Entries tagged with “Preserving artistic treasures”.

Zhang Huoding and Song Xiaochuan, a photo from Zhang Huoding's 2 volume book of jingju photographs (click to view larger)

Hello and welcome to a special post!

Usually, Fern and I each write our own posts on our respective sides of the world. This time, however, we’re writing this post together before we make it public. That’s because this one features an unusual amount of files and requires more background than is customary to explain them properly. It might have been easier to split this up into many smaller posts, but I feel they belong together and wanted to keep them all together in one place. As it turns out, we kept finding better versions of each file as we were writing this post, so perhaps keeping it here all catalogued in one easy to find place will be a very good thing.

Normally when I write a post, I pretty much “wing it” and rely perhaps less on sleuthing and research and more on how I felt watching the piece. This time I couldn’t do that and really needed Fern’s help!

All the videos in this post are “re-enactments”, featuring modern Beijing Opera stars lip syncing over archival recordings of historically important past masters. These videos were part of an extensive effort by the Chinese Ministry of Culture a few years ago to preserve and disseminate rare and important, but poor-sounding, recordings of jingju.

In past posts here on operabeijing.com as well as on Ear Candy, Fern talked about an impressive box set of VCDs of these strange performances along with a performance of the White Snake (with Li Jie) here, I posted a Unicorn Purse with Zhang Huoding (now added to this post), and Fern posted a Jade Hairpin (with Zhang Huoding again) here (which we are also re-posting below).

Recently, links to a slew of rare videos popped up on the zhanghuoding.com web site forum. I posted three of these in a row a few weekends ago. At the same time there were links to this collection of operas that Zhang Huoding acted over either Cheng Yanqiu’s or Zhao Rongchen’s voices, operas which were part of the out-of-print box set of VCDs Fern mentioned.

A VCD, in case you didn’t know, is simply a regular old style CD-ROM disk with a big MPG video file on it along with a small (and usually dated) executable to allow you to view it. The video size of VCDs was originally intended for old 640 by 480 resolution computer monitors, and seem small by today’s standards. To “rip” a VCD, all that is required is to copy the largest file and rename it to an .MPG file name extension. There is no quality loss involved.

One could guess that the hardcore Zhang Huoding fans have been getting antsy because of the latest rumours (unsubstantiated, but credible) that our favourite singer has decided to retire for good, fed up with gruelling schedules and having to perform live when not in top shape or even sick. “The tickets have already been sold, what can you do?” It’s looking grim, so the fans could be seen as digging up those lost treasures. However the source of these files are all over the Chinese web sites, in various forms. A lot of people treasure these re-enactments.

As this is a post focusing on the Cheng school of Beijing Opera, let’s start by recalling some of the most well-known figures of that school here, although of course we can’t mention everyone.

The most well-known direct and formally accepted disciples of Cheng Yanqiu are Zhao Rongchen (赵荣琛) and Wang Yinqiu (王吟秋). Besides their own achievements, our generation most likely remembers them as the masters of Zhang Huoding,  Chi Xiaoqiu, and Li Peihong.

Cheng Yanqiu had numerous although not formally accepted female disciples, among them Xin Yanqiu (新艳秋) and Li Shiji (李世济), two names that frequently pop up when Cheng school art is discussed. Liu Guijuan and Li Haiyan are both Li Shiji’s disciples.

From the third generation, Li Haiyan (李海燕), Zhang Huoding (张火丁), Chi Xiaoqiu (迟小秋), Li Peihong (李佩红) and Liu Guijuan (刘桂娟) are famed as the “five young Cheng dan”.

We also should keep an eye open for the newest talents, like Lü Yang (吕洋), Guo Wei (郭伟), Yang Lei (杨磊) (boy), Zhou Jing (周婧), Zhao Huan (赵欢), Jiang Zhi (江汁) and more.

Cheng Yanqiu’s repertoire included more than 80 plays, from which the most well-known operas were featured in the lip-synced series. Interestingly, although so closely associated with Zhang Huoding, Tale of the White Snake isn’t a traditional Cheng school play.

Getting back to the videos, it is important to specify that if you are new to Beijing Opera, then you should not begin with these videos as they are tiny sized, generally slow-paced and with “bad sound” — in fact, recorded before the birth of  stereo in the mid 20th century.

My feeling on watching them?

Well, the first thing that struck me was how well synced the actors are. You might think Zhang Huoding would have performed some of these operas more extensively after learning the parts down cold the way she did. I am second guessing this is because of aesthetic and artistic choices on her part rather than logistics. She seems more comfortable in smaller and simpler productions, and less cumbersome costumes: as Wenji, she seems weighed down by her outfit.

The second thing that struck me was that although there is a lot in that voice to miss, nevertheless you can really get into the groove of watching the play. The masters weren’t masters by name only.

That said, here are the plays.

Zhang Huoding

Opera 马昭仪 Ma Zhaoyi, audio with Cheng Yanqiu and Yu Shiwen, acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding and Wang Lijun.

Click here to download part 1

Click here to download part 2

Click here to download part 3

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1954, live sound recording
Ma Zhaoyi: Cheng Yanqiu (程砚秋); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Wu Yun (Wu Zixu): Yu Shiwen (于世文); Wang Lijun (王立军)
King Ping of Chu: Guan Shengji (贯盛吉); Lang Shilin (郎石林)
Crown Prince Jian: Liu Xuetao (刘雪涛); Song Xiaochuan (宋小川)
Meng Ying, the Qin princess: Li Danlin (李丹林); Li Haiqing (李海青)
Wu She, father of Wu Zixu: Qian Yuantong (钱元通); Huang Wenjun (黄文俊)
Fei Wuji: Xiao Yuelou (筱月楼); Zhu Jinhua (朱锦华)
Zhang Hua: Yao Yuanxiu (姚元秀); Song Yuanbin (宋元斌)
Art consultant: Li Danlin (李丹林), Yu Shiwen (于世文)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 2001/09

Photo of Cheng Yanqiu as Ma Zhaoyi:

Ma Zhaoyi was written by Cheng Yanqiu himself, founder of the Cheng school, and in its early years Mei Lanfang also performed it. Alternative titles of this play are《禅宇寺》Chen Yu Si (Chenyu Temple),《武昭关》Wu Zhao Guan (Wuzhao Pass) and《楚宫秋》Chu Gong Qiu (Fall in Chu Palace). Later around 1960, the Jingju Troupe of Beijing staged the re-adapted version of the drama with the leading cast of Zhang Junqiu, Tan Fuying and Liu Xuetao. The title was changed to《楚宫恨》Chu Gong Hen (Sorrow in Chu Palace), a title more frequently seen.

Three of the key characters of this play, the obnoxious King Ping of Chu, the imperial tutor Wu She and his son Wu Zixu were already discussed in this previous post.

