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Fern has decided to change host and is having some trouble with file conversions.

Meanwhile, do not despair, the backed-up contents of her blog can be downloaded here in the form of html web pages.

Zhang Huoding

Zhang Huoding of Peking Opera Takes a Turn in the United States

Review: Zhang Huoding Makes American Debut in Two Operas


Zhang Huoding in the Unicorn Purse 2014

Here is my favorite opera singer singing her signature role after too many years absence from the stage. Her fans were waiting! This is the show that provoked pandemonium and 5 encores last spring, of which you get the briefest taste here at the end of the two hour performance.

It’s a bit of a bummer that Vidown can only download a corrupted version of the video for this, certainly the Beijing Opera comeback of the year.

However, thanks to zijunzhang, the video can be viewed (and downloaded using the Firefox addon “Video DownloadHelper”) from here.

If and when I find a higher resolution video, I will surely post it . I know it’s out there, somewhere…

Meanwhile, paradise.



translation by Nikhi Chau


Zhang Huoding has been my favorite opera singer east and west combined for a while now. This website exists only because I discovered her interpretation of “Suo Lin Nang”, the Unicorn Purse. It’s her signature role and has become a solid standard other performers taking on the role compete with.

This week, I have been holding my breath and checking every day to see if CCTV has posted the videos for her 2014 comeback after an absence of several years. Her single 2014 Unicorn Purse performance last month resulted in audience exuberance rarely observed in a CCTV broadcast.

sold out

Yesterday, a 15 minute bio recap/teaser in Mandarin of her renewed Liang and Zhu/Butterfly Lovers production was posted here. The brief snippets we get show Zhang Huoding in stronger shape and voice than in the past.

Click here to download Butterfly Lovers video (mirror)  (91 MB)

This Sunday morning they posted another 15 minute recap on her new Unicorn Purse performed the very next day here.

Click here to download Unicorn Purse video (mirror)  (91 MB)

Further, it was announced in a press conference last week that Zhang Huoding’s “Unicorn Purse” will be made into a movie. A live performance DVD (with harsh lighting) from many years ago is still available. At least two full length CCTV broadcast videos of this opera featuring this actress circulate constantly on the Internet, see here and here along with a third full-length version of Zhang Huoding lip-synching over a historic audio recording of Cheng Yanqiu performing it here.

 Zhang Huoding 2014

What is the allure of Zhang Huoding’s “Suo Lin Nang”? What is the big deal?

Firstly, I think, this play is powerful emotionally on many levels. It hints at the suffering endured by the Chinese people by talking of “floods”, certainly a metaphor for all the catastrophes that befell the Chinese people in the first half of the 20th century. It speaks of suffering, human empathy, recognizing one’s faults and obtaining unhoped-for redemption. Secondly, Zhang Huoding in this role nails it with a studied traditional artistry that transcends language barriers and cultural boundaries.

However, the text for any opera is important for a thorough appreciation. With the subtle pantomimes of the Unicorn purse, this opera’s libretto is perhaps even more important than most.

Fern heroically provided her translation of this opera here.

Now Nikhi Chau posted his own translation in subtitles to another video made about 10 years ago, yesterday on Youtube.

You can view them at:



Nikhi writes:
“Zhao Rongchen, Zhang Huoding’s teacher, was actually my great-uncle (my father’s uncle). That probably sounds more impressive than it really is; he stayed in China while his sister (my grandmother) immigrated to America, so I never actually met or spoke to him, unfortunately. And since my parents weren’t as into jingju as their parents were, I didn’t even know about him until recently. It’s been very interesting discovering this distant relative’s legacy! “

Nikhi was kind enough to pass along his text file of the English subtitles,  you can download them here:

Subtitles text file part one and part two.

Thank you Nikhi! Now let’s all enjoy.

Herd Boy and Weaving Girl, the folk tale that inspired the operas, explained here:



Wolfram Eberhard

A history of China., [3d ed. rev. and enl.] by Wolfram Eberhard

See bio of author here.


空中剧院官方频道Theater On Air Official Channel


The demos are fun to listen to at:


Tian Hui


Fern wrote the following description for this show on her Ear Candy blog here. It was really excellent and well researched, as usual for her. The only thing missing was the videos.

(Fern post begins here)

10月3日(星期四)19:20 现场直播《京剧旦角折子戏专场》





Beijing Opera Dan Role Highlights:

1.《宇宙锋》Yuzhou Feng (The Cosmic Blade) – Tian Hui, Ren Guangping, Li Chun, Bi Xixi
Tian Hui knows this play pretty well.

