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The Soul of Beijing OperaTheatrical Creativity and Continuity in the Changing World$

Ruru Li

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9789622099944

Published to Hong Kong Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5790/hongkong/9789622099944.001.0001

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Ma Yongan—

Ma Yongan—

A Painted-Face Role Type and a Non-Painted-Face Character

(p.155) 5 Ma Yongan—
The Soul of Beijing Opera

Eugenio Barba

Hong Kong University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the impact of Jiang Qing's “jingju revolution” on actors and on the genre. It elucidates how jingju's fundamental aesthetics were altered and how certain conventions of singing/speaking/movement and the colour pattern of the jing role's facial make-up were eliminated when contemporary costumes, Western musical instruments and composition, lighting, and scenery entered the revolutionary contemporary model theatre. It notes that this is perhaps the most peculiar phenomenon produced by the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–76). It further notes that during this period, the entire traditional repertoire and the newly written historical plays (like Tang Sai'er) were abolished, while model theatre and a small number of its adherents, directly guided by Mao's wife Jiang Qing (1914–91), dominated the stage, broadcasting, and screen.

Keywords:   Jiang Qing, actors, genre, aesthetics, contemporary model theatre, Cultural Revolution, Tang Sai'er, Mao

Time: From 1964 to 1976.

Location: Mainland China.

Principal subject: Ma Yongan (1942–2007).

Role type: Jing.

Main issues: The impact of Jiang Qing’s “jingju revolution” on actors and on the genre. How jingju’s fundamental aesthetics were altered and how certain conventions of singing/speaking/movement and the colour and pattern of the jing role’s facial make-up were eliminated when contemporary costumes, Western musical instruments and composition, lighting and scenery entered the revolutionary contemporary model theatre.

This chapter focuses on the revolutionary contemporary model jingju, perhaps the most peculiar cultural phenomenon produced by the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–76). During this period, the entire traditional repertoire and the newly written historical plays (like Tang Sai’er) were abolished, while model theatre and a small number of its adherents, directly guided by Mao’s wife Jiang Qing (1914–91), dominated the stage, broadcasting and screen. A sense of mass culture was produced, although strictly controlled by the authorities, because the whole population of one billion people could sing or recite lines of these jingju productions. Phrases from the above works also entered daily life — some are still used today.

Ma Yongan (1942–2007), the central figure in this chapter, studied the jing (painted-face) role at the Beijing Municipal Theatre School from 1952 to 1959 and learned plays from the principal, Hao Shouchen (1886–1961), the founder of the Hao school of jing. The specific coding of this role’s facial colour and pattern epitomizes the expressiveness and symbolism of jingju. However, the distinctive feature was (p.156) removed from the stage during the mid-1960s because the role categories and their stylized conventions were the enemy of the “revolutionary realism” pursued by revolutionary contemporary jingju. Ironically, throughout Ma’s career in the painted-face role, the most famous character he played was Lei Gang — a peasant rebel/Marxist fghter in The Azalea Mountain, premiering in 1973 — wearing a contemporary outfit and without painted-face make-up.

Ten years later, Ma staged his jingju Othello, in respect of which I approached him for my Shakespeare project in 2001. He had retired from the theatre in 1998 and had become a Buddhist and a voluntary spiritual healer,1 and although I stayed in touch with him our conversation was more on Buddhism and people’s diseases than on jingju. For this book, I went to interview him on 30 January 2007.2 Ma had warned me that his home was not an ordinary residence, but I was still surprised that the smell of burning incense was detectable even outside the building’s gate. The sitting room of his flat had been converted into a hall for worship and an enormous Buddha was placed against one wall. I surmised that regular gatherings took place here. A few young people in the flat, all shaven-headed, addressed Ma as “Master” and were apparently followers of his Buddhism practice rather than jingju. While Buddhist chanting ran continuously on a DVD player, we talked about theatre, training, Stanislavski (a Chinese way of referring to modern non-formalized theatre rather than the original system), Aosailuo (transliteration of Othello) and Lei Gang.

During the three hours of this interview, I often felt dizzy, partly due to the smouldering joss sticks and partly because of the diversity of subjects that we covered. I found it difficult to make the “mental jump” from jingju acting conventions, such as cloud-hands and somersaults, to Marx’s Communist Manifesto and peasant rebels in the late 1920s; from Shakespeare to the characteristics of a painted-face role; to specific facial patterns and to the two characters Ma played that did not use any facial pattern; from Stanislavski’s psychological approach for building a character to Ma’s belief in Buddhism and spiritual healing; and to various problems caused by the economic reforms. However, looking through my interview notes, remembering my feelings at the time, studying the two play scripts and the recordings of the performances, and reading the literature on the painted-face role and revolutionary contemporary model jingju, I came to understand that the interlocking relationship of these contrasting and contradictory issues forms the core of the discourse of this chapter. This chapter will proceed from the painted-face role to revolutionary jingju productions, and finally to Lei Gang (Ma’s most famous stage image), bringing in the relevant cross-currents of the time, society and Ma Yongan’s performance.