The story:

King Ping sends his treacherous official, Fei Wuji, to the state of Qin to find a bride for his son, Prince Jian. Seeing the beauty of the Qin princess, King Ping decides to keep her for himself as a concubine, and forces the servant maid, Ma Zhaoyi, to impersonate the princess and marry his son.

Three years after, the king’s conspiracy gets revealed, so the king’s next evil plan is to murder Crown Prince Jian. The honest Wu She openly criticises the king, and gets in big trouble. The crown prince entrusts Ma Zhaoyi and their little son to Wu She’s brave son, Wu Zixu, and flees.

Ma Zhaoyi follows him with Wu Zixu to protect her, and they arrive to a Buddhist shrine called Chen Yu Si. The soldiers chasing them surround the temple. Ma Zhaoyi realises there’s no way out, so she entrusts her baby to Wu Zixu, then jumps into a well and dies. Wu Zixu later manages to break out of the trap, and escapes with the young prince.

Wang Lijun, first-class wusheng of the Jingju Theater of Tianjin, is a noted and much appreciated performer in Beijing Opera circles, with a Plum Blossom Prize (1986), a Mei Lanfang Gold Medal and a White Magnolia Award in pocket. His representative plays are Tiao Hua Che (Overturning the War Chariots)Lianhuantao (A Chain of Traps), Changbanpo – Hanjinkou (Changban Slope – Hanjin Pass), Yezhulin (Wildboar Forest) and more. He also works as laosheng with the plays Da Yu Sha Jia (The Fishermen’s Revenge) and Zuo Gong (Sitting in the Palace) in his repertoire. If you’re fond of Beijing Opera military dramas, you will frequently encounter Wang Lijun!

Zhang Huoding

Opera 三堂会审 San Tang Hui Shen (Su San’s Interrogation), audio with Cheng Yanqiu and Ye Shenglan, acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding and Ye Shaolan.

Click here to download the video

(2013-12-07 update)

Click here to get the same opera in bigger format, with CCTV watermark

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1946, Shanghai Tianchan Stage, live sound recording
string section lead: Zhou Changhua (周长华)
percussion section lead: Bai Dengyun(白登云)
Su San: Cheng Yanqiu (程砚秋); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Wang Jinlong: Ye Shenglan (叶盛兰); Ye Shaolan (叶少兰)
Liu Bingyi: Wang Shaolou (王少楼); Zhang Xuehai (张学海)
Pan Bizheng: Zhang Chunyan (张春彦); Sun Hongxun (孙洪勋)
Chong Gongdao: Xiao Shengxuan (萧盛萱); Zhu Jinhua (朱锦华)
Art consultant: Li Shiji (李世济)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 2001/11

The script of this play is based on the middle part of larger opera《玉堂春》Yu Tangchun (Story of Su San). This epic story has had numerous adaptations and there are different Beijing Opera versions. For example, Mei Lanfang and Xun Huisheng inserted a scene between the “interrogation” and the “reunion” parts.

The preceding scene, Su San Sent Under Escort has already been discussed briefly here. Su San (her other name is Yu Tangchun) is falsely accused with a crime, and she is transported to Taiyuan under the guard of Chong Gongdao, in order to review her judicial case. This scene is often staged separately, it’s either titled 《女起解》Nü Qi Jie (Woman Sent Under Escort) or《苏三起解》Su San Qi Jie (Su San Sent Under Escort), they are one and the same.

The story continues with the interrogation. The literal meaning of the title, San Tang Hui Shen is “Three Office Joint Hearing”. This refers to the juridical process when the highest level senior officials from three departments hear the details of the a case together at the same time and place. If you can imagine a woman in chains, standing before three high magistrates to defend herself — tremendous pressure! What’s more, one of the interrogators is Wang Jinlong, Su San’s true love, who suffers a nervous breakdown during the trial. Fortunately the other two officials, Pan Bizheng and Liu Bingyi, are honest and examine the details carefully.

In the end, Su San is freed and rehabilitated.

Zhang Huoding

Opera 文姬归汉 Wenji Gui Han (Wenji Returns to her Homeland), audio with Cheng Yanqiu and Yu Shiwen, acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding and Zhang Xuehai.
[I posted an aria from this opera performed by Zhang Huoding here].

Click here to download part 1

Click here to download part 2

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1953, Shanghai, live sound recording
string section lead: Zhong Shizhang (钟世章)
percussion section lead: Zhang Lanyou (张澜友)
Cai Wenji: Cheng Yanqiu (程砚秋); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Zhou Jin: Yu Shiwen (于世文); Zhang Xuehai (张学海)
Zuo Xianwang: Li Danlin (李丹林); Song Xiaochuan (宋小川)
Cao Cao: Luo Ronggui (罗荣贵); Luo Changde (罗长德)
Art consultant: Li Shiji (李世济)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing

Photo of Cheng Yanqiu as Cai Wenji:

Cheng Yanqiu wrote this opera based on Liu Shang’s Hujia Shiba Paia series of songs about the life of Cai Yan.

The story:

Li Que, Guo Si and Yang Feng attempt to overthrow Emperor Xian of Han (Liu Xie). Meanwhile, King of the Southern Xiongnu state seizes the opportunity of general disorder and sends Zuo Xianwang and Bai Boshuai to invade inner Han territories. Minister Cai Yong’s daughter, Cai Yan (Wenji) flees from calamity, but Zuo Xianwang captures her. After relocating in Xiongnu land, Cai Wenji becomes Zuo’s concubine and bears him two sons.

Twelve years later, Han minister Cao Cao finds out that Cai Wenji lives in the Xiongnu state, and dispatches envoy Zhou Jin to claim her back. Cai Yan loves her husband, but as a patriot she feels compelled to go. She visits Wang Zhaojun’s tomb, another political bride, and cries bitterly. At the border of the two states, she bids farewell to her sons, and finally returns to her home country.

Zhang Huoding

Opera 春闺梦 Chun Gui Meng (Dream in a Girl’s Chamber), audio with Cheng Yanqiu and Chu Jinpeng, acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding and Song Xiaochuan.

Often the Girl’s “Chamber” is translated as the Girl’s “Boudoir”, which is quite accurate in French, but has gained a pejorative meaning in English over the years.

Zhang Huoding has of course performed this opera herself (see top photo). I posted a full-length version here as well as a DVD excerpt here and a New Year’s Gala excerpt here.

Click here to download the video

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1946, Shanghai Tianchan Stage, live sound recording
string section lead: Zhou Changhua (周长华)
percussion section lead: Bai Dengyun (白登云)
Mrs. Zhang: Cheng Yanqiu (程砚秋); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Wang Hui: Chu Jinpeng (储金鹏); Song Xiaochuan (宋小川)
Servant maid: Ci Shaoquan (慈少泉); Lü Kunshan (吕昆山)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 2002/01

To repeat the story:

In the 3rd Century of the late Han Dynasty, the armies of two warlords battle each other. A young woman’s newly wedded husband is taken away to join a warlord’s force and is killed in battle a short time later. Day by day, she begins dreaming of her husband returning to her. In the end, she realises he is truly gone.

