The Teo Chew Opera

Teochew people originated in the Chaoshan region of Guangdong province, China. They arrived in Chon Buri and Samut Prakan, subsequently dispersing all over the country and form the largest Chinese dialect group in Thailand.

Today, many Teochew people have become successful businessmen, and leaders in the local communities and in government, for example, the owner of the famous Chang Beer in Thailand and many Thai ministers. It has even been said that a Cabinet meeting can be conducted almost entirely in Teochew!

Nowadays, many of the younger generation in Thailand have little to no exposure to their Teochew language and culture. Some have lost the connections to their roots or have forgotten how to speak the language. However, despite the fact that Teochew-Thai has adopted a Thai life style and culture, many Teochew cultural practices still survive, though declining, in contemporary Thailand. One of them is the Teochew opera.

Teochew opera comes to the little town of Betong in September each year, organized by the Teo Chew Association of Betong, to celebrate the anniversary of the association. Though not many people are really interested in the opera, it is the norm of the association to organize the Teachew opera as a yearly event.

The opera attracted mainly children who came to watch for fun, playing around and then left. As the stage was set up at a busy road, some passers by would be attracted to stop and watch for a few minutes. Hardly any audience would sit there to finish watching the whole opera.

The Teochew opera use traditional musical instruments like the cymbals, drums and other string instruments which I do not know the names. The performers have very elaborate make up and elaborate costumes with breath-taking sparkling sequins and chiffon cloths. The Teochew opera usually has some very interesting storyline based on the Chinese folklore. Many of the shows are very emotional and audiences have been known to weep openly as they watched. However, nowadays most of the audiences can’t follow the story lines!

The opera performers in Betong came from North-east of Thailand. They travelled around Thailand and even been invited to Malaysia to perform during special festival. At first, I was amazed by the Teochew people for preserving such opera arts so well. However, I was then told that in fact the opera performers themselves are not Teochew and do not know Teochew. Sometimes they don’t even know what they are singing about. They learned and memorized the opera act so diligently just as a means of living…

The opera show

The opera show/The innocent kids

The young audience/Watching attentively

6 responses to “The Teo Chew Opera

  1. Was the opera in the movie ‘Farewell my concubine’ the same? That was quite a movie…

  2. Trangam: There are various types of Chinese opera like Teochew Opera, Cantonese opera, Beijing opera etc. It was contemporary Beijing opera in the movie.

  3. The Teochius is the biggest Chinese dialect-group in Thailand. In fact, during the post WWII years, there were more Teohius in Bangkok, than there were Teochiu in Swatow(now Shantou)!

    However, the Teochius are the most assimilated Chinese in Thailand today. They usually marry into the richest Thai families, and somehow, there is a strong Thai-Teochiu elite, especially in Bangkok.

    Interestingly, in Southern Thailand, from Trang, Phuket and Hat Yai, the Hokkiens are still the dominant group. They still control the business of Southern Thailand.

    I used to love CHines operas, although, I have only seen Hokkien Operas, and once the Beijing Opera at Istana Budaya.

  4. I was in Bangkok last year during the 9th lunar month and got to watch 5 consecutive nights of Teochew opera! (I have a Thai friend who is a Teochw opera actor) Haha.. I’m a Chinese from Singapore, and the Teochew opera in Thailand is so similar to that in Singapore, made me felt very at home. Hee..

  5. Thank you for a well designed website.

    Where could we see Teochew opera in Bangkok in November?

  6. Thanks for the post. Just to let you know, I found a website, for those Teochew people abroad that want to meet and unite with other Teochew.