(p.157) Jing and Its Facial Patterns

Jing, the male painted-face role, is also called (da) hualian (literally [big] flowery face, as distinct from the small flowery face of the chou that will be discussed in the next chapter). According to the Origin (Huang Fanchuo 1982, 9:1), the word jing (literally clean or plain) is a pun for “quiet” (pronounced in the same fourth tone), indicating that the role type has the ability to make noise out of quietness and vice versa. Some practitioners believe jing (plain) is the antithesis of the colourful facial patterns that are the most obvious characteristic of the jing role type. As a character type, jing appeared in the earliest known form of Chinese theatre — the Song miscellaneous drama of around the tenth century — but it functioned differently from the present-day jing (Zheng Daiqiong 1993, 1–128).

Jing is one of four basic character types of jingju and, like jingju’s other role types, the painted-face role inherited certain attributes and play scripts from kun and other pre-existent theatres. However, jing is unique in that the majority of its repertoire, the method of singing, the melodic passages and facial patterns were formed while jingju was taking shape. Zhang Yinde points out (1984, 9) that the painted-face role, as a companion to the male role type (sheng), developed fast as a response to the appearance of new plays with military themes. Generally speaking, the painted-face role is a character type associated more with courage and resourcefulness than with scholarly intelligence.3 Its voice is full and nasal, with great carrying power, while its appearance emphasizes an effect of towering grandeur and unbounded vitality. Actors wear padded shoulder jackets beneath their outer costume and boots with high platforms to increase their bulk and height.

Sub-types of the jing role and their facial patterns

With the development of the painted-face role, three sub-types4 appeared: the tongchui (copper hammer),5 which specializes in singing; the jiazi (posture), specializing in acting and dance; and the specialization in acrobatics/martial arts (martial painted-face or wujing). The division at this stage indicated the maturity of the role type because specific expertise was needed when performing different characters in different plays. Around the 1920s, however, Hao Shouchen created his (p.158) Hao style, one of the important characteristics of which was to act in the “posture” role type while singing in a style of the “copper hammer” (Dong Weixian 1981, 226–32; Ding Bingsui 1995, 247–65; Ma Shaobo et al. 1999, 2:1349). The Hao School merging of the particular skills of two sub-types was a further development of the jing role, and Hao achieved this through staging newly written plays with new characters. New characters in these stories demanded the creativity of new performance art. Hao’s work reminds us of the emergence of the Four Great Dan; this again points to the insight of Li Yuru’s theory that jingju’s performance art is closely associated with the repertoire.

In the traditional repertoire, a jing character tends to follow a dominant facial pattern, the main colour and shape of which usually tell audiences immediately whether the character is a good or a bad man. The colours are often symbolic, especially when a particular colour dominates the jing’s facial pattern: red typically symbolizes goodness, loyalty and bravery; black is for a character who is honest, straightforward and upright; matt white stands for cruelty and treachery; while glossy white denotes an inflated domineering person. Blue often indicates roguish characters such as bandits; gold and silver are used for deities, spirits and the Buddha; while green suggests a ghostly quality.

For instance, Judge Bao, the legendary hero who personifies justice on the stage, always wears a black face with a white crescent pattern on his forehead. Black symbolizes his honest and upright personality because in some stories he dares challenge the power of the emperor’s close relatives. The white crescent represents a scar. Folk tales recount that Judge Bao had a deprived family background and was born in a stable where a kick from a donkey left a hoof-mark on his forehead for the rest of his life. After Bao became a high-ranking official, the poverty of his birth urged him to punish evil and to help the poor. The essential elements in the facial pattern for Judge Bao are thus the dominant black colour and the white crescent on the forehead, and audiences would refuse to recognize the character without these two features. However, while observing the basic pattern, individual performers, especially the founding masters of particular schools, always make their own modifications to the precise shade of black, or to the size or shape of the crescent.

A particular style of a facial pattern including shape, colour and brushwork is first decided by the founding master’s facial shape; then second — and more importantly — by the specific character in the specific situation of the play. We can take Cao Cao, a historical figure in the Three Kingdoms period, as an example of a character who has always been portrayed as a powerful villain on the traditional stage. The dominant colour of his facial pattern is matt white. However, there are variations within the Cao Cao facial pattern, and the Hao style paints Cao Cao’s face differently in different plays to show the character at different ages or a specific facet of his characterization or his mood in that particular story (Hao Shouchen 179–82).

(p.159) To see in more detail how a facial pattern associates with the character in a play, a close reading of Ma Yongan’s image of the old marshal Zhang Dingbian in At the Mouth of the Jiujiang River will be offered (see Plate 5.1). When Zhang tries to expose an enemy spy, the king refuses to believe Zhang and dismisses him. Subsequently, after a disastrous battle at the Jiujiang River, Zhang disguises himself as a fisherman to rescue the king. The basis of Zhang’s facial design is “three pieces of tile”, the most fundamental category of facial patterns, with the forehead and the two cheeks as the three tiles.6 The enlarged and uplifted eyebrows and eye-sockets in black and white exaggerate the shape of Zhang’s eyes like butterfly wings, with drooping outer edges being the sign of an old man’s eyelids. (His age is also represented by the long white beard.) The flame-shaped pattern on his forehead is red and his cheeks are painted light pink: these red and pink colours indicate not only the character’s honest and loyal personality but also the vigour of youth that the old man still possesses. On the face, there are two black dots on the sides of the top of his nose that mark the nose edge more clearly, giving a shaper contrast to the white eye sockets. Characteristic of the Hao style that Ma Yongan followed is the delicate brushwork shown by the four thin lines representing flames on the forehead, and these details, together with a narrower black strip outlining the eyes, make the image different from the normal Zhang Dingbian facial pattern.7