There are few Beijing operas as “out there” as this one.

During the Chinese Civil War, Cheng Yanqiu was deeply touched by the fate of the homeless and destitute people. He wrote Chun Gui Meng in 1931, in the year of the Central China floods. Although for us of non-Chinese origin it’s harder to spot social criticism in ethereally beautiful Beijing Opera pieces, Wenji Returns to her Homeland, Tears on Barren Hill, or even Dream in a Girl’s Chamber are fundamentally patriotic plays, emphasising the ideas of social justice.

Photo of Cheng Yanqiu and Yu Zhenfei (俞振飞) in Chun Gui Meng:

Zhang Huoding

Opera 春闺梦 Chun Gui Meng (Dream in a Girl’s Chamber), this time with audio starring Zhao Rongchen and acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding.

Fern found this complete broadcast of the VCD performance with better picture, a video we previously just couldn’t manage to get a complete file of up until now.

The Cheng Yanqiu and Zhao Rongchen versions have a noticeable difference with Zhang Huoding’s own staging of the play: the lively servant girl huadan role is played here by a man in comic fashion as a caidan role.

The endings of the plays are also very different, with “Mrs. Zhang” standing in stony silence and ambiguously suggesting the dreams might continue in the Zhao Rongchen version, or singing an aria of love lost in the Cheng Yanqiu version, or finally in Zhang Huoding’s own productions, with the servant girl slowly leading her mistress away, supporting her, to clearly indicate Mrs. Zhang is a woman broken by the realisation that the dreams have ended.

I think Zhang Huoding made some excellent choices for her own production, and these videos have helped me gain a better understanding of what she brought in herself to the “Dream in a Girl’s Chamber”.

Click here to download the video

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1983/03/20, People’s Theatre Beijing, live sound recording
Commemorating the 25th anniversary of Cheng Yanqiu’s demise
string section lead: Zhong Shizhang (钟世章)
erhu: Xia Kuilian (夏魁连)
percussion section lead: Bai Dengyun (白登云)
Mrs. Zhang: Zhao Rongchen (赵荣琛); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Wang Hui: Yu Zhenfei (俞振飞) (before), Yao Yucheng (姚玉成) (after); Song Xiaochuan (宋小川)
Mrs. Sun (caidan): Lang Shilin (郎石林); Lang Shilin (郎石林)
Li Xin (chou): Wang Yang (汪洋); Li Dongjie (李冬杰)
Mrs. Liu (laodan): Qian Yuantong (钱元通); Song Yuanbin (宋元斌)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 2002/05

Photo of Zhao Rongchen as Mrs. Zhang:

(Fern adds her personal observations)

Dream in a Girl’s Chamber is a thought-provoking play. To add to what Bertrand mentioned about the differences between the three stagings: in Zhang Huoding’s version, the play ends with the maid supporting her, and we can hear a sorrowful chorus singing two lines from Chen Tao‘s poem, Journey to Longxi (陇西行):

“Have pity on the white skeletons of the Wuding River, for they are men now only in the dreams of young women.”

Wikipedia had pity on me and provided the above translation. I found that this poem circulates in two versions on the net, with a single character difference: the expression in question can be read as “deep boudoir dream” or “joyful boudoir dream”, the latter, chun gui meng,  is exactly the title of this play.

However, neither the longer (full), nor the shorter (featured in the lip-synched production) original scripts of Cheng Yanqiu have such ending line, so I dare to say it’s a distinctive feature in Zhang Huoding’s version.

The full opera features a whole variety of characters: brave generals, a comical auntie, a noble old woman, a cowardly soldier who escapes the battlefield — different people who all behave differently in the times of distress, while the shorter version by Cheng Yanqiu focuses on the “dream” scene only.

Personally I always found this “dream” analogous to the “Awaken from a dream” (惊梦) scene of The Peony Pavilion. Du Liniang has a rendezvous with her cousin, Liu Mengmei in her dream (of course their love is forbidden in reality). When she wakes up and realizes it was only a sweet dream, she hardly can endure the pain, her servant maid has to lead her away.”

Zhang Huoding

Opera 窦娥冤 Dou E Yuan (The Injustice Done to Dou E), audio with Zhao Rongchen and acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding.
[I posted an aria from this opera performed by Zhang Huoding here].

Click here to download part 1

Click here to download part 2

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1962, live sound recording
string section lead: Zhong Shizhang (钟世章)
percussion section lead: Bai Dengyun (白登云)
Dou E: Zhao Rongchen (赵荣琛); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Dou Tianzhang: Yu Shiwen (于世文); Huang Shixiang (黄世骧)
Mother Cai: Sun Zhenquan (孙振泉); Zhang Gang (张岗)
Cai Changzong: Yao Yugang (姚玉刚); Song Xiaochuan (宋小川)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 1999/01

Being the very last disciple of and learning from Mr. Zhao was an exceptional honour for me, it is thanks to him that I was able to truly understand the art of the Cheng school. ” (Zhang Huoding, Follower of the Cheng School documentary)

We are very grateful to Zhao Rongchen too. After the academy rejected the fragile Huoding six times, Mr. Zhao was the only one who spotted she had Cheng school qualities. The rest is history.

Zhao Rongchen teaching the young Zhang Huoding

This opera is also known as《六月雪》Liu Yue Xue (Snowfall in June). It’s based on the original play by Guan Hanqing, whom we briefly mentioned here before. Download this pdf booklet if you would like to read Guan Hanqing’s “Snow In Midsummer” story in English.

The synopsis:

Dou Tianzhang decides to take the imperial civil service exams, so that he can marry off his daughter, Dou E to a fellow villager, Cai Changzong. Cai also leaves the village to take the exams, and the son of his housekeeper, Zhang Lü’er (Zhang “Donkey”) accompanies him on the road.

On the way, Zhang Lü’er tosses Cai Changzong into the river, hoping he can marry Dou E himself, then informs Cai’s mother that her son is dead. Mrs. Cai falls sick. Lü’er poisons Mrs. Cai’s lamb soup, but accidentally his own mother eats it and dies.

Lü’er accuses Dou E of the crime, who cannot endure the sight of her mother being interrogated violently. She decides to take the rap for the murder and confesses to the crime. The county official orders Dou E’s execution. She is to be executed in June, but the day of the execution from the sky falls December snow, an omen, and the governor realizes there has been a miscarriage of justice. Lü’er is taken away in chains, and Dou E is rehabilitated.

Moreover, it turns out that Cai Changzong wasn’t drowned: now a high official, he returns and the family is reunited.

Zhang Huoding

坐宫别宫 Zuo Gong · Bie Gong (Sitting in the Palace – Leaving the Palace) from 四郎探母 Silang Tan Mu (Silang Visits his Mother), audio with Zhao Rongchen and acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding.

