Thirty diplomats from various countries, including Azerbaijan, Brazil, Pakistan, Spain and Indonesia, along with their spouses, were invited to experience Peking Opera at Tianleyuan Theater in Beijing on Monday.
The diplomats were introduced to the ancient art form and got to try on Peking Opera costumes and makeup, as well as watch performances.
The event, titled 2021 New Year's Experience Journey to Peking Opera for Diplomatic Missions in China, is part of the Taihu World Cultural Forum, a nonofficial platform created by China for international cultural exchanges.
"Peking Opera embodies the essence of Chinese traditional culture," Zheng Chuanxin, secretary-general of the forum, says in a video greeting to the diplomats.
"It's full of Chinese philosophy, aesthetics and traditional values, like loyalty, bravery and honesty. It's a great way to get to know Chinese culture by experiencing the ancient art form."
The forum, launched in 2008, was named after Taihu Lake in the Yangtze River Delta. Since its inception, the forum has successfully held six conferences in Suzhou in Jiangsu province, Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, Shanghai, Macao, Beijing and Bengbu in Anhui province, respectively.
The forum has attracted hundreds of politicians, scholars, entrepreneurs and cultural notables from more than 80 countries and regions to share ideas and deepen mutual understanding among cultures.
The gray-brick Tianleyuan Theater is located in the capital's Qianmen area, a popular tourist spot. The theater has a history spanning more than 200 years and reopened in March 2019, after six years of renovation.
Peking Opera master Mei Lanfang (1894-1961) performed there for four years, from the tender age of 17. Cheng Yanqiu (1904-58) also premiered four of his classic Peking Opera shows, including The Legend of Hongfu and A Red Mole, at the theater from 1923 to 1927.
Both Mei and Cheng were known for their dan roles, that is, men who played female characters in Peking Opera pieces, because, at the time, women were forbidden to appear onstage.
The theater also produced one of the country's first female Peking Opera troupes, Chongyashe, in 1916.
The 5,000-square-meter theater also hosts exhibitions of historical photos. Visitors can try their hand at stage costumes and makeup with the help of professional performers.
The theater is now run by former TV host Ma Yingying and her company. Ma fell in love with Peking Opera after hosting a TV program about it. She has tried to give it a modern appeal by combining the ancient art form with contemporary elements, hoping to popularize it, especially among the younger generation.
Yegana Zeynalli, spouse of the ambassador of the Republic of the Azerbaijan to China, was one of the participants in the event on Monday. "China has an ancient history and rich culture, in which Peking Opera holds a special place. It is recognized as a pearl of Chinese culture," she says.
"Peking Opera is a window that allows us to look into Chinese history, music and culture, as well as offering a great opportunity to understand the life philosophy of the Chinese people."
She notes that Azerbaijan was a guest of honor at this year's Taihu World Cultural Forum, which was held in October in Bengbu.