From the mid-Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), various forms of local opera flourished. Except forKunqu, they were all called local operas. Of these local operas,Bangzi, PihuangandXiansuooccupied the leading position during the reign of Qianlong (1736-1795). Well, in this period,Kunquwas on the decline.
The Chinese rulers regarded music as refined, and songs as popular. At that time,Kunqurepresented the refined, orYabu; and local operas, the popular, orHuabu,as they featured folk music.
While poetic dramas, including local tunes ofKunqu, were created by men of letters of the Ming and Qing Dynasties,Huabugot little help from either the literati or officialdom.Huabuplays, which drew their materials directly from folk culture, were full of the aroma of the earth and the intense emotion of life.Huabudid not conform to the literary standards and style of the time, whichKunqu, orYabu, did.
However,Huabuhad its own advantages as theater, and was by no means inferior toZajuor poetic dramas of the previous dynasty. Its artistry was forged on the stage instead of being worked out in the quiet of a study. As there were no playwrights forHuabu, the Qing Dynasty did not give birth to famous playwrights equal to Guan Hanqing and Tang Xianzu.
The themes ofHuabuwere mainly historical stories. In the 19th century Chinese feudal society was approaching its end; the Chinese people's resentment of feudal rule that had been smoldering for quite a long time was strongly represented inHuabudramas.The Fisherman's Revengeis a moving and tragic story of how an aged hero of the Marsh is forced to rebel by local tyrants.
From then on, the focus of Chinese theater began to be transferred from libretto literature to stage arts. The local operas of the Qing Dynasty were handed down by means of hand-copied scripts and oral instructions, and only a few librettos were printed. The only libretto that has survived isZhui Bai Qiu, printed during the reign of Qianlong.