Click here to download the video

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1984, stage recording without audience
string section lead: Huang Jinliu (黄金陆)
percussion section lead: Ni Yibin (倪义斌)
Princess Tiejing: Zhao Rongchen (赵荣琛); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Yang Yanhui: Ye Peng (叶蓬); Ye Peng (叶蓬)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 2003/01

Photo of Cheng Yanqiu as Princess Tiejing (sadly we couldn’t find a photo of Zhao Rongchen in the same role):

Loosely relevant but interesting information that Cheng Yanqiu is of Manchu origin himself. His birth name was Cheng Lin (承麟), but after moving to Beijing, he changed the character of his family name to Cheng (程), which is a Han name.

Sitting in the Palace was featured so many times so far that it really doesn’t need any introduction. In this production, Ye Peng is lip-syncing himself. He comes from a family of jingju artists and is the direct disciple of school-founder Yang Baosen (杨宝森). It’s very easy to like Yang style, a good choice when you start to listen to Beijing Opera. (At least Fern thinks so because it worked for her.)

Zhang Huoding

Opera 柳迎春 (Liu Yingchun) audio with Cheng Yanqiu and Yu Shiwen, acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding and Zhao Shipu.

Click here to download video part 1

Click here to download video part 2

Click here to download video part 3

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1954, live sound recording
string section lead: Zhong Shizhang (钟世章)
percussion section lead: Zhang Laiyou (张来有)
Liu Yingchun: Cheng Yanqiu (程砚秋); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Xue Rengui: Yu Shiwen (于世文); Zhao Shipu (赵世璞)
Mrs. Feng (caidan): Guan Shengji (贯盛吉); Zhu Jinhua (朱锦华)
Liu Run: Su Shenggui (苏盛贵); Huang Wenjun (黄文俊)
Nanny (laodan): Qian Yuantong (钱元通); Zhang Gang (张岗)
Mrs. Liu (laodan): Yao Yuanxiu (姚元秀); Ye Ping (叶萍)
Yingchun’s sister-in-law (huadan): Li Danlin (李丹林); Li Haiqing (李海青)
Art consultant: Wang Yinqiu (王吟秋)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 2000/04

Photo of Cheng Yanqiu as Liu Yingchun:

There seems to be a Chinese language movie based on this story translated as “The Gardener and a Lady” from 1941 based on this story.

Story can be found in Chinese (Google translate not up to task here) at http://www.zhongguoxijuchang.com/xijumingju/xjmj1020406liuyingchun.htm

We had never heard of this opera, we don’t know why it is so rare.

This opera was written by Cheng Yanqiu, based on another play,《汾河湾》Fen He Wan (Fen River Bay) and the old narrative story of famous Tang general Xue Rengui and his wife, Liu Yingchun.

The story:

Before his military achievements, Xue Rengui was working in the home of Liu Run. One day when he was standing in the rain outside, the daughter of his employer, Liu Yingchun, took pity on him and gave him her red coat.
Seeing the coat, Liu Run believes that Xue and his daughter have had an affair and expels Rengui from his house and forces Yingchun to commit suicide. Mrs. Liu secretly orders her daughter to escape, and with the help of Yingchun’s nanny, in the miserable hut of Rengui the two outcasts get married.

Later, Rengui joins the army and builds his career. After 18 years, he meets a young man who shoots two wild ducks with one arrow. It turns out that the boy is his own son, and finally the family has a reunion.

Wikipedia about the real Xue Rengui:

Xue Rengui was born in 614, during the reign of Emperor Yang of Sui, but his early activities were not recorded, other than that his wife had the surname Liu (柳). It was said that he was poor and was a farmer. Around the time that Tang Dynasty’s second emperor Emperor Taizong was set to launch a major campaign against Goguryeo in 644, Xue was planning to rebury his ancestors, when Lady Liu told him:
“You have abilities higher than most people, and you need to know when to use them. Now, the Son of Heaven is ready to attack Liaodong and he is seeking for fierce warriors. These times do not come often. Is it not the case that you want to have achievements to show yourself? Once you received great honors, it will not be too late to rebury your ancestors.

Fern’s main source: liyuan.xikao.com, a superb collection of archive sound recordings, with cast lists, info and short play synopses.

Zhang Huoding

Opera 荒山泪 Huang Shan Lei (Tears On Barren Mountain)  audio with Cheng Yanqiu, acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding

(“Barren Mountain” and “Barren Hill” are both used)

We posted a full length version of this opera sung by Zhang Huoding here, and we later compared it to another full-length version of the same opera sung by Guo Wei here. This is an opera Zhang Huoding has frequently performed herself, in a way purists of the form have appreciated a great deal. It is the most tragic play in her repertoire, and for that reason in not mentioned as often as the more feel-good White Snake or Unicorn Purse.

Click here to download part 1

Click here to download part 2

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1954, People’s Grand Stage Shanghai, live sound recording
string section lead: Zhong Shizhang (钟世章)
percussion section lead: Zhang Laiyou (张来有)
Zhang Huizhu: Cheng Yanqiu (程砚秋); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Bao Shide: Yu Shiwen (于世文); Huang Shixiang (黄世骧)
Wang Sixiang: Li Shaoguang (李少广); Li Shaoguang (李少广)
Cui Defu: Xiao Yulou (筱玉楼); Lang Shilin (郎石林)
Hu Tailai: Guan Shengji (贯盛吉); Zhu Jinhua (朱锦华)
Gao Liangmin: Su Shenggui (苏盛贵); Song Yuanbin (宋元斌)
Mrs. Chen: Yao Yuanxiu (姚元秀); Huang Wenjun (黄文俊)
Gao Zhong: Qian Yuantong (钱元通); Li Yuanzhen (李元真)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 2000/09

Photo of Cheng Yanqiu as Zhang Huizhu:

Repeating Fern’s superb synopsis from last year:

The story is set during the reign of the last Ming emperor, the muddle-headed Chongzen, born Zhu Youjian.

It’s a tragic story of a family of five members: the poor farmer Gao Liangmin, his wife Mrs. Chen, his son Gao Zhong, his daughter-in-law Zhang Huizhu and his grandson Bao Lian.

The emperor is continuously levying higher taxes, further deepening the suffering of the people. Furthermore, there is a severe drought in Henan that has lasted for months and farmers can’t harvest any crops. This year famine will strike. On top of everything else, the Minister of War Yang Sichang is ordered by the emperor to put down the peasant rebellion led by Li Zhicheng; this results in more taxes and forced military service. More and more desperate people join the uprising, and the Ming empire will soon collapse.

Zhang Huizhu is weaving silk fabric day and night and Bao Lian is selling it at the market, to be able to pay the taxes.

One day, Gao Liangmin and his son are going to the forest to collect herbs. They are warned by Gao Liangmin’s good friend, Bao Shide, that the hills are extremely dangerous, because there are man-eating tigers on the loose which have already killed a woodcutter and a traveler. But Gao Liangmin is more afraid of the government than the tiger, so they go nevertheless.

