Shaoxing Opera is a newcomer among the Chinese local operas. It developed from local musical plays that used only the ban-clapper as the accompaniment in East China"s Zhejiang Province. As the province belonged to the Yue State in the ancient times, it is popularly known as Yue opera.
Shaoxing Opera has a history of more than 80 years, and has its origins in a rough and ready kind of drama told by actors in fields. At the turn of the century, this basic drama began to make its way from the fields to the stage, and developed from a small group of actors to larger and larger troupes accompanied by musicians.
The popularity of this art form began to grow in 1916, when it was performed in Shanghai to large audiences of Shaoxing origin. Gradually, first string instruments and later other instruments were added to the orchestra, although the music was still based on the same Shaoxing melodies. The performances were, in fact, very successful.
In 1923, the training of female actors for this art form was set up. Since 1928, the Shaoxing opera troupes, consisting of solely female actors, began their performances in Shanghai. In a few years, females impersonating males had become the most important feature of this opera form, and at the same time the yue opera became well known all over China. In the Qing dynasty China (1644-1911) mixed troupes consisting of both male and female actors had been prohibited, and even in Peking opera, the lady-actors were not allowed to enter the stage together with men before 1930.
From the 1940s on, Shaoxing Opera developed a great deal and the melodies were enriched, and performances enhanced. It was a period of great innovation, and many famous actors established reputations at the time. One of these actors was Yuan Xuefen. She became famous for her performances of female characters that were decent and kind-hearted, but suffered tragic fates nonetheless.