics, it used to play an important role in the local culture of Yunnan Province. It is said that Dian Opera reveals real life and is full of philosophic theories and brings the audience back to the memories of the old days, back to when there were no radios or televisions. The melody, played with traditional instruments, is quite attractive. Even though you can not understand the lyrics, with the gestures and the expressions on their faces, you can probably guess what this performance is about. Because the opera is sung in a very thick Yunnan dialect, most Chinese don’t understand it either, that’s why in some places they have Chinese subtitles on both sides of the stage.

Nowadays, with the fast development of modern culture, the worry is that Dian opera could fall victim to China’s rampant commercialism and modernization. How to prevent the losing of this excellent cultural treasure is a social problem.


Because of the lack of Dian Opera productions, it has been on the decline since the 70s. Fewer and fewer people have applied to go to Dian Opera Academy. Nowadays, most of the practitioners of Dian Opera in Kunming are middle-aged, they don't perform often due to the less loyal Dian Opera fans visits. But they believe that there are still people who love it, but not many, probably less than 50 people in Kunming. And there are fewer people who study it to make a living. This situation is a sad prospect for this dying art. Dian Opera once was the most influential local opera in Yunnan province and was very prosperous, it was also a cultural staple in the Kunming and Yunnan region.

‘The support from the government will be a good help, but the opera itself, needs to find its own motivation too. Only in this way will Dian Opera find its future.’ said one of the oldest practitioners of Dian Opera. Here are some important reasons that have a negative impacts on Dian Opera:


  • The development of diversified entertainment threatens the development of all traditional Chinese operas
  • The evolution of times
  • The lack of innovation in Dian Opera itself
  • The audience don’t have the basic cultural background for Dian Opera, and it is hard to fully understand
  • The lack of government support
  • It is not interesting anymore, especially for local people


Which of those do you believe? Help us vote on Facebook and if you are interested in the oldest traditional Dian Opera while visiting Kunming, check out our Lantern Drama activity and get to know more about this cultural treasure. Or you can check out our website to find out more cultural tours. Of course, you can also tailor your own itinerary or get in touch with us directly for any questions!