Two tax collectors (Wang Sixiang and Cui Defu) come to the Gao house, and though Mrs. Chen says they already paid the tax before, they demand more. Zhang Huizhu tells them that they can pay as soon as Bao Lian comes back from the market, so the duo is waiting until he arrives. The tax collectors take away 5000 coins, half of the amount brought in. Mrs. Chen is upset, but Bao Lian tries to comfort them that when his father and grandfather come back from the mountains, they can get a good price for the herbs on the market.

It’s late at night, Bao Lian is waiting for his dad and grandpa to return. He falls asleep after a while, his mother comes and affectionately covering him. Zhang Huizhu is still weaving at the night, but continuously makes mistakes. She worries that it’s a bad omen, and something has happened to her husband and father-in-law. Why are they staying away so long, what could happen to them? Are they lost in the forest?

Next morning Bao Shide comes with devastating news: both Gao Liangmin and his son were killed by the man-eating tiger. Hearing the news, Mrs. Chen coughs blood and collapses. Bao Shide runs for a doctor.

The two tax collectors return again, and this time they take 3000 coins, no matter how Zhang Huizhu begs them not to. What’s more, Minister of War Yang Sichang arrives as well, forcefully taking away Bao Lian for obligatory military service despite his young age and family conditions. Mrs. Chen, hearing chaotic voices outside, gets up from the bed and tries to stumble to the door, but she falls to the ground and dies. Zhang Huizhu, who has lost all of her family members by now, doesn’t even have enough money to bury the old lady.

But there’s no end to the disaster. Though the people are already extremely desperate, the imperial court want to implement exorbitant taxation. Even Wang Sixiang and Cui Defu say that it’s not possible, so the county magistrate punishes them, both getting 20 strokes of the whip. In the end the two tax collectors return to Zhang Huizhu again, claiming 4000 coins from her. She has only 1000 left. The tax collectors allow her some time to find more money and go elsewhere first. As soon as they exit, Zhang Huizhu takes a knife and escapes to the Wangwu mountains, which once were like paradise but now are desolate.

Bao Shide follows Zhang Huizhu to the mountains, trying to hold her back, warning her about the tigers. Zhang Huizhu says she’s not afraid of the tigers, that if they eat her, it will be a blessing.

The two tax collectors catch up with her on the mountain pass, where they have pursued her.

When they see she’s holding a dagger, they say they were just ordered on, it’s nothing personal. Zhang Huizhu fiercely tells her opinion about the whole social situation the country is in, that people are poor, desperate, houses are empty, and that nobody cares about the common people…

As a final protest against tyranny she commits suicide, slicing her own throat with the dagger.

play poster

Zhang Huoding

Opera 荒山泪 Huang Shan Lei (Tears On Barren Mountain) audio with Zhao Rongchen, acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding

The same opera with a different audio track and a different performance.

Click here to download part 1

Click here to download part 2

Fern and I discussed the presence of the performer in the tiger costume in this other post comparing the staging between Zhang Huoding’s and Guo Wei’s own productions of this opera. Both Fern and I dislike Beijing opera performers in silly animal costumes, we find it both a bit ridiculous and demeaning to the highly trained jingju artist who has to don the costume. I think Zhang Huoding must sort of feel the same way: in this video which predates her own performances we have both tiger and Zhang Huoding. In her own production later, the tiger is gone.

Guo Wei’s production, on the other hand, respected the original staging.

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1979, live sound recording
string section lead: Zhong Shizhang (钟世章)
percussion section lead: Li Zhenshan (栗振珊)
Zhang Huizhu: Zhao Rongchen (赵荣琛); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Bao Shide: Huang Shixiang (黄世骧); Huang Shixiang (黄世骧);
Wang Sixiang: Guo Yunhe (郭韵和); Li Shaoguang (李少广)
Cui Defu: Zhao Yueming (赵月明); Lü Kunshan (吕昆山)
Hu Tailai: Sheng Shixian (绳世先); Ma Zengshou (马增寿)
Gao Liangmin: — ; Wang Zhilian (王志廉)
Mrs. Chen: Geng Shihua (耿世华); Huang Wenjun (黄文俊)
Gao Zhong: — ; Li Yuanzhen (李元真)
Filmed in: The Northern Kunqu Opera Theatre, Beijing, 1998/06

Photo of Zhao Rongchen as Zhang Huizhu:

Zhang Huoding

Opera 锁麟囊 Suo Lin Nang (Unicorn Purse)  audio with Cheng Yanqiu, acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding

This video was posted a while ago and relocated here.

Click here to download the video

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1954, live sound recording
string section lead: Zhong Shizhang (钟世章)
percussion section lead: Zhang Laiyou (张来有)
Xue Xiangling: Cheng Yanqiu (程砚秋); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Zhao Shouzhen: Li Danlin (李丹林); Li Haiqing (李海青)
Xue Liang: Yu Shiwen (于世文);  Huang Wenjun (黄文俊)
Biyu: Guan Shengji (贯盛吉); Zhu Jinhua (朱锦华)
Granny Hu: Li Shaoguang (李少广); Li Shaoguang (李少广)
Meixiang: Wang Yuanzhi (王元芝); Jin Jianping (金建萍)
Mrs. Xue: Yao Yuanxiu (姚元秀); Zhang Gang (张岗)
Zhao Luhan: Su Shenggui (苏盛贵); Li Yuanzhen (李元真)
Zhou Tingxun: Chen Xiaochun (陈孝椿); Song Xiaochuan (宋小川)
Lu Shengshou: Qian Yuantong (钱元通); Xu Shangbin (徐尚宾)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 2000/01

Photo of Cheng Yanqiu as Xue Xiangling:

This play is very popular today, all of today’s actresses of the Cheng school have performed it. Shi Yihong, not of the Cheng school, performed it as well recently. Surprisingly, it is a recent play, written during World War 2 at Cheng Yanqiu’s request.

I have to get a little personal here. Certainly one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me was Fern out of the blue translating this opera scene by scene into English, an opera which totally fascinates me to this day and was *the one* that got me seriously interested in Jingju.  It’s hard for me to express how much I consider Zhang Huoding performing this play among mankind’s greatest artistic achievements. The French have a saying, “C’est mon grand frisson”, roughly meaning this is it, the one that has given me the greatest and most undefinable thrills of pleasure.

I posted two full versions of her starring in the Unicorn purse  here and this one which is among our top picks and which features Fern’s scene by scene. I also own the two-disc DVD of this. The 2004 “top pick” performance is in my opinion untoppable by anyone.

The story in brief:

A spoiled and rich bride sets out to marry in a luxurious bridal chariot. On the way she hears another bride-to-be weeping in her own run-down transportation, because she is ashamed of being so poor and ridiculous on her wedding day. The rich girl in an unexplained moment of generosity anonymously gives the poor girl her own lucky unicorn purse containing a large dowry. They each go their separate way. Years later, the floods come and the rich girl loses everything, her husband and child as well. Destitute, she is picked up unknowingly by the family she helped with the unicorn purse, now wealthy and well-to-do. She helps watch after their child which reminds her bitterly of her own lost child and her past follies.

