Chinese Street Opera (Chinese Wayang)

Last week, I chanced upon a Chinese Street Opera performance at the open space next to my neighbourhood hawker centre. The performance was carried out on a makeshift stage.

In its heydays (1930s – early1970s), Chinese Street Operas were commonplace especially in Chinatown. Then, the costumes were more resplendent, and the staging was definitely more grand than the neighbourhood performances we see nowadays.

Today, street operas face a declining audience. They appeal more to the old as they are performed in dialects (either in Cantonese, Teochew or Hokkien), which young Singaporeans find difficult to understand and appreciate. Presently, the handful of troupes here perform during Chinese religious rites or festival celebrations organised by the temples. They are more visible during the seventh lunar month (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts). It has been said that the performances are put up for the benefit of the Gods and the spirits.

I won’t be surprised if the final curtain soon falls on these troupes and their performances. Sadly, such traditional arts find it hard to survive and thrive in Singapore’s changing social and physical landscape.

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