Xiong Mingxia 熊明霞

Jin Xiquan feeding panda – is there anything else that makes Fern melt?

Photo by Xiong Mingxia.

Note the T-shirt. 金公主.

What a negligent person I am!

Almost a month ago, Bertrand uploaded a great (and big) video of Silang Visits His Mother, starring Shi Yihong and Li Jun, and since he knows I’m obsessed with Jin Xiquan and Xiong Mingxia (who also appear in this staging), he kindly gave me the privilege to make a post about it.

I usually keep things (that are related to my online presence) in mind, but this time I forgot about this very pleasant “duty”of mine.

The story of Yang Yanhui, or Yang Silang (lit. “fourth son”) is one of the most popular Beijing Operas, featured by exciting story, a variety of characters and earworm arias. A version with Yu Kuizhi and Li Shengsu in the leading role was already posted at operabeijing.com, and Bertrand’s friend Zach provided a straightforward description of the whole story.

There are only a few things I would like to add as curiosity.

Zach mentions Yang Yanhui changed his name to Muyi upon captured, to conceal his true identity. However, his new alias also hints at his family relations. The two characters that make the traditional compound for surname Yang (楊) are mu (木) and yi (易). Very clever, isn’t it? How tricky our Silang is.

The version posted earlier omitted one character from the play: Mrs. Silang. Yang Yanhui already had a wife at home who remained loyal to him for fifteen years, and now, after Silang’s short visit, they have to bid farewell again. I definitely don’t envy this character.

The most famous act of this play is undoubtedly Zuo Gong (Sitting in the Palace). Bertrand already posted a video with Yu Kuizhi and Li Shengsu singing the most appealing snippet from the famous duet of Yang Yanhui and Princess Tiejing, but you can never have enough Zuo Gong in your Beijing Opera blog.

In the following clip, the above mentioned duo is singing the same excerpt, just wearing stage costume. It’s a 2009 recording, and Yu Kuizhi seems unusually rested and well-fed this time. I added English subtitles to it with Aegisub, to ease my conscience. Believe me, stereo Yu is fun.

Download the Zuo Gong duet here.

And now to the main performance! You will meet many familiar faces, most of them already have a category, so don’t hesitate and click those links.

Hu Xuan, the young “old lady” of Shanghai Jingju Troupe was featured recently in a complete opera here, playing the role of a poor but noble spirited elderly woman. Now we can see her again as the mother of Yang Silang. I think she deserves a category too, what do you think? *pokes Bertrand*

Young Ma school laosheng Mu Yu, playing Yang Zongbao’s father in this play, also appeared here before, both as kid and as young adult. In the latter post you can also spot Zhu Hong (Jingju Theater of Beijing Youth Troupe), starring as Silang’s wife in this performance.

Shi Yihong and Li Jun are two excellent professionals, though not particularly exciting. Possibly I won’t stand alone with the opinion that performers in the supporting roles are a bit more interesting in this production.

《四郎探母》Silang Tan Mu (The Fourth Son Visits His Mother)

Click here to download the video.

Length: 2:53:06 File size: 1,46GB, 720×576 Extension: MKV
CCTV “Theater in the Air” live broadcast, 2011-04-16
Mei Lanfang Grand Theater, Beijing
 Personal favorite spot: 1:31:20-1:32:45

Yang Yanhui: Li Jun (李军)
Princess Tiejing: Shi Yihong (史依弘)
She Taijun: Hu Xuan (胡璇)
Empress Dowager Xiao: Xiong Mingxia (熊明霞)
Yang Yanzhao (Liulang):  Mu Yu (穆宇)
Yang Zongbao: Jin Xiquan (金喜全)
Silang’s wife: Zhu Hong (朱虹)
Brothers of the Liao Empress Dowager: Zhang Yongsheng (张永生), Mei Qingyang (梅庆羊)

The photos below, taken at this performance were borrowed from the CCTV Forums.

