China's Local Opera Troupe in Ethiopia: Cultural Exchanges and Cordial Relations Between China and Ethiopia

A rousing performance of Wu Opera by a troupe from East China's Zhejiang Wu Opera Research Center showcased Chinese traditional opera to the delight of the audience in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa on Saturday evening, September 9,2023.

                                             H.E. Prof. Beyene Petros, DG of the FDRE Policy Studies Institute with the Troupe

The troupe promotes cultural exchanges between China and Ethiopia. The organizers of the theatrical performances are the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the People’s Republic of China, the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Zhejiang Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism, Jinhua Municipal People’s Government and China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification in Ethiopia. To promote cultural exchanges between China and Ethiopia and enhance mutual understanding between the two peoples, the troupe presented its opera performance at the Ethiopian National Theater on the occasion of the Ethiopian New Year.

Mr. Shen Qinmin, the Deputy Ambassador of the Chinese Embassy in Ethiopia, expressed his honor in welcoming everyone to the event. He mentioned that as the Deputy Head of the Chinese Embassy in Ethiopia, he wanted to begin by conveying his admiration for the Ethiopian National Theater, which he described as a truly iconic symbol of Ethiopia's rich cultural heritage. He stated that it was his first time experiencing the grandeur of the esteemed theater, and he expressed his captivation with its splendor.

                                     Mr. Shen Qinmin, the Deputy Ambassador of the Chinese Embassy in Ethiopia

Mr. Shen then shared that Chinese President Xi Jinping had recently met Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali in South Africa, Johannesburg. During this meeting, Ethiopia officially became a member of BRICS, which Mr. Shen considered a significant development that would strengthen the friendship and brotherhood between the two nations. On behalf of the Chinese Embassy, he extended heartfelt congratulations to Ethiopia for joining BRICS. He expressed immense pride in seeing Ethiopia become one of the BRICS members and expressed optimism that the exchanges between China and Ethiopia would deepen and flourish in the future.

In his opening speech, Mr. Shen emphasized two crucial points. First, he highlighted that both China and Ethiopia possess rich and ancient civilizations, which provide a strong foundation for mutual contributions and advancements. He described their shared heritage as a platform for cultural exchange and cooperation. Mr. Shen stated that the troupe's performance represented not only a symbol of Chinese culture but also aimed to showcase the beauty of traditional Chinese art. He characterized the event as a testament to their commitment to global civilization and as a platform for fostering cultural exchange between China and Ethiopia. He also mentioned that the troupe originated from the prosperous eastern part of China, underscoring the importance placed on strengthening ties between the people of Ethiopia and China.

Additionally, Mr. Shen highlighted the special significance of the performance at the Ethiopian National Theater, as it marked the first national performance following the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. He described it as a celebration of resilience, unity, and the indomitable spirit of societies. Mr. Shen acknowledged the cherished place of traditional opera in Chinese culture and expressed the hope that through this performance, the audience would gain a glimpse into the rich artistic traditions of China.

In conclusion, Mr. Shen extended a warm invitation to all attendees to immerse themselves in the beauty and elegance of Chinese classical and traditional opera. He encouraged them to embrace the opportunity to deepen their understanding, appreciation, and friendship between China and Ethiopia. He concluded by expressing his gratitude and wished everyone an enjoyable performance.


In his welcoming speech, Manyazezewal Endeshaw, the Director of the Ethiopian National Theater, highlighted the longstanding diplomatic relations between Ethiopia and China, emphasizing their status as two of the oldest countries in the world. He mentioned that these relations have spanned over half a century and attributed great importance to them, particularly in promoting the economy, businesses, people-to-people exchanges, and international cooperation.

