Chinese opera is evoluted from ancient song and dance. In 800 BC, there emerged "You", who were fostered by the rich for their own entertainment, usually males, expert in singing, dancing and impersonations, turned into the earliest actors of Chinese opera.
In the Tang Dynasty, there emerged "Canjun opera," featured by its humor. "Canjun" was initially a official title and there was a canjun who was punished for being corrupt. In order to draw a lesson from this case and stop all possible corruption, the emperor ordered a "you (actor)" to dress up like "that canjun" and added another actor to mock and satirize him. Later on, the number of the actors gradually increased, making the performance increasingly complex. While the main purpose remained to satirize and reprimand through amusing gestures and dialogues.
Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty set up an institute called "the Pear Garden (Liyuan)" exclusively used to train actors. Moreover, he selected actors personally, gave them guidance and even performed on stage himself, in face, this theatrical troupe was the first opera school in china.
In the Song Dynasty, with rapid development of the urban economy, there emerged recreational places frequented by the urbans. When Zaju (a mixture of various plays) came into being, and further developed in the Yuan dynasty, "Yuan Zaju" represented the peak of Chinese opera history.
During Ming and Qing dynasties, various dramatic art appeared, "Chuanqi" (romance) replaced "Zaju" as a new and prevailing mode of drama. "Chuanqi", literally means "strange and odd stories", it is always complicated and elusive yet moving, telling stories that happening among human beings, ghosts and gods, usually elegant versed and of greater scale. The performances became more skillful and were usually performed in Kunqu opera. The most famous playwrights include Tang Xianzu, whose masterpiece is The Peony Pavilion; Kong Shangren, famous for the play The Peach Blossom Fan.
The Peach Blossom Fan is a story set along the Qinhual River in Nanjing, which is a suitable setting for a moving love story between a singing girl and a renowned scholar. When facing a national life-and-death condition, in the collapsing dynasty and fractured families, the two lovers cannot go with their own desires. In the end, the two lovers end up in Taoist temples. Apart from the theme of love, this play also depicts the breaking down of a dynasty, expressing the authour's deep contemplation of history and national fate.