Facial makeup and aesthetic issues: “writing meaning” or “writing reality”

It is often supposed that, for jingju to present today’s world, it must abandon the rich legacy of the traditional jingju make-up, including the painted-face patterns, (p.160) because ordinary people do not cover their faces with coloured patterns or have their eyes and eyebrows lifted. The speciousness of this claim is evident from previous chapters, because the Chinese indigenous theatre never pays any attention to the theatrical illusion, and therefore its essential aesthetic is “writing meaning” (xieyi) rather than “writing reality” (xieshi).8 Attempting to resemble what real people look like is actually against jingju’s xieyi principle.

The concept of “writing meaning” originated from ancient Chinese aesthetics of a dialectical pair: xu (empty) and shi (solid). Stephen Owen in his Reading in Chinese Literary Thought explains: “The term hsü [xu] is ‘empty’ or ‘plastic’, referring to substances like air or water that conform to ‘solid’ shapes; it is extended to refer to the changing fuidity of the emotions and the way they may be ‘invested’ in solid things” (1992, 5–6). Like yin/yang and rou/gang, discussed in chapter 3, the dichotomy between xu and shi plays an important role in classical art and literature, exemplifed in the way traditional Chinese scroll paintings never convey the exact resemblance of reality but use brush strokes and water/ink effects to express the balance between a formal likeness (shi) and spirit-resonance (xu) of the object, and therefore these artistic works demand more involvement and imagination on the part of the viewer. Like the non-representational paintings, every aspect of jingju is an exhibition of stage conventions: if the actor dances with a riding crop (decorated with coloured tassels), it signifies he is on horseback, while an oar means being on a boat, and a weapon the battlefeld. Through the “empty” (stylized dance sequences on an empty stage), audiences imagine the “solid” (real actions and scenes). Conversations or people’s inner feelings are sung out following certain musical modes. Make-up and costume are also formalized; neither denotes any specific period nor identifies with real people. For example, Yang Guifei in The Drunken Imperial Concubine is a historical figure in the Tang dynasty, but her costume follows the jingju convention rather than the actual Tang style. The same rule applied when the traditional repertoire dealt with a contemporary theme. As noted in chapter 1, in the series of plays performed during the Qing dynasty based on a contemporary official Shi Shilun, only a couple of actors wore the Manchu pigtail and gown that alluded to the contemporary atmosphere, whereas the rest of the cast, according to their role (p.161) types, wore conventional jingju costumes and make-up, including facial patterns. Li Jinhong commented: “All these Judge Shi plays involve martial arts and acrobatic displays. The Qing style of long gown would not do for our acting conventions. Furthermore, our make-up and costumes are also the means of our acting and thus we need them to perform on the stage.”9 These examples point to jingju’s nature: it is not bothered with a theatrical illusion, and the facial patterns of the jing role type contribute to its salient feature of “writing meaning”.

The “writing meaning” principle of traditional culture was first attacked at the beginning of the twentieth century when radical intellectuals condemned jingju and the indigenous theatre (the so-called “old drama”) for being ornamental and unnatural, with neither literary value nor social relevance. The colourful and symbolic facial patterns, together with the stylized movements and songs/speeches, were regarded as “primitive”, representing the backwardness of Chinese tradition (Qian Xuantong 1918, 5:2:188), while naturalness or mimesis in Western drama was regarded as progressive, modern, superior and therefore the example of “new drama” from which Chinese theatre should learn. “Writing meaning” (xieyi) was for the first time challenged by the idea of “writing reality” (xieshi), both ideologically and aesthetically.

As a response to such criticisms and to the national mood to pursue modernity, reformed jingju emerged, defying the essential aesthetics of the genre by attempting to represent the outside world with contemporary costumes, make-up and real props (for example, Mei Lanfang used a sewing machine in one of his productions). The realistic elements in the presentation conficted with the highly codifed acting conventions of singing, speaking, dance-acting and combat, and the unsatisfactory compromises between “writing meaning” and “writing reality” caused endless problems for both practitioners and audiences. As discussed earlier, Mei found it impossible to negotiate between the two, and moved on to the next step of his experiment, creating the famous “ancient-costume” type of theatre.