                     Mr. Manyazezewal Endeshaw, Director of the Ethiopian  National Theatre

Manyazezewal further remarked that Ethiopia's recent inclusion in the BRICS family is seen as an extension of the bilateral relations between Ethiopia and China. He noted that Chinese President Xi Jinping has put forth three initiatives, namely the Global Development Initiative, the Security Initiative, and the Civilization Initiative, which serve as evidence of the improving relations between Ethiopia and China. Manyazezewal concluded by stating that the current event is a manifestation of the civilization initiative mentioned by President Xi Jinping, underscoring the significance of cultural exchange and cooperation between the two nations. The event aims to further improve bilateral relations as this year marks the 53rd anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Ethiopia.

                                                           Artists of Zhejiang Wu Opera Troupe perform in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on September 9, 2023. 

Senior Ethiopian figures, including the Director General of the Policy Studies Institute, H.E. Prof. Beyene Petros, with his family members, attended the night's events.

In his interview with the Chinese media during the night, Prof. Beyene said he hoped the performance would help deepen Ethiopian audiences' understanding of Chinese culture and promote people-to-people exchanges between the two countries.

Dr. Netsanet Jote, a Lead researcher at the Policy Studies Institute also attended the event with her family members. Dr. Netsanet said the performance was an enlightening experience as traditional Chinese costumes and instruments were used to entertain the audience.

                                          Dr. Netsanet Jote

Dr. Balew Demissie, who was also invited to the event, and gave an Interview to the Chinese Media during the night said, "Chinese culture is becoming more popular in Ethiopia as more and more locals get the opportunity to see live performances by Chinese artists."  During his recent visit to China’s Zhejiang Normal University, he also visited the Zhejiang Wu Opera Research Center.

                                                    Dr. Balew Demissie 

Dr. Balew explained that Zhejiang Wu Opera Research is a prestigious institution dedicated to the preservation, promotion, and research of Wu Opera, a traditional Chinese opera style that originated in Zhejiang Province in China. The research center was established to preserve the cultural heritage of Wu Opera promote its artistic quality and serve as a hub for artistic education, academic research, and cultural exchange.

Dr. Balew said that at the Zhejiang Wu Opera Research Center, a team of highly qualified artists, scholars, and enthusiasts work together to nurture and develop the art form. The center offers comprehensive training programs for aspiring Wu Opera performers, focusing on vocal techniques, acting skills, stage movement, and traditional repertoire. Through rigorous training and mentoring, the center aims to produce competent performers who can carry on the legacy of Wu Opera and captivate audiences with their talent and passion.

In addition to educational programs, the Zhejiang Wu Opera Research Center is actively engaged in research and academic endeavors. The Center's scholars focus on the historical, cultural, and esthetic aspects of Wu Opera and conduct in-depth studies to deepen the understanding and appreciation of this art form. Their research findings contribute to the broader field of Chinese opera research and help preserve the authenticity and integrity of Wu Opera.

Beyond its local activities, the Zhejiang Wu Opera Research Center also participates in cultural exchange programs both within China and internationally. Through collaborations with opera houses, festivals, and academic institutions around the world, the Center introduces the beauty and uniqueness of Wu Opera to a wide audience. These collaborations not only promote cultural understanding but also facilitate artistic dialog and inspire cross-cultural creativity.

The Zhejiang Wu Opera Research Center plays a pivotal role in reviving and promoting Wu Opera, ensuring that this traditional art form continues to thrive in the modern era. By nurturing talent, conducting research, and fostering cultural exchange, the Center serves as a guardian of the Wu Opera's legacy while innovating and adapting to keep it relevant and captivating for today's audiences. With its unwavering commitment to excellence, preservation, and outreach, the Zhejiang Wu Opera Research Center is a beacon of cultural heritage that promotes appreciation for Wu Opera and enriches the artistic landscape in China and beyond.

For most ordinary people, the word opera seems confusing. Before discussing the Zhejiang Wu Opera Research Center’s opera performance in detail, the word opera has to be conceptualized. Opera is a form of theatrical art that combines music, singing, acting, and visual elements into a complete dramatic performance. It is a genre that encompasses a wide range of productions that usually feature a combination of solo and ensemble singing and are accompanied by an orchestra or musical ensemble.