The play ends happily as the unicorn purse is matched with its former owner, and generosity is rewarded as the former rich girl is miraculously reunited with her own family.

Zhang Huoding

Opera 锁麟囊 Suo Lin Nang (Unicorn Purse) audio with Zhao Rongchen, acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding

Another version of this opera.

Click here to download part 1

Click here to download part 2

Click here to download part 3

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1962, live sound recording
string section lead: Zhong Shizhang (钟世章)
percussion section lead: Bai Dengyun(白登云)
Xue Xiangling: Zhao Rongchen (赵荣琛); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Zhao Shouzhen: Zhang Manjun (张曼君); Li Haiqing (李海青)
Xue Liang: Yu Shiwen (于世文);  Huang Shixiang (黄世骧)
Biyu: Jia Songling (贾松龄); Ma Zengshou (马增寿)
Granny Hu: Luo Xiaokui (罗小奎); Li Shaoguang (李少广)
Meixiang: Li Shengfang (李盛芳);  Zhu Jinhua (朱锦华)
Mrs. Xue: Sun Zhenquan (孙振泉); Sun Zhenquan (孙振泉)
Zhao Luhan: Su Shenggui (苏盛贵); Huang Wenjun (黄文俊)
Zhou Tingxun: Yao Yugang (姚玉刚); Zhang Zhibin (仉志斌)
Lu Shengshou: Wang Zhilian (王志廉); Xu Shangbin (徐尚宾)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 1998/08

Photo of Zhao Rongchen as Xue Xiangling:

Zhang Huoding

Opera 碧玉簪 Biyu Zan (The Green Jade Hairpin)

There seems to be more than one “Jade Hairpin” opera, with different stories. The original “The Jade Hairpin” [玉簪记 Yu Zan Ji (The Jade Hairpin)] was originally written by Ming dynasty playwright Gao Lian (1527-1609), but this is not that story. I got it wrong too, and Fern busted me! But that’s alright, because this story is spicier!

Click here to download the video

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1954, live sound recording
string section lead: Zhong Shizhang (钟世章)
percussion section lead: Bai Dengyun(白登云)
Zhang Yuzhen: Cheng Yanqiu (程砚秋); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Xiaohui: Xiao Cuihua (筱翠花); Liu Shuyun (刘淑云)
Zhao Qixian: Li Danlin (李丹林); Yu Wanzheng (于万增)
Zhang Ruihua: Yu Shiwen (于世文); Huang Shixiang (黄世骧)
Liu Shaozhuang: Guan Shengji (贯盛吉); Zhu Jinhua (朱锦华)
Matchmaker Gu: Jia Duocai (贾多才); Kou Chunhua (寇春华)
Mrs. Zhao (Qixian’s mom): Yao Yuanxiu (姚元秀); Zhang Gang (张岗)
Mrs. Zhang (Yuzhen’s mom): —; Li Haiqing (李海青)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 1999/04

Our Jade Hairpin story goes like this:

The Minister of Rites Zhang Ruihua, has a daughter, Zhang Yuzhen, is now engaged to the talented scholar, Zhao Qixian. Yuzhen’s cousin, Liu Shaozhuang, had previously proposed marriage to her as well, but had been rejected by Yuzhen. The vengeful Liu bribes the matchmaker and gets hold of Yuzhen’s jade hairpin. He fabricates a fake love letter and hides the envelope in the inner bridal chamber.

On their wedding night, Zhao Qixian finds the envelope, questions Yuzhen’s chastity and leaves furious. The sorrowful Yuzhen falls ill. Her maid, Xiaohui, informs Qixian’s mother about what happened. Zhang Ruihua also returns home, and they go to the Zhao residence to investigate the case.

They interrogate the matchmaker too, who finally confesses and the truth gets revealed. The pathetic Liu Shaozhuang is so afraid of being arrested that he collapses and dies.

Zhao Qixian falls to his knees and begs for apology. Finally Yuzhen takes her wedding clothes back, and man and wife are reconciled.

Zhang Huoding

Opera 火焰驹 Huo Yan Ju (Fire Steed or Precious Horse ) audio with Zhao Rongchen and Wang Yinqiu, acting pantomime by Zhang Huoding and Lü Yang

This file is last minute addition, once again found by Fern. I’d never even heard of this opera before!

Click here to download part 1

Click here to download part 2

Cast of the sound recording, with the acting performers after semicolon:

1960, stage recording without audience
Huang Guiying: Zhao Rongchen (赵荣琛); Zhang Huoding (张火丁)
Mo Lan: Wang Yinqiu (王吟秋); Lü Yang (吕洋)
Li Yangui: Yao Yugang (姚玉刚); Song Xiaochuan (宋小川)
Huang Zhang: Luo Ronggui (罗荣贵); Luo Changde (罗长德)
Ai Qian (wusheng): Li Yuanchun (李元春); Li Yuanzhen (李元真)
Li’s mother: Jia Songling (贾松龄); Huang Wenjun (黄文俊)
Mrs. Zhou: Zhang Manjun (张曼君); Zhao Naihua (赵乃华)
Li Yanrong: Yu Shiwen (于世文); Huang Shixiang (黄世骧)
Filmed in: Jingju Theater of Beijing, 2005/02

For the interest of Cheng school fans, the annoying horizontal scrolling text appearing from time to time throughout the video provides additional information about this opera. It mentions that after Cheng Yanqiu passed away in 1958, Zhao Rongchen and Wang Yinqiu were in charge of new Cheng school plays. Besides Huo Yan Ju, Zhao Rongchen performed several other new operas, for example《苗青娘》Miao Qingniang,《李师师》Li Shishi,《婉娘与紫燕》Wan Niang and Zi Yan…

It seems that nowadays no-one shows interest in learning these newly written theater pieces, are they doomed to extinction, just like some of the “first generation” Cheng school plays?
As a little bonus, click here to download a very nice 9 mins long clip with an excerpt from Miao Qingniang, performed by Jiang Zhi (江汁), a Cheng school actress from Jiangsu.

Here is the story:

Set in the Song dynasty, Court councilor Li Shou’s son, Li Yangui, and Huang Zhang’s daughter Huang Guiying are engaged to be married since childhood. Greedy for power and in order to obtain the precious horse Huoyanju, Huang Zhang falsely accuses Li Shou who is sent to prison.

Li Shou’s other older son is ordered to the frontier, so the younger Li Yangui remains behind alone and destitute. Huang Zhang then tries to break up the engagement, but Guiying disobeys and cannot forget her sweetheart. Her servant girl, Mo Lan, arranges a meeting between her with Li Yangui. They meet in the garden, and Guiying gives him silver to help him, and admits about her inner feelings for him.