Compared to invisible horses and imitated boats, the prop symbolizing Silang and Tiejing’s infant is pretty realistic.
In order to get the jindalingjian (金大令箭), the big golden arrow banner of command, Princess Tiejing pinched the poor baby, and when he started to cry, the Princess said to the Empress Dowager that the infant wants to play with the arrow. The worrying royal grandmom immediately lent the lingjian to the little boy.
On the next picture, there are several other command arrows on Xiao Taihou’s table. The middle one is the “jackpot” Yang Yanhui is longing for. Besides the lingjians we can see a little packet, wrapped in yellow fabric. Despite appearances, it doesn’t contain the Empress Dowager’s lunchbox, but the seal of the commander-in-chief.

In Beijing Opera, all female characters of non-Han ethnicity wear accessories similar to Manchu court wear. The flowery “buns” on Xiao Taihou’s headdress strongly resemble the oversized wedding headpiece Empress Dowager Longyu is wearing on this picture:

Yang Zongbao is holding a lingqi (令旗), command banner to transmit orders.

Have fun watching!

Xiong Mingxia


I took a very rare scheduled day off from work to rest and relax today.

And I started writing this post. Before I was done, I accidentally posted it without noticing, walked off and took a nap. When I woke up, Fern had already emailed me about it with explanations and links. So, not just a little bit amazed, I’ve decided to repost this with Fern’s input, seeing as it wasn’t done in the first place.

This very recent 2011-06-11 production of 《铁面无私清官谱》Tiemian Wusi Qingguan Pu (List of Incorrupt Officials) stars Tang Yuancai (唐元才) in the well-know and recurring role of Judge Bao, along with the bubbly and expressive actress Xiong Mingxia (熊明霞) as the emperor’s hot calendar girl Pang Fei. It was performed by the Shanghai Jingju Troupe at the Tianchan Yifu Theater.

I posted a concert video a couple of weeks ago with a superb Tang Yuancai here. Fern has several really nice posts relating to Xiong Mingxia here, and some of those posts are even about opera! (*kidding*)

Don't mess with Judge Bao

According to this reference, around the year 150, many educated men in China who applied themselves increasingly to independent learning, debates and new writing genres, also became widely known for their reformist stances and overtly political views. Such men were often labelled by their contemporaries as “pure officials” (qingguan), that is, officials usually associated with court ritual, education, and administration, and free of eunuch and empress-family links. The real-life Judge Bao came along in fact about 900 years later, but “due to his fame and the strength of his reputation, Bao’s name became synonymous with the idealised “honest and upright official” (qingguan 清官), and quickly became a popular subject of early vernacular drama and literature.” (ref) In many stories Bao is accompanied by his personal secretary, the righteous and incorruptible Gongsun Ce (公孙策), among others.

Here are Fern’s notes:

“The storyline of《清官册》Qingguan Ce (List of Incorrupt Officials)  I found  did not match the story we see in this video. It became clearer only when I found this same play on the site of Tianchan Yifu Theater (http://www.tianchan.com/ticket/487) with the same date, and from the description I figured out the following :

The story is titled 《铁面无私清官谱》 (which translates to “List of Honest and Incorruptible Officials” as well).

The story is set during the Northern Song dynasty, and there was a big drought in Chenzhou county. On imperial order, the emperor’s maternal uncle, Pang Yu, is sent to Chengzhou to distribute grain to the people. But he and the local official conspire to embezzle the provisions.

Having no other choice, many commoners arrive to Kaifeng, the capital at that time, and complain about the injustice. The emperor orders judge Bao Zheng to investigate and handle the case.

Imperial tutor Pang Ji and his daughter, imperial concubine Pang Fei borrow the imperial chariot to obstruct Bao Zheng on the way. Bao Zheng repeatedly asks them to move away, but Pang Fei refuses to let him pass.

Judge Bao gets angry and destroys the chariot. The Emperor wants to order the execution of Bao Zheng, but Zhao Defang, Emperor Taizu’s fourth son and senator Kou Zhun ask for leniency. Taizong finally pardons Bao and gives him the imperial sword, thus permitting him to act first and report later.