If practitioners at the beginning of the twentieth century had the freedom to don contemporary outfits or abandon them, performers from the 1950s onwards had no such choice because the Theatre Reform made it clear that “reflecting reality” was the only direction in which a socialist theatre should move. The example of Li Yuru being sent to the countryside to help her act Tang Sai’er (cf. chapter 4) was part of this “reality” approach. In addition, the earlier concept of “naturalness” gradually transformed into “realism” and the socialist realism as practised in the Soviet Union. Xianshi zhuyi, the Chinese realism, gained great importance in the Communist-controlled artistic and literary theory because it supplied propaganda works with an aesthetic base. According to the new idea, those productions — (p.162) including jingju — which eulogized the victory of workers, peasants and soldiers over the reactionary Nationalists and imperialists, or extolled the people’s great achievements in the construction of socialism, were not only ideologically correct but were also aesthetically more appealing. Everything that could represent revolutionary realism in the form of stage sets, props (real items or artificially made), sound effects and contemporary costumes barged on to jingju ’s empty stage, and its aesthetic principle of “writing meaning” was pushed aside. However, singing, speaking, mime and dance/acrobatics had to stay because of audience demand. The formidable Communist ideology could not resolve the conflicts between the real elements and stylistic stage conventions that jingju practitioners confronted. Thus, in most cases, the resistance against the ideological directive to stage contemporary themes was not caused by the abstract “ism”, but by the “discomfort” actors felt between the “real” and “stylistic”. The deep-seated problem that all practitioners had to confront when they tackled contemporary plays, including the model works, was how to juxtapose the real elements with the stylized conventions.

Revolutionary Contemporary Model Theatre

The phenomenon of model theatre during the Cultural Revolution exemplifies the power of a totalitarian regime over the arts and people’s minds. However, this changeling did not appear out of the blue. Our critique of the development of the jingju performance art under unprecedented ideological pressure will emphasize the interrelation between the model works and the condition of theatre before 1966. Stage productions during the Cultural Revolution, and its ultra-leftist theories for creating model heroes, should be regarded as a continuation of the early 1950s Theatre Reform. Concepts like “three prominences”, “tall, big and perfect”10 and the “combination of revolutionary realism and revolutionary romanticism”11 all resulted from the Party’s call in 1948 for “reforming the old drama”, and in 1958 for “staging a lot of plays on contemporary themes”. As seen in chapter 4, the 1959–60 Tang Sai’er, a story based on the fifteenth-century female rebel, already contained “tall, big and perfect” elements.

The full Chinese term for the revolutionary contemporary model theatre is geming xiandai yangban xi. Strictly speaking, the “model” comprised just (p.163) eight productions.12 Jiang Qing and her clique later produced another five jingju productions and two ballets based on the model theories (The Azalea Mountain, in which Ma Yongan was involved, is one of the five post-model plays).13 For convenience, people often refer to all these works as “model theatre”.14 Scholars within and outside China tend to drop geming and xiandai and use the abbreviated term yangban xi or “model theatre/works/operas”. However, all the official writings during the Cultural Revolution referred to these works as “revolutionary contemporary jingju/ballet” (see articles in the Communist Party journal Red Flag and published play scripts) because the adjectives geming and xiandai are essential components that define the nature of the theatre, representing the key issues that challenged the jingju performers.

The modifiers xiandai (modern or “contemporary”) and geming (revolutionary)

Xiandai in this sense is particularly intriguing because it goes beyond its original definition of time and gains the Communist ideological meaning. As a word, it is (p.164) equivalent to “modern”, and that is indeed its meaning when it is used outside the theatre. Yet, when it is applied to the theatre from the 1950s onwards — especially when the government encouraged practitioners to “produce a lot of ‘xiandai’ plays”, its meaning narrows to the period from the foundation of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921 to the contemporary socialist construction period. Liu Zhiming (1905–68), the deputy cultural minister, in his closing speech at the Symposium on Presenting Contemporary Plays in the Traditional Theatre organized by the Ministry of Culture, from 13 June to 14 July 1958, gave this definition:

What is the content of xiandai plays? They should reflect lives in the new democratic revolutionary period since the May Fourth Movement, or in the Socialist revolution and Communist eras. From today onwards, our emphasis will be on the life under Socialism and Communism.

(Zhang Geng et al. 1999, 1450–59)

The protagonists in these works should be “the great builders of Socialism and Communism. They are the workers, peasants and soldiers who, representing the Communist style, dare to think, speak and carry out all the brave tasks” (People’s Daily, 7 August 1958, 7). No one ever questioned why xiandai xi could not present the life of the late Qing dynasty from the 1850s or the early Republican period of modern Chinese history. Nor would anyone categorize as xiandai xi the plays by the Xia brothers, Wang Xiaonong or Mei Lanfang that depicted current affairs and used contemporary costumes;15 their innovative experiments in contemporary-themed plays were never mentioned in writings promoting xiandai xi in the 1950s and 1960s. Based on the use of xiandai in this context, I translate it as “contemporary” rather than “modern”.