But tragedy strikes again. Li Yangui is sent to prison on false charges and sentenced to death. Guiying goes to the execution ground in the rain to offer sacrifice, she meets Li’s mother and his older brother’s wife (Mrs. Zhou) on the way. When Li’s mother learns Guiying is the daughter of Huang, she wants to beat her, but when she realizes Guiying really loves her son, they go together to the execution ground.

At the same time, the precious horse, Huoyanju runs to the border station and Li’s older brother, Li Yanrong returns from the frontier. Huang’s evil deeds get revealed and things turn out well in the nick of time!



In conclusion, although looking at this treasure vault of material was quite exhilarating, and I am sure I will come back to view it often in the future, I am a bit sad. We’ve finally rounded up the very last few full-length videos my favourite singer has performed in. There might not be more to come. Let’s pause to think about that and bow our heads. (It’s not pretty to see a grown man cry).

I’m personally hoping Zhang Huoding will finally turn to HD video production and make the world a much better place  to live in. That is my daydream and I will cling to it.

In the meanwhile, enjoy!

(And thank you Fern, you were stupendous!)

It was just yesterday that I asked Bertrand to help me out: how should I translate wenxi and wuxi to English? Today I found a Global Times article, which uses the expressions “civilian play” and “fighting play” – how do you like them?

In the article there’s a brief description about both, and triple Plum Blossom Prize winner Pei Yanling (裴艳玲) makes some very good points about martial arts plays.

Click here for the interesting readable: www.globaltimes.cn

Pei Yanling in Wu Song Beats the Tiger

Photo: 一郎时代

Although operabeijing.com focuses on Bejing Opera, now and then we would like to introduce a few classics from other Chinese Opera genres.

As far as Huangmei Opera is concerned, Nü Fuma is a must! Don’t even try to enter Anhui without humming the popular excerpt.¹ I uploaded two versions below, an excellent slower paced one and an entertaining, pop song-like one (whenever I hear it, it gets stuck in my head for days):

《为救李郎离家园》”I left home to rescue my beloved Li Zhaoting”

Download 1.Download 2.

  1. Performed by Han Zaifen (韩再芬).
  2. Performed by Yang Jun (杨俊).

You can find countless others at YouTube.

The video of the classic 1959 TV play I downloaded from CNTV has nice sound, but there’s something in all four corners all along (logo, title etc.), and the audio track isn’t completely synchronized with the original movie. The logo-free version with more aesthetic subtitles from youku.com (VCD size) has poor sound. Finally I found a copy at tudou.com that has low quality video but nice audio, it’s just a slight bit noisier than the CNTV version, and from these I compiled the file below.

In the main roles you can see Yan Fengying (严凤英) as Feng Suzhen, Tian Yulian (田玉莲) as Chun Hong the maid, Chen Wenming (陈文明) as Li Zhaoting, Pan Jingli (潘璟琍) as the princess and Xiong Shaoyun (熊少云) as Feng Shaoying.

Have fun watching!

黄梅戏《女驸马》Huangmei Opera Nü Fuma (The Emperor’s Female Son-in-Law)

Click here to download the file.

Length: 1:39:09 File size: 217MB  352×264 Extension: MP4

Summary of the story:

Feng Suzhen and Li Zhaoting love each other since childhood, and their families arrange the engagement.

Later Suzhen’s mother passes away, and Li’s family becomes bankrupt. Suzhen’s stepmother doesn’t like the poor Li Zhaoting, and forces him to withdraw from the marriage. The lovers meet in the garden, and Suzhen gives Zhaoting a jewel. Mr. Feng and his new wife show up, and accuse Zhaoting with stealing.

“Let’s send him to jail!”

To help Zhaoting, Suzhen and her loyal servant maid disguise themselves as men and enter the capital to look for Suzhen’s elder brother, Feng Shaoying. Suzhen takes the imperial exams in the name of Li Zhaoting, and unexpectedly scores as top scholar (zhuangyuan).

The Emperor’s daughter usually gets married to the finest talent, no wonder the Emperor soon arranges the match between the princess and the outstandingly handsome and intelligent top scholar. Suzhen tries to avoid the marriage, but finally she has no other option than marrying the princess.

“It’s not that I don’t like you, but…”

On their wedding night, she has to confess of course. The princess is deeply moved by the sad story and decides to help. The next day, they appear before the Emperor and the princess presents the story to his father as if it happened to someone else. The Emperor gets impressed by the brave and talented girl of the story, and tells that in his court, he would correct the injustice done to Li Zhaoting and Feng Suzhen.

Suzhen falls on her knees and says thank you. The Emperor realizes the girl in the story is exactly his “son-in-law”. What can he do, he pardons her and frees the imprisoned Li Zhaoting.

“How beautiful!”   “How handsome!”

Suzhen’s brother, Feng Shaoying comes before the Emperor to ask for pardon on his sister’s account, and meets the princess there. They fall in love at first sight, minister Liu Wenjun spots the mutual affection and immediately arranges their engagement.

Happy end!

¹ Here are the lyrics for even better bathroom singing experience:

wéi jiù lĭ láng lí jiāyuán / To save Li Zhaoting, I left my home,
shuí liào huángbăng zhōng zhuàngyuán / Who would have thought I’ll score as top scholar.
zhòng zhuàngyuán zhuó hóngpáo / As top scholar I wear the red gown,
mào chā gōnghuā hăo wa / Flowers of honor on my hat,
hăo xīnxiān nă / A very fresh experience for me.
wŏ yĕ céng fùguò qiónglínyàn / I already visited the banquet in the Jade Forest,
wŏ yĕ céng dă mă yù jiē qián / Paraded on horseback on the Emperor’s street.
rénrén kuā wŏ pān ān mào / Everyone praises me for my appearance of Pan An*,
yuánlái shāmào zhào wa zhào chánjuān nă / But this official’s hat actually covers a beautiful woman.
wŏ kăo zhuàngyuán bù wéi bă míngxiăn / I didn’t take the exams for reputation,
wŏ kăo zhuàngyuán bù wéi zuò gāoguān / I didn’t take the exams for becoming a high official,
wéile duō qíng lĭ gōngzĭ / But for my much beloved Li Zhaoting,
fūqī ēnài huā hăo yuèér yuán nă / For the perfect happiness of man and wife in conjugal love.

* A super-handsome Chinese historical figure, Pan Yue.

We celebrated Halloween with Li Baochun, let’s do it on Valentine’s Day too!

The video in question is a volume of the “Preserving the Essence of China’s Beijing Opera” (中国京剧音配像精粹) series, what we here at operabeijing.com colloquially call “lipsynched” series. The already introduced delicate actress, Li Jie plays the role of Lady White Snake, the archive sound recording is of Du Jinfang, Mei Lanfang’s brilliant disciple. And who else would be more fitting to borrow his appearance to Li Shaochun than his son, Li Baochun? He looks pretty much the same, just Li Shaochun was more handsome. 

