Rescue scene: Deep in the mountains, Chinese villagers struggle to save dying opera tradition
By Sun Changzheng and Bai Shaoguang/, Published: 2015-08-11 17:36:01
Li Zunzhong (left), 85, practices with his successor Li Douzhi, 65, in Huangluquan village on July 3, 2015. For 500 years Zhangqiu Bangzi was passed down through oral tradition, and is now on the verge of extinction. Photos: Sun Changzheng and Bai Shaoguang/
Editor's Note:
Li Zunzhong, 85, is among the last living performers of Zhangqiu Bangzi, a regional opera style in East China’s Shandong Province that is now on the verge of extinction. Li and the remaining handful of performers, whom are in their 60s, are struggling to keep the traditional folk art alive in their native Huangluquan village, a place where most of the younger generations have already left behind to work in the city.

Li Douzhi (left) performs a female role while Li Zunzhong accompanies on the banhu, a two-string bowed instrument, during a Zhangqiu Bangzi performance on July 2, 2015. Zhangqiu Bangzi developed from Qinqiang, the earliest form of Chinese opera. Zhangqiu finds its roots in Puzhou Bangzi and Qinqiang, which were introduced to Shandong by migrants from Northwest China during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). Huangluquan village in Zhangqiu is the origin of Zhangqiu Bangzi.
Li Zunzhong bows a banhu with other musicians during a performance on July 2, 2015. Li began to study Zhangqiu Bangzi as a child. He is now the oldest performer in Huangluquan village. He can play lead instruments, drums and also sing. In the past, Li traveled far and wide to perform, sometimes putting on up to five shows a day.
Li Douzhi puts on makeup to play the part of a fairy in the opera Goddess Marriage on July 2, 2015. Li is the main teacher of Zhangqiu Bangzi in the village.
Li Douzhi gets in costume before a performance on July 2, 2015. Li often performs qingyi (female roles), xiaosheng (young scholars) and xusheng (bearded roles), and also plays instruments.
Li Douzhi checks his costume in a mirror. Besides his career as a Zhangqiu Bangzi performer, Li is an official in the village.
Bangzi is a kind of square-shaped percussion instrument that used in Chinese opera.
Zhangqiu Bangzi plays are compiled by Li Zunzhong and transcribed by Li Douzhi, including the famous drama Goddess Marriage.
Villagers gather together to enjoy a Zhangqiu Bangzi performance on July 2, 2015.
A child watches musicians playing drums, gongs and small cymbals during a Zhangqiu Bangzi performance on July 2, 2015. Few young people show interest in the art form.
Performers discuss a play at Li Zunzhong’s house on July 3, 2015. Most of the young generation in Huangluquan village have left to work in major cities. Most inheritors of the traditional folk art were born in the 1960s.
Li Zunzhong has to climb hills everyday to do farm work. In his spare time, he practices Zhangqiu Bangzi and complies scripts of Bangzi opera.
Li Zunzhong plays the banhu as his wife watches on. Li met his wife while studying Zhangqiu Bangzi. He inherited his handmade banhu from relatives, as are most of the instruments used in performances. Li hopes that bangzi opera can be passed on to future generations.