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By ZHAO XU in Suzhou | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-05-30 07:44

Sketche of performers of pingtan, an art form that blends several narrative musical traditions. LIU CHEN/CHINA DAILY

The woman identified herself as a Kunqu Opera lover and student of Zhou Qin, an acclaimed master of the much-treasured performing art, who currently teaches at Soochow (Suzhou) University.

A few blocks away, on the Zhongzhangjia Lane of the historical district, lies a museum dedicated to the art form, which first developed in a town near Suzhou around the 15th century.

Covering a total area of 6,000 square meters, the museum's estate could be traced back to 1887, the year when it first welcomed visitors, as a grand gathering place for all tradesmen in Suzhou who hailed from the northern province of Shanxi. Many of these men were in banking, their financial clout reflected by the design of the estate's entrance, the grandiosity of which "contrasted with an understated, typical Suzhou complex entrance", to quote Pei Hong, a local cultural official.

But, that doesn't mean that the Shanxi merchants lacked an innate understanding of the importance of localization. In fact, the contrary is true. The single most remarkable feature of the entire complex, one that has made it a natural choice for the Kunqu Opera Museum, was an elevated Kunqu Opera stage, constructed right below an elaborately decorated dome, which is said to have functioned as a sound system.

In the old days, those who had absorbed enough singing could retreat to savor tea amid the quietude of the complex's carefully manicured side garden, which, like all Suzhou gardens, was an exercise in painterly aesthetics, illustrating the nuanced relationship between man and nature.

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