Bao Zheng travels to Chengzhou. Upon his arrival, he investigates the case in detail.

With the military aid of the brave Zhan Zhao, they manage to subdue Pang Yu, though Pang Ji and his henchmen try to hinder them.

Justice is done when Judge Bao orders the execution of Pang Yu and the corrupt officials.

Also in the cast: the old woman with a diamond on her forehead, no doubt to indicate she is noble deep down inside (she is great at around 21:00)

The treacherous official Pang Ji (booo!)

Sometimes good guys don't wear white

Xiong Mingxia, sporting a double scoop hairdo, exhibits what throat singing control is all about from 45:33 on. With this actress, to me, it’s a lot about singing technique. She also has a lot of intrigue in her eyes and is fun to watch.

Xiong Mingxia

(from Wikipedia) “ In most dramatisation of his stories, Judge Bao used a set of guillotines (Chinese: 鍘刀; pinyin: zhádāo; Literal: lever-knife), given to him by the emperor, to execute criminals (…)  The one decorated with a tiger’s head (Chinese: 虎頭鍘; pinyin: hǔtóuzhá; Literal: tiger-headed lever-knife) was used on government officials.”

beheading knives found by Fern

This explains the tiger and what happens to the bad guy at the end:

Off with his head!

Judge Bao’s command at 2:27:28 to execute the criminal is pretty easy to understand!

(update 2011-09-24) Fern sent me another email with the following info:

The official title of this play in question, staged by the Shanghai Jingju Troupe is “Tiemian Wusi Qingguan Pu”. It shares some characters from Qingguan Ce, like Zhao Defang and Kou Zhun, and also translates as “List of Honest and Incorrupt Officials”, but actually the story is based on a drama titled《打銮驾》”Da Luanjia” (Crashing the Imperial Chariot), which belonged to the repertoire of Wang Zhengbing (hualian) and Fei Sanjin (xiaosheng) around 1890. In Da Luanjia, the favorite concubine tries to protect her brother (who embezzled the relief grain) by blocking Judge Bao’s way three times with the royal vehicles. This story fits our play.

My sources: http://www.tianchan.com/info/263, http://www.hudong.com/wiki/, and Peking Opera Synopses in English.

Cast for this post’s video:
Judge Bao: Tang Yuancai (唐元才)
Concubine Pang: Xiong Mingxia (熊明霞)
Kou Zhun: Qi Baoyu (齐宝玉)
Zhao Defang: Xu Jianzhong (徐建忠)
Zhan Zhao: Lan Tian (蓝天)
Mrs. Liu: Hu Xuan (胡璇)
Pang Ji: Dong Hongsong (董洪松)
Pang Yu: Yang Donghu (杨东虎)
Zhao Zhen (Emperor Renzong): Li Chun (李春)
Zhao Bin, minister of war: Yu Wei (虞伟)
Wang Yanling: Guo Yi (郭毅)
Chengzhou prefectural magistrate Zang Daodi: Luo Jiakang (罗家康)
Ren Hu and Ren Biao (the two guys sent to assassinate Bao at the relay station): Liang Guohui (梁国辉); Wang Yuhao (王钰皓)

I made a group image of characters as they are in the cast list” (below)

Qingguan cast

The video, although overall a bit compressed, is of very nice quality picture and sound and the opera is 2 1/2 hours long. File size is 795 MB and format is .mkv

Click here to download the video

Some additional photos of this performance, taken with a Konica Minolta digital camera (the label on all the JPG images), borrowed from http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_61c0e26401017hum.html and  http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_61c0e26401017huz.html

Qingguan Ce (List of Incorrupt Officials)

Qingguan Ce (List of Incorrupt Officials)

Qingguan Ce (List of Incorrupt Officials)

Qingguan Ce (List of Incorrupt Officials)

Qingguan Ce (List of Incorrupt Officials)

Qingguan Ce (List of Incorrupt Officials)

Qingguan Ce (List of Incorrupt Officials)

Qingguan Ce (List of Incorrupt Officials)