From the beginning of the People’s Republic, the Communist Party had urged practitioners to portray contemporary life. In order to attain the objectives of the “three reforms” of theatre, people and the system, many regional theatres staged plays with contemporary themes, and most of these were works that originated in the Communist-controlled Yan’an area before 1949, eulogizing the Party’s victories in battle, land reform and the abolishment of the arranged marriage. Generally speaking, jingju — which was engaged in altering its own traditional repertoire during the early period of the Reform — did not start tackling contemporary plays until the Great Leap Forward campaign of 1958. At the 1958 Symposium, a slogan was adopted: “[we must] take the plays with contemporary themes as the key link” and “those theatres that do not depict contemporary times will never gain any (p.165) vitality” (People’s Daily, 7 August 1958, 7). Thus, 20 to 50 percent of plays staged by each theatre were expected to have contemporary themes. It is important to note that this was immediately after the Anti-Rightist Campaign, and the threat of being punished (arrested, sent to the remote countryside or removed from one’s previous work position) for any unwillingness to cooperate with the Party’s ideology was fresh in everyone’s mind. Not surprisingly, all practitioners took part in the Great Leap Forward; one after another, “miracles” appeared and many theatre companies reported the “happy news” to the local Party committee that contemporary plays had been written and rehearsed overnight. Thousands of xiandai xi emerged, and we can only imagine the low quality of these productions.16

Although the situation in traditional theatre circles calmed down as the whole nation recuperated from the disastrous consequences of the Great Leap Forward, contemporary plays became a hot topic again in 1964 with the renewed power struggle at the highest level. Another seesaw movement started with nationwide criticism in the media of a number of plays and films. On 12 December 1963, Mao Zedong wrote on a report submitted by the Literature and Art Section of the Central Committee’s Publicity Department:17

All kinds of artistic forms — drama, folk vocal art, music, fine art, dance, cinema, poetry and literature — have encountered various problems, and many people have been involved. The socialist reform in many of these sectors has achieved no results whatsoever. Many departments are to this day still ruled by the same old “corpses”….

Isn’t it absurd that many Communist members enthusiastically advocate feudal and capitalist arts but are not interested in promoting socialist arts?

(People’s Daily, 28 May 1967, 1)18

Mao’s instructions were immediately transmitted to literature and arts circles all over the country, provoking more public denunciations of writers, practitioners, artistic works and concepts. His writing was passionate and his pessimistic evaluation of the overall situation of literature and art shocked everyone in the arts sector.

(p.166) When a national gala of jingju plays on contemporary themes was held in Beijing from 5 June to 31 July 1964, the grand occasion was mainly organized to offer jingju practitioners an opportunity to view and discuss each other’s works. Twenty-nine companies from eighteen provinces and cities presented thirty-five productions; there were 2,400 formal representatives plus non-registered participants. Five theatres accommodated 108 performances and, from 15 July to the end of the month, all performances were open to public audiences. Mao Zedong and other Party and government leaders attended the reception, saw various productions and had photos taken with selected practitioners (Ma Shaobo et al. 1999, 1860–63). Most model jingju productions during the Cultural Revolution were taken from the performances at the gala.

Although Jiang Qing did not yet have the status that she was to acquire during the Cultural Revolution, she had a prominent position at the gala and expounded her views on theatre in her speech, “Revolutionize Jingju”. This talk and her later one at the Forum on Literature and Arts in the Armed Forces (February 1966) affirmed her resolution to wipe out the traditional repertoire and build revolutionary contemporary jingju. Jiang Qing claimed that from first-hand information collected over two years spent working with theatre companies she had been appalled by two discoveries. First, that 2,800 troupes of song-dance indigenous theatre (out of 3,000 drama companies all over China)19 were still performing traditional repertoire and historical plays. Second, that the majority population of workers, peasants and soldiers remained under-represented in repertoires obsessed with the minority faction of class enemies, including landlords, rich peasants, reactionaries, bad elements, rightists and the bourgeoisie. Like her husband Mao Zedong, in his instruction issued in 1963, she also made a dramatic appeal:

Are we serving a tiny handful of people or are we serving the public of more than six hundred million? This question needs to be considered not only by the Communist members but also by all the literature and art workers who have patriotic feelings. We eat grain grown by peasants and wear clothes and live in houses made/built by workers; the People’s Liberation Army guards our national defence and frontiers, how can artists not present these people on the stage? May I ask with which class do these artists stand? Where is your “conscience” that you have tended to talk about?

(1971, 2–3)

The sudden switch of pronoun from third person to second person, directly questioning the participants, made her speech more powerful and even intimidating.20

(p.167) The question “Whom do we serve?” had been raised by Mao Zedong in 1942 at the Yan’an Forum. Now, Jiang Qing updated Mao’s principle and cited her so-called first-hand information to justify the urgency of revolutionizing jingju. She declared: “We must recommend revolutionary contemporary plays. We must present the real life of the past fifteen years of our People’s Republic. We must create contemporary heroic images on the stage. These are our primary tasks” (3).

From 1964 onwards, xiandai xi gained a new modifier and became “revolutionary contemporary theatre”, probably originating from Jiang Qing’s speech. Both the People’s Daily and the Red Flag journal, the Party’s theoretical mouthpiece, published editorials extolling the 1964 gala as “the great revolution on the cultural front” (People’s Daily, 6 June 1964, 1; 1 August 1964, 1; Red Flag 1964, 12:1–4). The totalitarian regime completed its fabrication of a new product and finally achieved the aim that Mao had devised for the Theatre Reform: “weeding out the old to bring forward the new” (tuichen chuxin).

