Nuo Opera in Chengjiang County, Yuxi

Nuo opera or Nuo drama (simplified Chinese: 傩戏; traditional Chinese: 儺戲; pinyin: nuóxì) is one of the most popular folk operas in southern China. Characterized by its special features such as ferocious masks, unique dresses and adornments, the strange language used in performance, and mysterious scenes, Nuo opera has been selected[by whom?]as one of the non-material cultural legacies of China. The opera is a religious performance intrinsic to the culture of Nuoism, a type of Chinese folk religion. The purpose of Nuo opera is to drive away devils, disease and evil influences, and also to petition for blessings from the gods. Singing and dancing are included in Nuo opera and performers wear costumes and masks.

Nuo opera is a direct and important expressive medium of Nuo culture.[citation needed] Other forms of representation of the Nuo culture include Nuo dance (傩舞/儺舞), Nuo song (傩歌/儺歌), Nuo sacrifice (傩祭) and Nuo ceremony (傩仪/儺儀) and others. The unique symbol of Nuo opera, the masks, are considered a treasure of Chinese folk art.

There is a considerable repertoire in Nuo opera and this varies from area to area. Nuo operas are usually based on well-known Chinese historical events or folk stories such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, Water Margin and the story of the Dragon Kings. Some famous repertoires of Nuo opera include Lady Mengjiang, Seizing the Yellow Devil, and Story of Mount Liang.

During the Zhou dynasty (11th century-256 BC), this art form was very popular in the Yangtze River, Yellow River and Nenjiang River valleys[citation needed]. However, the opera’s popularity waned in those river valley areas. Nowadays, it still remains popular among rural areas in southwest China, such as Guizhou, Anhui, Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan provinces and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. It is especially popular in the regions inhabited by ethnic minorities such as the Tujia, the Miao, the Dong and Yao.