Although there are differing opinions as to where and when opera originated, it is one of the most significant forms of musical and theatrical expression. It encompasses various elements, including vocal technique, musical composition, libretto (the text or script of the opera), stage design, costumes, and theater direction. The core of opera lies in the power of the human voice. Opera performances feature trained singers who use their voices to portray characters and convey emotions. Singers, also known as opera singers or vocalists, use special techniques to perform their text, such as projecting their voice over an orchestra and mastering a range of vocal styles, including arias (solo songs), duets, and ensembles.

Music in opera plays a central role in telling the story and expressing emotions. Composers create intricate and complex musical compositions that support and enhance the dramatic narrative. The music often includes recitatives (a style of singing that resembles spoken dialog) and arias that allow characters to express their thoughts, feelings, and motivations. Opera performances usually take place in opera houses or theaters specifically designed for the acoustics and visual requirements of the genre. The sets, costumes, lighting, and props contribute to the overall visual spectacle of opera and create a vivid and immersive experience for the audience.

Opera covers a wide range of themes, including historical events, mythology, romance, tragedy, comedy, and social issues. It often tells stories of love, passion, conflict, and human emotion, and explores the depths of the human condition through music, song, and theatricality. Over the centuries, opera has evolved and diversified, giving rise to different styles and traditions. Various national and regional opera traditions have developed, such as Italian opera, French opera, German opera, Russian opera, and others. Each tradition has its characteristic vocal and musical styles, as well as its own cultural influences. Opera continues to be performed and appreciated around the world. Major opera houses and festivals present both classical and contemporary works, preserving traditional repertoire but also promoting new compositions and innovative interpretations. Opera remains a vibrant and dynamic art form, combining the beauty of music, the power of the human voice, and the artistry of theater to create an extraordinary theatrical experience.

The Zhejiang Wu Opera Research Center has ventured to Ethiopia bringing its fascinating performances to the stage against the backdrop of the Ethiopian New Year. The cherished Wu Opera tradition and vibrant cultural diversity promise a truly unforgettable experience. As the curtain rises, the evocative melodies, graceful movements, and captivating stories of Wu Opera combine with the joyous celebrations of the Ethiopian New Year to offer a unique fusion of artistic expression and cultural heritage.

The Zhejiang Wu Opera Research Center was founded in 1956 as the Zhejiang Wu Opera Troupe. The troupe has become well-established throughout the various eras it has passed through. The prominent excerpt “The Broken Bridge” was named the “Most Outstanding ‘Bridge’ of All Time." Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Jiang Zemin, Zhu Rongji, Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, and many other leaders of the state saw the performances of Zhejiang Wu Opera Research Center and showed great hospitality to the artists.

In recent years, the troupe of Zhejiang Wu Opera Research Center has completed more than 600 performances annually. The performances are held in a wide range of venues, such as rural villages, educational institutions, overseas exchange programs, and many other places. The creative team, led by two-time Plum Blossom Award winner Chen Meilan, has produced and performed numerous outstanding plays, including Lady Kunlun, Broken Dreams of Wu River, The Legend of the White Snake, and the youth version of Lady General Mu Gui Ying. These productions have won 10 top national awards and were part of the 2016, 2018, and 2019 Chinese New Year Celebration and Chinese New Year TV show.

Since 2009, the troupe has been sent on several tours on behalf of the Ministry of Culture and the Department of Culture and at the invitation of foreign agencies. The troupe has performed in Singapore, the United States, France, Austria, Germany, Portugal, Brazil, Cuba, Peru, South Africa, Malawi, Zambia, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, visiting five continents and 49 different countries. The troupe participated in both cultural exchanges and commercial performances. The troupe also participated in the Smithson Folk Festival, the Berlin Karneval der Kulturen, the Brazilian Carnival, and many other events.