Old vs. new

The four-character phrase was the second part of a couplet in Mao’s calligraphy that he had given to the Chinese Indigenous Theatre Research Institute when it was established in 1950. The first part was “Letting a hundred flowers blossom” (baihua qifang) (which was later used to encourage intellectuals to speak out their opinions prior to the Anti-Rightist Campaign), and the two phrases formed a beautifully paralleled couplet. To look at its literal meaning, Mao’s phrase perfectly demonstrates the newly established state’s idealism and generosity; it encouraged practitioners to perform new works but also allowed all kinds of theatre, including various themes and forms, to be staged. Yet, as Fu Jin argues, in the Chinese theatrical garden, there had virtually never been a scene where a hundred flowers bloomed, and the emphasis was always on “weeding out the old to bring forward the new” (2004, 229). The idea was not new, since it had been elaborated in Mao’s speeches at the Yan’an Forum and his 1944 letter to the Yan’an Jingju Theatre. However, the 1951 four-syllable phrase tuichen chuxin was far more succinct and easily memorized. Regarding the development of Chinese theatre since the Communists took power, this slogan has always represented one of the policies imposed on the practitioners.

Intriguingly, it would seem that both the paramount leader and many outstanding practitioners shared the ideal of “bringing forward the new” for the theatre. How similar were their perspectives in reality? As observed previously, (p.168) jingju artists like Wang Xiaonong, Mei Lanfang, Cheng Yanqiu and Li Yuru (plus those to be discussed in the later chapters, and too many others to be mentioned in this volume) continually pursued innovation to enhance the genre. The key point is the attitude towards jingju’s tradition. Practitioners believed, based on their own acting experience and their understanding of the way jingju was formed, that the creation on the stage required proficiency in the existing conventions, and the “new” needed to be soundly rooted in the genre’s tradition. Conversely, Mao’s ideology had no place for the past/tradition, and he expected the whole nation to repudiate such values utterly.21

With the passage of time, the ideological demand escalated and the tuichen chuxin phrase was replaced after 1964 by pojiu lixin, or “breaking up the old to establish the new”. The Chinese verbs po and li in the new phrase elicit the smell of gunpowder. At this time, the question of what play to stage was no longer an artistic choice but a choice of political standpoint by theatre practitioners — as revolutionaries or reactionaries. The People’s Daily editorial made it clear: “Jingju performing contemporary plays is a great revolution. Who hates the revolution most? Internal and international reactionaries” (1 August 1964, 1).

There is a view that the inception of the Communist Theatre Reform and the revolutionary contemporary model theatre “go[es] back to cultural critics and theatre practitioners in the late Qing period” (Chen Xiaomei 2002, 101). Certainly, up to the 1980s, most prominent intellectuals and artists in mainland China and Taiwan had their intellectual roots in the nationalism and new thought that flourished during the 1911 Revolution and the May Fourth Movement. Examples demonstrating that certain ideas were shared by people in different periods appeared in the discussion of the male dan issue (cf. chapter 3) and of Wang Xiaonong et al.’s experimental theatre on contemporary themes. Any cultural phenomenon or discourse is a mosaic taking references from others and to others. Nevertheless, there is an essential distinction between the innovative works that had been created by performers themselves and (p.169) the model works based on Mao’s instructions on drama and literature. The former, including plays with contemporary themes and politically oriented works (such as Cheng Yanqiu’s Blue-Frost Sword and Tears in the Barren Mountain), grew out of individuals’ personal feelings and passion for improving their nation’s unequal society; they expressed the artists’ commitment to social issues and they were the real manifestation of “social drama” in the jingju form.

The revolutionary contemporary model theatre, as the ultimate result of the seventeen-year effort by the authorities on Theatre Reform, was different because the model works were theatre of propaganda with certain artistic merits. They enjoyed the authorities’ full support with financial and human resources. Backed by Jiang Qing, model theatre had its own model companies, selecting top-grade artists from all over China (most of them were young performers, with a few well-established ones). Model troupe members, separated from their families, led a semi-military life. They all lived in a compound, wore model outfits (PLA uniforms without insignia), ate model food (the menus were devised by nutritionists and usually involved three dishes with a soup) and enjoyed model transportation (coaches were assigned to take practitioners to and from theatres). Model theatre created a privileged group of practitioners; they were not only ideologically superior but also benefited on the material side at a period when food and clothing were rationed and many peasants did not have enough to eat. From May 1967, when the People’s Daily publicized the term “revolutionary contemporary model theatre” in numerous articles together with Mao’s six important works on literature and arts, to the mid-1970s, when everyone in the country was encouraged to study model opera22 and regional theatres were urged to adapt it, the model theatre reached its climax. It received the strongest ideological credit. From 1970 onwards, the People’s Daily regularly dedicated a whole page under the banner “Vigorously popularizing revolutionary model theatre” because these works were “the model of absolute devotion to Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line” (Zheng Xuan, 18 January 1971, 2). Around this time, the original set of eight model works was expanded, and the creative theories on model theatre were further elaborated. Practitioners throughout the literary and artistic sector had to conform to these formulae whenever they attempted to do any work. Thus the revolutionary contemporary model theatre was an ideologically controlled form imposed on practitioners, and on the whole nation, by decree of the highest echelon of government.

