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The Horn-Locking Play

In the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) there appeared Baixi (also known as Sanyue, or folk music, a counterpart of Yayue, or elegant music, performed in the imperial palace.) In fact Baixi referred to the combination of folk songs, dances, acrobatics, martial arts and magic. When Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty was in power, the Music Conservatory was set up in charge of collecting folk songs, thus promoting the development of music and dances. The opening of the Silk Road gave an impetus to the cultural exchanges between the Central Plains and the Western Regions, and spurred the mingling of the arts of various ethnic groups. Hence the performance of Baixi became an exceptionally grand event, and even the imperial palace began to hold large- scale Baixi festivals.

In Baixi, there was a theatrical performance in the form of a duel- the horn-locking play, in which two actors went through a stylized contest, the winner being the stronger of the two. Later, wrestling as a sport and entertainment emerged from this.

The play Lord Huang of the East China Sea has fixed characters, plots, conflicts and an ending. So, it is not really a competition between two people, but a theatrical performance based on a known story. It is no wonder that some experts in the history of drama regard Lord Huang of the East China Sea as the embryonic form of Chinese theater, and the spectacular Baixi festival as the cradle that nurtured Chinese theater (Fig.2-5)

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