Tian Hui

I found a good description of the story, focusing on the scene that can be seen in this video, 修本 Xiu Ben, I also recommend the whole article, Learning Yuzhou Feng written by Rose Jang:

The play is set in the Qin dynasty (221–206 B.C.), when the lascivious successor of the First Emperor, the Second Emperor (Qin Ershi 秦二世), presides over a divided court. His prime minister, Zhao Gao 赵高, is a scheming politician.12 In an attempt to neutralize one of the people in the way of his consolidation of power, Kuang Hong 匡洪, Zhao marries his daughter, Zhao Yanrong 赵艳容, to Kuang’s son. The young couple turns out to be a good match, but the union does not achieve Zhao Gao’s purpose and he employs a more vicious plot to neutralize Kuang Hong. As a mark of imperial favor, the Kuangs had been given the precious sword after which the play is named. Zhao Gao frames the Kuangs for treason by having the sword stolen and used in a purposely unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the emperor. The sword is taken as evidence of the Kuangs’ complicity and the entire clan is ordered to be executed. There is only one survivor, Zhao Yanrong’s husband, who manages to escape by disguising himself as one of the servants. The real servant dies in his stead.
It is at this point of the story that the scene “Xiuben” occurs. At the beginning of the scene, in his quarters, Zhao Gao announces the success of his plot, but also mentions a rumor he has heard that states that Zhao Yanrong called a servant her husband. He summons his daughter, who has moved back home, to ask her about the rumor, and she appears with her  faithful mute maid (known in the play only as Yanu 哑奴 [„mute slave”]). Although initially frightened by the accusation, Yanrong manages to dissolve Zhao Gao’s suspicion by claiming that it would be absolutely absurd for her to call a mere servant “husband.” She then persuades Zhao Gao to exercise magnanimity and compose a memorial to the emperor requesting a pardon for the Kuang clan. While Zhao Gao is drafting this memorial, much to Yanrong’s joy and relief, they are both alarmed by a surprise visit by the Second Emperor, who is returning from an excursion. Yanrong quickly hides herself, but not before the Second Emperor catches a glimpse of her beauty and instantly takes a fancy to her. After reading Zhao Gao’s memorial, the Second Emperor immediately approves it. Then he orders Zhao Gao to present his beautiful daughter at the court the following day—he wants to make her one of his concubines.
After the Second Emperor leaves, Zhao Gao announces to his daughter the good news about the memorial and her upcoming presentation at court. Upon hearing of the latter, she directly accuses him of lacking shame and only craving honors and riches. She claims that while she was bound to follow her father’s wishes in the case of her first marriage, that is no longer true with any subsequent marriages, but an angry Zhao Gao accuses her of rejecting the authority of both father and emperor. Trapped inside this patriarchal web of tyranny, Yanrong’s only and last hope comes from her faithful mute maid, who is as full of wisdom as she is short of voice. The maid pulls Zhao Yanrong aside and gestures to her to put on a show of insanity. Inspired by the suggestion, Yanrong exits the stage and returns with robe and hairdo in disorder, and scratches blood marks on her forehead in front of the audience. To complement this visual portrait of madness, she treats her father as if he were her lover, spewing lewd and crazy phrases and making seductive gestures, all the while following the  hints from the mute maid. Her feigned madness is taken for real by her  father, who despondently sends her back to her room. Yet a more severe  battle awaits her the following morning at court, in front of the Emperor  and his heavily armed entourage. Yanrong’s unflinching confrontation  with the Emperor, in which she uses the disguise of insanity to curse him  to his face, is the content of the ensuing scene, “Jindian.”

2.《穆柯寨》Mukezhai (Muke Fortress) – Gao Hongmei
This isn’t the first time either Gao Hongmei stars in this action-packed play. The story is simple: Mu Guiying beats them all.

Mu Guiying practiced martial arts from a young age after her bandit father Mu Yu (穆羽) who ruled the Muke Fortress (穆柯寨). One day Yang Zongbao, the youngest warrior of the illustrious Yang clan, came to the fortress demanding the Dragon-Taming Wood (降龍木) on the order of his father, Marshall Yang Yanzhao. Mu refused so they fought in a duel which resulted in Yang Zongbao being captured. While Yang Zongbao refused to surrender and demanded death, Mu found herself attracted to her prisoner and boldly made a marriage proposal, which Yang Zongbao eventually accepted. After Yang Zongbao returned and reported the events, an infuriated Yang Yanzhao ordered the disgraced son executed. To save Yang Zongbao, Mu came out of the fortress and engaged in a battle with Yang Yanzhao, also capturing him. Mu apologized to her father-in-law and finally Yang Yanzhao agreed to the marriage and welcomed Mu to his family and troops.

 (From Wikipedia.)

3.《状元媒》Zhuangyuan Mei (Top Scholar as Matchmaker) – Jiang Yishan, Jin Xiquan
Well, this evening’s performance isn’t the show of surprises: audience favorite from Jiang Yishan’s regular repertoire.
What a busy week for Jin Xiquan. Three performances in a row in Shanghai, then he suddenly had to fly to Beijing to substitute Li Hongtu on the 5th in Under the Shade of the Willow, and on the 6th, he was in Shanghai again, performing Chun Gui Meng with Li Peihong.

4.《坐宫》Zuo Gong (Sitting in the Palace) – Li Jie, Li Jun

(end Fern post)

I had so much trouble downloading these files I thought it might be a good idea to share them here. It is a perplexing and ongoing mystery to me why Budapest has better broadband to China than Eastern Canada.

Click here to download Part 1 of the video

Click here to download Part 2 of the video

Click here to download Part 3 of the video

Click here to download Part 4 of the video

The picture quality is excellent. The sound has a bit of a live hall sound to it, but I got used to it.



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