Over time, the troupe participated in more than 300 performances, reaching more than 4.5 million viewers. Their participation in the Ministry of Culture's “Happy Chinese New Year” project brought them 120 performances and an audience of 2 million. During their tours, they received warm and friendly reception from embassies and local audiences. The troupe is one of the most popular Chinese performing arts. It can be regarded as a strong representative of Zhejiang Province, if not the whole country.

Wu Opera, also known as Jinhua Opera, is the second most important theater genre in Zhejiang and has a history of more than 500 years. It got its name from Wuzhou, the former name of Jinhua in Chinese history. It includes six styles of singing but mainly belongs to Luantan. This is a folk opera genre with rural origins, characterized by a rich and colorful repertoire, a wide range of themes, and a cast of farmers-turned-performers. The stories meet the tastes of the people, focusing on everyday life, which, however, takes interesting twists and turns. The music is clear and sonorous and tends to the high-flying. As for the style of the actors, the acting is based on real life, with clear acting and a strong dose of emotional expressions. The same goes for the costume design, with its bright, bold colors and strong contrasts that cause a stir. In 2008, the play was included in the second category of the national intangible cultural heritage.


Performances of the Night


1. Traditional Performance “9-Pieced Segmented Dragon”

The performances of the “ 9-part segmented dragon” are usually accompanied by the unique local melodies of the Wu opera. Various movements are choreographed during the performances. Some of the movements are “Dash", “Leap", “Flip", “Dive", “Roll" and “Lean". The performance is energetic and changes quickly. It perfectly portrays the active dragon living in the sea. They enliven the audience and spread a promising atmosphere.  


 2. Wu Opera Divergent Path

The Song court warrior Jiao Zan was framed by slanderous officials and exiled. He decided to stay in the Liu family inn on the deviant path. The hero Ren Tanghui also visited the inn to save Jiao. The owner of the inn, Liu Lihua, and his wife were also justified warriors. The Liu couple thought Ren was a villain, and the three got into a fight. Jiao came to settle the dispute when he overheard the ruckus.

3. Wu Opera The Goddess of Heaven Scatters Flowers

 This excerpt showcases beautiful and skillful dance and operatic movements.

4. Wu Opera “Lv Bu Tries the Horses”

During the era of the Three Kingdoms, the mighty warrior Lv Bu was given the legendary steed, the Red Hare. He was delighted. To test the horse's abilities, he decided to take his troops to an empty plain. The Red Hare was a wild and difficult horse to tame. Thanks to Lv Bu’s mastery of horsemanship, he tamed the steed and returned in triumph.

5Wu Opera “The Sedan Ride”

The excerpt showed the interactions between the 4 litter bearers and the bride. The palanquin bearers played tricks on the bride to relieve their boredom during their service. They tried to upset the bride by making the ride bumpy. The bride was upset by their pranks and later retaliated with a prank of her own. The play ends with reconciliation between the two parties. The bride, with the help of the litter bearers, sets off again to join her new family. The play is characterized by exuberant poses and gestures that create a slightly comedic atmosphere. It is considered one of the most popular plays among the audience.

6. Hui Hu Solo “Hui Tune”

Hui Hu is one of the main instruments in traditional Hui opera and is different from Jin Hu, whose rhythm can be either fast or slow.

Hui Tune mixes many beautiful melodies in Hui opera with its classical rhythm, allowing the audience to feel its simplicity and pompousness.

7Suona Solo “Picking Dates”

The suona is a common Chinese folk instrument; the melodies are crisp and sonorous. The instrument is often used on ceremonial occasions. “Picking dates” is one of the suona classics. The melodies show passion and depict an enticing scene. The piece describes the people in the northern parts of China during the autumn season. The countryside is decorated with all the red date trees, a pleasant sight for the villagers. The villagers carry baskets and fetch sticks, pick the dates and talk with their companions. It is a festive song of happiness.