The gigantic DVD set of this series (with 557 tracks) is sold out everywhere, hardcore drama fanatics may find it or the 177 pieces VCD set second-hand at taobao.com.

VCD collection

Bertrand posted a full Unicorn Purse from this series before, and characterized it as “a fascinating if not necessarily essential document”. I think these few words summarize nicely the purpose and aim of these recordings: they make it easier to appreciate masters of the past. It’s just human nature I guess, we can concentrate easier for a couple of hours if we not only hear, but also see the story.

Unfortunately jingju is considered an endangered genre even in China, not to speak of China’s local operas. Artists and institutions do their best to preserve and enhance national essence, but I think only time will decide which approach will bear more fruit.
Many artists work very hard to popularize jingju through all media available and reach younger audiences, and some of them probably won’t go down in history for achieving exceptional artistic heights, but for being successful in turning many uninterested people into Beijing Opera fans.

At least one part of that new audience will develop true interest in jingju and start to differentiate between “popular” and “quintessential”, and their needs also must be fulfilled. Without high quality education and attaching special importance to the inheritance of China’s jingju schools, the genre could get diluted to the niveau of New Year’s shows, and what would be the use of skyrocketed ticket sales if the essence is lost?

On the other hand, what’s the use of maintaining traditions if there are only a handful of old-fashioned people left who are interested?

Let’s say with lots of work you gain a large number of new audiences, but instead cultivating them, you continuously put emphasis only on gaining more and more new spectators. What will you get? Most likely a large quantity of “fans” with shallow interest, and sooner or later they will leave. You have to keep and culture these people.

Hard to balance these things out, to sacrifice some talent on the altar of popularization, dispatch performers with shiny performances, and withdraw some talent from the stage for the sake of education. Stage needs quality performers, performers need quality teachers. Shortage on both fronts. The most sought-after teachers are so heavily engaged that sometimes even the most promising students have to turn for advice to other senior performers, who might not have specialized knowledge about that particular subject or play.

It’s important to experiment with new ideas, or to renew the outdated, however, without embracing tradition, it’s impossible to innovate in acceptable manner. A few weeks ago I found an excellent blog article about Qi school from 2009, written in superb English, and one paragraph quoted Qi school artist Xiao Runzeng (肖润增):

Xiao points out, however, that disciples of a school are not simply slavish imitators of the founder’s style. “At the beginning of your training you are expected to copy the master’s style closely. But after you’ve mastered the fundamentals and firmly grasped the spirit of the school, you are expected to further develop your art in accordance with your own unique strengths and characteristics.”

That’s why old records are important: to grasp the spirit of that particular style. “Mastering the fundamentals” is the key to exciting and tasteful new productions – without proper foundation, one might end up with some mediocre claptrap.

Sorry for the tirade. Of course this is my private opinion, feel free to disagree. I just wanted to explain why I think it’s important to pass on these kind of videos. I hope frequent visitors know that I’m not as straight-laced as I sound, and won’t turn this awesome site into a mausoleum by posting only old, scratchy recordings.

Here are a few tomatoes to throw at Fern, then finally let’s move on to our actual video: 

Two things are particularly interesting about this performance: Li Shaochun’s Xu Xian isn’t xiaosheng role – in this version the handsome scholar sings in normal voice.
Moreover, the ending scene is more clean-cut than the ones I’ve seen before.

Bertrand, our White Snake expert already posted several versions of this classic story with Zhang Huoding. In those, the ending is as subtle and delicate as Miss Huoding is. (I know she’s not a Miss but I refuse to say Mme Li.)
When the disgusting Monk Fahai captures White Snake with the copper jar, she entrusts the baby to her husband, who escorts the child to his family.
In the final scene, “The Collapsing Pagoda”, thunderbolt destroys the tower, the lovers meet again, but what happened to the little boy?

In other stagings I’ve seen, the fierce Xiaoqing breaks down Leifeng Pagoda with her soldiers, but the fate of Bai Suzhen and Xu Xian’s son still remains unclear.

In this “lipsynched” version, Xiaoqing destroys the tower and frees her imprisoned sister. Xu Xian is there, ten-something years went by so he already has a beard. The son is also grown up, the play ends with a happy reunion and this lovely family portrait:

The internet isn’t flooded with this particular recording, last time CCTV aired this movie in 2009. I checked the copies available, and found that CCTV’s 7-part version is the most tolerable. Since the launch of cntv.cn, the site got revamped and the video main pages were tailored, but the archives are still there, with some Google-ing you can download old programs through the “backdoor”.

The videos went through a little face-lifting with eRightSoft’s SUPER, then converted to reasonable size with Handbrake – I don’t say it’s HD, nor is the sound 5-channel Dolby Pro Logic, but I still think it’s a treasure.

京剧音配像《白蛇传》”Lipsynched” jingju Bai She Zhuan (Tale of the White Snake)

Click here to download the rar file.

Length: 1:57:44 total File size: 835MB total, 480×360 Extension: MP4

Black Bear attacks!

“I got the mushroom!”



I hope you will enjoy this classic love story on Valentine’s Day. See you next week!
Oh, and don’t forget to read the whole Xiao Runzeng article!

On the Docks

Two years ago, my friend Zach purchased a few DVDs for me in China of the movie versions of the 8 Model Works, which are red-themed Modern Beijing Operas. During the cultural revolution in China, there was a time where traditional Beijing Opera was banned in China and only 8 Yang Ban Xi operas were officially sanctioned by the state. These operas were created from scratch using the finest talent available at the time, conveying overtly the party line.

To my personal taste, the YangBan Xi opera movies are artistically uneven. This is mostly because I strongly dislike western ballet in my jingju. I don’t know much about ballet, but I do know for an indisputable fact I find it very boring.

My favourite DVD in the lot, pictured above, is the really dynamic Hai Gang (On the Docks) which is set on Hainan Island.

Artistically, it compares quite favourably in my opinion with the very best Gene Kelly musicals of about the same era. It has high production values, the performances are crisp. It is a cinematic treasure, capturing a moment.

Technically is another matter, the “On the Docks” DVD I own is nowhere close to “Singing In the Rain”. In fact, the DVD quality of Hai Gang is so bad I would venture to say it should be banned from sale in China! How bad is it? Let’s compare picture quality. Same computer, same player.

Here is the digitally restored Singing In The Rain DVD featuring Gene Kelly (click on image for full size):

Singing In The Rain DVD

Singing In The Rain DVD

Here is the Hai Gang DVD:

On The Docks DVD

On The Docks DVD

In fact, I cheated to improve the image by altering the height because it is badly skewed, probably due to a mastering mistake in vertical versus horizontal resolution. Notice the line at the bottom of the screen. Overall, this looks like it was shot using a video camera from a projected half-decent 16mm print.

Let me be the first to say it: it’s now time to digitally restore Yang Ban Xi!