As a popular dialectal performance of talking and singing, Baiju remains the only ancient local opera in Nanjing. Hitherto it has a history of over 600 years. Similar to monolog comic talks or cross talks, Baiju usually entails one or two performers, and sometimes as many as three to five people. All performers speak Nanjing dialect, and sing popular ditties. Baiju is plain, simple, easy to understand and also humorous. It is recognized as an art form of talking and singing, with strong local characteristics. As recorded in related data, "Nanjing Tunes" in verses of the Yuan Dynasty were actually the original tune-patterns of Baiju, which were also called Shuban (a dynamic rhythm) or the news tune. With a history of over 700 years, Baiju once gave rise to a new variant in Yangzhou, known as Qing Tune. In The Three Smiles, a famous Hongkong movie in the 20th century, the majority of the tunes came from Nanjing Baiju.
Baiju originated in the troupe of wind and percussion instruments in the countryside of Luhe District, and further developed in brocade loom rooms. It is a native-born opera of Nanjing. At wedding ceremonies and funerals, some affluent families in Luhe would always invite artists of wind and percussion instruments to liven up the atmosphere. Some artists would beat the tempo while singing folk ditties as well as popular songs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. There was also accompaniment of urheen. The troupe thus became famous. All based on ditties from south and north Jiangsu Province, the songs performed were also mixed with tunes played by singing prostitutes on the Qinhuai River. Due to its variety of tunes and abundant arias, Baiju is named "Baiqu" (literally, one hundred tunes).
There are nearly one hundred tunes in Nanjing Baiju, most of which were about local news and anecdotes. Brief and witty, they were one step ahead of "news talk" by the lower class. A great many of them exposed the situation of the synchronous society in a relatively factual way. Besides, they eulogized diligence of laboring people. Here are some examples: Breaking Down Wende Bridge, Demolishing the City Wall outside the South Gate, and Fleeing from the Flood.
When "Baiqu" was spread from the countryside to the downtown, it was 200,000 brocade workers in Nanjing who first embraced it. Traditionally, two persons weaved figured brocade on one machine. During industrious work, one sat on the weaving machine working on patterns, and the other shuttled under the machine. One of them would sing, and the other would respond. They talked about daily life, grotesque events, and forty-eight scenic spots of Jinling. They also sang ditties from both south and north of the Yangtze River, as well as from the neighboring regions. In this way, they managed to let out their depression, express emotions and also depict the painful life in a local dialect.
One round of singing was called one set by brocade workers, which was then known as Baiju (sounding similar to "displaying a set"). Due to its strong characteristics of Nanjing, Baiju soon gained extensive popularity and repercussions among city residents. Baiju was not only performed in decent places, but also spread to service industries including bathrooms, barbershops, restaurants and teahouses. It was gradually divided into "Baiju" which only required being entertained rather than being paid, and "Hongju" which was a professional troupe asking for monetary reward. Sounding similar to "Baiqu", "Baiju" later came to take its place.