'Manas': An epic preserved by the people of China and Kyrgyzstan
Updated 21:35, 18-Jul-2019
By Yang Yan

The Kyrgyz epic of "Manas" is one of the three oldest heroic epics in China. Its preservation and protection have become a crucial cultural link between the people of China and Kyrgyzstan. 

This new version of the opera Manas was created and performed by the China National Opera House and tells the story of hero Manas and his son. Though a ballad stanza, the classical literature is lit up by modern artistic expressions. 

The epic was created a thousand years ago. It is based on the story of a famous Kyrgyz hero named Manas and his seven generations of descendants. The whole family led their people in a brave fight against cruel rulers from other races, eventually winning their freedom. 

The epic mainly circulated in what's now China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, as well as Central Asian countries like Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. 

Composed and entirely sung in oral form by singers throughout the centuries, Manas is regarded as the epitome of oral creativity. 

Today there are about sixty versions of the Manas recorded from various epic singers and oral poets. 

A stage still of "Manas" /VCG Photo

A stage still of "Manas" /VCG Photo

To create vivid characters, the team behind the drama Manas by the China Central Opera House has traveled to areas inhabited by Kyrgyz ethnic people and visited locals who still sing the epic. 

Wang Xiaoling, playwright of the opera, said, "An important theme is the inheritance of a heroic spirit, a great career. It cannot be done by only one generation. It should be spread and passed down."

Yuan Chenye is a singer of the opera. "It’s authentic here. All the stuff I sing in the opera, I can listen to it and feel it when I arrive here. If I stay in Beijing to practice, I don't have that feeling," he said.

A classical part of Manas is when they take to the field and make a triumphant return, and even ordinary Kyrgyz people can sing a few lines from it. 

Earlier this year, at the invitation of the Kyrgyz government, the China National Opera House presented the Chinese opera Manas in the country, receiving a warm reception.

The epic Manas is on the UNESCO list of masterpieces of intangible cultural heritage. 

In recent years, the Chinese government has dedicated efforts to protecting the culture. Books have been published at home and abroad. And in Xinjiang, a young batch of Manas inheritors are growing up to pass down the ethnic treasure.