Er Ren Zhuan in the Northeast mainly originated from Yangko (a popular rural folk dance), frequently observed in Northeast China, and Lian Hua Lao (a form of ballad) from Hebei province. Northeastern folks have a wisecracker that goes, “Based on Yangko and trimmed with Lian Hua Lao.” Lian Hua Lao, also called “Laozi”, is a typical folk art of the North, mixing singing, dancing and storytelling.
The Northeast is the birth place of the emperors. Since ancient times, the eastern and western Liaoning province was inhabited by only a small amount of Han people.The vast area characterized by the “white mountain and black water” was mainly home to minorities, especially horse-racing, archery-loving nomadic people such as Mongolia and Man groups. During the “Prosperous Time during the rein of Emperor Kangxi and Qianlong” in Qing dynasty, Han people were prohibited from entering northeast China. After that period of time, the nation spun into decline. The emperors were going downhill; national power was getting weaker; the nation was facing foreign invasions to make it worse. The policy to keep out the Han people was, by that time, only an empty title, which led to the trend of “Braving the journey to Northeast” during late Qing dynasty and early period of Republic of China. A large number of people from Shandong and Hebei province entered the Northeast, bringing with them Er Ren Zhuan - “Based on Yangko and trimmed with Lian Hua Lao” as they would call it.
Er Ren Zhuan is deep-rooted in local folk culture. The dialogues are rich in rural flavor, with “vulgar, pornographic and ironic” being the prominent features. In 2000, famous actor and Er Ren Zhuan performer Zhao Benshao initiated the idea of a “Green Er Ren Zhuan”, meaning a clean version without the explicit content. With the help of Liu Laogen Theater, he attempted to bring this new form of Er Ren Zhuan to a greater height. From then, Er Ren Zhuan has been brought to broader stages, and viewed as a folk art with decency. However, this has generated controversy - some give applause to this while others deem that Er Ren Zhuan has lost its earthy charm as an art originated from the fields.
Forms of Performance
Er Ren Zhuan is a small folk sing-and-dance opera observed in northeast China. Er Ren Zhuan (whose literal meaning is a duet performance) involves more than two performers. It is like a tree with multiple branches: one type of voice can be adopted in diverse forms of performing. Generally, there are four categories - solo, duo, group singing, and acting. “Solo” is also known as Dan Chu Tou, in which the only performer sings and dances while playing various roles. There are also monologue-like performance where the sole character delivers the whole show. “Duo” is a “two-person show”, the only form worthy of the name of Er Ren Zhuan. The two performers play multiple roles, and enliven the stage by singing and dancing, while delivering a story and casually throwing punchlines. In the past, “Lachang opera” was called “group show”. “Group singing” now refers to ensemble singing, singing without performing, or ensemble dancing. “Acting” means “Lachang Opera”, a small folk opera from the Northeast featuring female and clown characters. Among “Lachang Opera”, those with two performers are also called “two-person Opera”. Er Ren Zhuan was originally performed by only male actors, one dressed up as a female and one as a clown. Later female performers began to appear in the show, transforming it into a two-person singing performance, one female and one male. The performers wear simple makeup and customs.