It is necessary to remind ourselves of the ideology embodied in the revolutionary contemporary model theatre because three decades have passed and China’s situation today is very different from when the model works were produced. A few of these productions, especially those that were revived recently, made interesting experiments in combining a stylized theatrical form with contemporary life. Yet to (p.170) regard these works as “cheerful, happy, colourful,…a most marvellous mixture of high and low culture”, as Yan Ting Yuen claimed when she wrote and directed the film Yang Ban Xi: The 8 Model Works (2005), is to evaluate them out of context. Ostensibly, model works and their followers enjoyed unprecedented popularity since almost everyone could sing a few lines and many phrases entered daily life. However, this peculiar cultural phenomenon was not generated by individual choice; rather, it was forced on everyone by a totalitarian regime.23

How was acting affected by the two adjectives “contemporary” and “revolutionary”?

After the discussion of the ideological significance of the terms, it is time to examine another dimension of the two adjectives: how did performers cope with the more concrete issues elicited by the ideology of revolutionary contemporary jingju? The earlier analysis on the “writing meaning” and “writing reality” shows it was an old issue, one that jingju pioneers had confronted since the beginning of the twentieth century. With the arrival of the Communist dogma, these artistic issues became further complicated with politics. It is common sense in acting that performers need to feel “comfortable” with the characters they act and the costumes/make-up they wear. However, the idea changed when performers dealt with revolutionary contemporary themes. What an actor felt had no importance at all. Li Yuru’s experience with contemporary themes and the famous story of Shao Jianbo’s steps in Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy best illustrate the issue.

Towards the end of the 1950s, Li Yuru gradually lost her positive reputation with the authorities. No longer a trustworthy young actress with a clean political history, she was now seen as a diehard, representing the conservative forces in the (p.171) traditional theatre in Shanghai.24 Among the various problems that Li had, the key issue was her attitude towards plays with contemporary themes.25 Chapter 4 discusses the difficulties that Li had when acting the peasant rebel Tang Sai’er. When she performed in four contemporary plays,26 she had more problems since there was no dan or any role type acting conventions to which she could refer. Li recalled: “I had nowhere to place my hands. I did not even know how to walk, or what to do on the stage.”27 In Interrogating the Chair, Li acted a village Party secretary, He Jinhua, who crushed a reactionary conspiracy. This was a revolutionary contemporary play staged at the 1964 gala in response to Mao Zedong’s instruction issued at the Tenth Plenum of the Eighth Central Committee (1962): “We must never ever forget the class struggle” (1969b, 15). To make herself “comfortable” on the stage, Li asked if she might drape a Chinese-style jacket over her shoulders because she thought a jacket that she could put on, take off, hang on her arm or hold in her hand would allow her to make more gestures and movements. However, she was criticized because a Party secretary in the countryside would never wear clothes in a way impractical for a peasant working in the fields (although the story took place at night). Draping a jacket over one’s shoulders was a “bourgeois style adopted by urban rich women”.28 Li was more severely criticized for “defaming” a member of the working class when she acted Chunmei, a newly wedded young woman in the countryside, in another contemporary play (see Plate 5.2). This time she employed some dan acting conventions, such as tidying her hair, skilfully sitting on a bicycle behind (p.172) her husband (the vehicle was symbolized by a bicycle handle, an idea in accord with jingju’s non-mimetic quality) and using mincing steps to visualize the bumpy journey. Although she was happy with her experiment, she was accused of “paying too much attention to techniques” and neglecting the “real revolutionary nature of the working class”.29 On the basis of her difficulties in acting contemporary plays, Li suggested at various meetings that “those theatrical forms that possess fewer conventions should put on more works with contemporary themes, while old genres like kunju or jingju which are strong and rich in stylization can do more historical works. They can also serve our socialism.”30 There is no doubt that Li’s untimely comments contributed to her denunciation during the Cultural Revolution.

Li Yuru’s experience concerned just an individual performer. The controversy over Shao Jianbo’s steps, however, affected all the actors who played this role because this was a model character in a model play, and the “steps” were a model they had to follow. Shao Jianbo, a PLA officer in Tiger Mountain (one of the eight model works), was first acted by Shen Jinbo (1926–90), a strictly trained singing sheng role actor. Under the traditional walking conventions that jingju had inherited from kun acting, steps on the stage differed from everyday behaviour. The sheng role type customarily wore boots with two-inch-high platforms and, like actresses trained to walk on the qiao, a sheng role trainee would start wearing these boots from the first day he entered the school. Because of these boots, a sheng actor must perform with straight legs as stipulated by Huang Fanchuo in his acting manual:

No matter if [one] kicks legs, raises legs, sits or stands, one must always keep the legs straight, one should never bend them. When walking, one must keep the legs straight and the upper body still. This is how we walk steps on the stage. One should never walk like a normal person [in daily life], bending and straightening [one’s legs] alternately.