8. " "The Great Breakthrough of the Heaven's Gate Formation" is the climax at the end of The Yang Family Generals. Facing the Tianmen formation established by the Liao army, Mu Guiying mounted his horse and led the troops into battle with extraordinary bravery and wisdom, breaking through the Tianmen formation, spearing the ancient enemy of the Yang family, Xiao Tianzuo, and defeating the enemy in triumph.

9. "Three Strikes of the Bone Demons."

Tang Monk and his disciples went to the west to get Buddhist scriptures and reached Wanzi Mountain. The Bone Demon wanted to eat Tang Monk's flesh, so he came to deceive Tang Seng with "three transformations and three blows," but Wukong saw through them all. Without considering Tang Seng, he swung the stick to kill the bone demon's illusion, and the bone demon fled in smoke. Tang Monk mistakenly thought that Sun Wukong had hurt people three times for no reason. Buddhism could not tolerate this, so he drove Wukong away in a rage. Wukong begged, but he was not allowed, so he had no choice but to leave and return to Huaguo Mountain for the time being. After Wukong departed, Tang Seng and his disciples were kidnapped by the Bone Spirit due to an insidious plot. Zhu Bajie escaped the melee and rushed to Huaguo Mountain to ask for help. Wukong was eager to rescue his master and resolutely descended the mountain without thinking of his past grudge. After a fierce battle, the bone spirit was killed, and the four masters and apprentices continued to learn the scriptures of the West.

PSI has learned that after the Italians left the country, the stalled theater began to develop more comprehensively. In 1956, the Ethiopian National Theater was built and inaugurated in the presence of Emperor Haile Selassie (1930-1974). The Ethiopian National Theater is a prestigious institution in Ethiopia dedicated to promoting and preserving the rich cultural heritage of Ethiopian performing arts. The theater has been instrumental in shaping the country's theatrical landscape and has become a center for artistic expression, creativity, and cultural exchange. The Ethiopian National Theater has become a symbol of Ethiopia's national pride and cultural identity. Its performances not only entertain and inspire audiences, but also serve as a platform for addressing social issues, promoting dialog, and showcasing the country's history, values, and aspirations. The theater continues to play an important role in preserving Ethiopia's performing arts heritage while embracing contemporary artistic expressions, making it a vibrant and dynamic institution at the heart of the country's arts scene.

The study of Chinese opera includes several key elements that contribute to a comprehensive understanding of this traditional art form. These elements include researching the historical context and development of Chinese opera, analyzing its unique performance techniques such as singing, acting, and stylized movements, studying the extensive repertoire of plays and scripts, understanding musical accompaniment and its relationship to opera, exploring the elaborate costumes and makeup characteristic of Chinese opera, exploring the cultural and symbolic meaning embedded in the narratives and visual elements, and examining the social and performance context in which Chinese opera is presented. By examining these elements, researchers, scholars, and enthusiasts gain a deeper understanding of the cultural, artistic, and historical significance of Chinese opera, contributing to its preservation and promotion, and fostering cross-cultural appreciation and dialog.

In summary, the opera performances presented by the Zhejiang Wu Opera Research Center contain a rich variety of thematic elements that demonstrate the wide range and depth of Wu opera as an art form. The performances cover a variety of themes, including historical epics that transport audiences to different eras of Chinese history, love and romance stories that explore the complexity of human relationships, and mythological and folkloric tales that enchant with their imaginative storytelling. In addition, the center's opera performances explore themes of morality and virtue, which serve as vehicles for teaching moral lessons and reflect the cultural values of Chinese society. Some performances are also social commentary, addressing current issues and provoking thought and discussion. In addition, comedic and satirical elements provide entertainment and demonstrate the versatility of Wu Opera. Zhejiang Wu Opera Research Center strives to preserve traditional repertoire while pushing boundaries, innovating and appealing to contemporary audiences to provide a truly multi-faceted experience that combines cultural insight, emotional depth, and artistic excellence.

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