Chinese Opera – Part One


Once of my childhood favourite time is when the Chinese opera comes to my little town in Bayan Lepas in Penang. It was like the single most important entertainment event back then, 30+ years ago.

It wasn’t the opera that attracted children like me but the foodstalls that come with the troupe. I shall feature them later in another blog. First, I would like to introduce the Chinese opera and some of its background.

This opera is almost sacred to the Taoist. They are performed for two reasons:
1) As an entertainment for deities’ birthdays
2) As an entertainment to appease hungry ghost or lost souls

The one went to a few days ago is for the Nacha’s birthday. Nacha (lo chia kong) is a child’s deity. The medium will go into trance and suck a pacifier and tied his hair in ribbons. I dare not take photos of the medium as I feel it is a disrespect to capture shots like that. Moreover, he held a whip and I certainly do not want to be chased! (BTW, I am a Catholic who used to be a Taoist, hence I do know a fair bit.)

The Chinese opera comprise of a big troupe of musicians, actors and actresses. They use traditional musical instruments like the cymbals, drums and other string instruments (sorry I don’t know the names though).


These actors and actresses do take their performance seriously and many of them devoted their time to purely perform these stage shows. They travel from state to state all over Malaysia. Sometimes, we also get some troupes from Southern Thailand.

Each opera show has some pretty interesting story. There are of course lots of action, drama, singing and even kungfu fighting.


The Chinese opera usually come in the Teochew dialect which is not easily understandable by many Chinese people. Hmmm? How nice if they have subtitles, right?


Sadly, the Chinese opera is on the decline. It is getting rarer and rarer to catch an opera in the neighbourhood. It is atrocious that some temples now show movie on Chinese opera on the projector! I guess one of the reason is the drop in audiences. Only grandpas and grandmas flock to the show nowadays.

However, the opera is staged for the entertainment of the deities, hence, it still survives. More photos on the opera in another posting.

The opera is also threaten by the preference for MTV in the neighbourhood. I.e. scantily clad girls gyrating on stage singing modern songs.

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