PHOTO STORY: Chinese Opera Has Changed in Thailand

PHOTO STORY: Chinese Opera Has Changed in Thailand
Photo Credit: Visarut Sankham/Rinse

What you need to know

Fewer and fewer ethnic Chinese are willing to become members of Chinese opera crews in Thailand. How is the traditional art holding up then?

"It has been more than 50 years since we have been recruiting people of other ethnicity, because there are very few ethnic Chinese in Thailand willing to do it," the owner of a Chinese opera company said.

The members in such a traditional show has dramatically changed due to the fact that the descendants of ethnic Chinese in Thailand has been gaining more opportunities economically or educationally. Consequently, the crews have had to employ people of other ethnicities to run the show.

Most of the new crew are from the Isan region of Thailand and they don't have any knowledge of the show, not to mention the Chinese language. Therefore, it took several years for them to practice the language and performing.

"Even I don't understand anything about the show, but it seemed fancy the first time I saw a Chinese opera. The crew members take care of me like we are a family, so it encourages me to learn and practice," a new member from Sisaket Province said.

Rinse has authorized publication of this article. The original text is published here.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole

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Photo Credit: Visarut Sankham/Rinse
Rongtawan Charnprasert, 27, from Chaiyaphum province has been performing for more than eight years. He is tending to a soldier costume instantly after his act to keep it clean.
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Photo Credit: Visarut Sankham/Rinse
Panawan (middle) and Pairoj (right) put on Chinese-style makeup before performing.
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Photo Credit: Visarut Sankham/Rinse
Panawan (upper right) practicing for the show while others take the chance to get some rest.
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Photo Credit: Visarut Sankham/Rinse
Napadon Rakietkij rehearsing his lines translated from Mandarin into Thai. Most of the Isan people practice this way because they don't speak the language.
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Photo Credit: Visarut Sankham/Rinse
New members of the crew use the lower floor of the stage for preparing while the more experienced one use the upper floor.
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Photo Credit: Visarut Sankham/RinsePhoto Credit: Visarut Sankham/Rinse
Crew members setting up microphones before the show. A new member usually has to do multiple jobs in the crew.
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Photo Credit: Visarut Sankham/RinsePhoto Credit: Visarut Sankham/Rinse
Winking and whispering are singles for new members who don't understand Mandarin for them to know when to start acting.
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Photo Credit: Visarut Sankham/RinsePhoto Credit: Visarut Sankham/Rinse
Members are mostly hired by members of Chinese shrines usually located in markets.
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Photo Credit: Visarut Sankham/RinsePhoto Credit: Visarut Sankham/Rinse
Nan, 23, moved to Bangkok from Sisaket province with her parents as a child and joined an opera crew when she was 22.
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Photo Credit: Visarut Sankham/RinsePhoto Credit: Visarut Sankham/Rinse
A group of children seem to enjoy the performance despite the fact they don't understand the language.
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Photo Credit: Visarut Sankham/RinsePhoto Credit: Visarut Sankham/Rinse
Crew members spend the daytime watching television while others sleep.
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Photo Credit: Visarut Sankham/RinsePhoto Credit: Visarut Sankham/Rinse
Having a dish of papaya salad, which most Isan people like to eat.
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Photo Credit: Visarut Sankham/RinsePhoto Credit: Visarut Sankham/Rinse
A poster informing people of an upcoming show.

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