The Mulian Opera, which was born and evolved in Huizhou (old name of Huangshan City now), is one of the oldest operas of China found in historic documents, dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and is closely related to the life of ancient society. As a matter of fact, the opera is an integration of folk stories, sideshows and acrobatics.
The Mulian Opera refers to a series of plays about how Mulian rescues his mother from Hell. It later spread to Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Hunan and Jiangxi provinces.
Legend has it that Fu Xiang's family was Buddhist. After Fu Xiang died, his wife Liu Qingti (or Liu Siniang) broke religious taboos by killing animals and eating meat. After Liu Qingti died, she was sent to Hell for her sins. Fu Xiang's son Fu Luobo (or Mulian as his Buddhist name) went to the west to ask the Buddha for help. The Buddha gave him a copy of a Sutra and an iron club. Mulian went down to Hell, experiencing countless hardships, and persuaded his mother to abandon her evil ways. She did, and the whole family was reunited.
The Mulian Opera is the most representative religious opera in the history of Chinese theater. Audiences were attracted by these plays, not because they were religious stories, but because of the complicated plots, and fantastic settings, such as Heaven and Hell, in addition to unusual characters from religious and philosophical sects. The performances required combat and acrobatic skills, such as walking on stilts, sword dances, and fighting with spears, as well as comic episodes. The music of the Mulian Opera included more than 100 traditional Qupai (the names of tunes to which Qu are composed), folk songs and Buddhist music. The richness of the performing arts in the Mulian Opera made them popular for several hundred years.
Please click to see photos of Mulian Opera performance taken by Johnson Yeh in Qimen County on October 3rd, 2007.