(1982, 9:14)

To play the PLA officer, however, the actor wore a modern military outfit with flat-soled shoes. Thus Shen Jinbo had to break himself of the stage habit ingrained in his acting for the past thirty years in order to walk in a naturalistic manner. At the same time, he was expected to display a Communist soldier’s bravery through the steps. Caught up between the ideology and the theatrical conventions, Shen in the play strutted with stiff legs like a puppet. Subsequently, when other jingju companies and regional theatres were forced to adapt the model plays in the early 1970s, every Shao Jianbo in Tiger Mountain performed by whichever actor in whatever genre had to assume the same stiff steps, even if the performers had the ability to walk (p.173) more naturally and had been trained in a less formalized theatre. Underlying this absurdity was the directive issued by the Central Cultural Revolution Group (the most powerful government institution at the time) that the performance of model works, even in different genres, had to follow exactly the prescribed libretto, speech, gestures, movements and stage blocking (Ma Shaobo et al. 1999, 1950; Yung 1984, 149–64).31 Shao Jianbo’s steps became a joke in theatre circles.

The difficulties that Shen Jinbo and Li Yuru encountered exemplify what “contemporary” and “revolutionary” meant to practitioners, and the conflict between jingju acting conventions and the ideological “reflecting reality” demanded by a revolutionary contemporary work. At source, the problem was how to reconcile form and content, an old dilemma that Mei Lanfang had faced in his practice in the 1910s and again in 1949 when he was persuaded to make self-criticism. However, in the mid-1960s, the whole issue was much more politicized. Both practitioners and audiences often referred to those unsophisticated contemporary operas as “spoken drama plus songs”, denying that such works were jingju any more.

The concrete issues intertwined with the Communist ideology presented a new challenge to jingju performers. Individual responses to this challenge varied. Generally speaking, the older and better-established performers found it more difficult to cope. Compared with Li and Shen, Ma Yongan, then a young painted-face actor, seemed to have an easier access to the revolutionary contemporary jingju. He was more flexible and found it not too difficult to adapt himself into a non-stylistic mode of acting, despite a few setbacks. During the interview, Ma commented that he was younger, liked watching films and had always longed to be a film star. Thus, when he had to drop his facial pattern, a signifier of a painted-face role, he was quite happy because audiences would now be able to see his facial expressions.32

Lei Gang, a “Foil Character” in a Model Work

The Azalea Mountain was set in 1927 during the second civil war, and Ma Yongan played the peasant rebel Lei Gang. It premiered in 1973 and was released in a film version in 1974. This play appeared after the original set of eight model works, and its writing and staging not only followed the model theories but further developed them. It is significant that its stage premiere took place at the time of the Tenth (p.174) National Congress of the CCP (24–28 August). The play’s storyline and its most prominent character, the Party representative Ke Xiang, reflected the Congress’s primary concern: education in class struggle and the struggle between correct (led by Mao) and incorrect lines that “Party members, army members and the whole nation are to receive in the coming years” (communiqué of the Tenth CCP Congress in the People’s Daily, 30 August 1973, 2). The heroine was extolled in contemporary reviews for possessing “a strong sense of principle in carrying out the Party’s correct line and being most heroic like a firm rock in midstream. She reflected the truth in a vivid way that the line decides everything” (Ma Rong 1974, 43).

The 1973 jingju version and its predecessors

Like most model works, the 1973 production was a revision of an earlier work. The major change was that the 1973 production downgraded Lei Gang, the leader of a Self-Defence Corps, from a protagonist to a foil character, in order to elevate the heroic status of Ke Xiang who is sent by Mao Zedong to reform the group of peasant rebels and inspire them with the Communist Party’s correct revolutionary line.

Most writings on the model theatre within or outside China tend to concentrate on the No. 1 hero/heroine in a piece because, according to the “three prominences” theory, every possible artistic means had to be applied to make this character the most prominent on the stage. The analysis of Lei Gang in this volume and how he was relegated from a protagonist to a foil character (to put Ke Xiang’s laudable deeds in relief) not only offers a new angle for examining the model theatre but also explores the process of constructing the play and details how theatre was manipulated by politics. In order to enhance the effect of the three prominences, more three-character formulae were created, giving writers more detailed instructions on how to create the main heroic character in their works. One such formula was the “three foils”, and the creation of Lei Gang set an example.33 The concept was to use negative characters to serve as a foil to positive characters, with positive characters as a foil to heroic characters, and heroic to the most prominent heroes.

The “three foils” and the “three prominences” — how to reposition Lei Gang and Ke Xiang — provided the main task of the five years (1968–73) spent in revising the play’s script and rehearsals. It involved a huge “creative group”, including playwrights, directors, choreographers, composers, designers (for lighting, stage sets, properties, costumes and make-up), actors of jingju and spoken drama, and athletes. Such a large-scale project could only have been undertaken in the model theatre with the ample financial support it enjoyed from the government. Jiang Qing requested that a production be “ground through” (worked on thoroughly) for ten years.

(p.175) Three versions of Azalea had been staged before the 1973 production, the earliest being a spoken-drama play premiering in Shanghai in 1963.34 At the 1964 Jingju gala, there were two adaptations, one by the Beijing Jingju Theatre35 and the other by the Ningxia Jingju Theatre.36 Both companies used star actors to play Lei Gang.37 Interestingly, in the Beijing version the peasant rebel was acted by a painted-face role, Qiu Shengrong (1915–71), and in the Ningxia one by a sheng role, Li Mingsheng (1926–2002).

The 1973 version was largely influenced by the 1963 spoken drama and Beijing jingju version; among the four scriptwriters involved,38 two had written the Beijing jingju script, while Wang Shuyuan was the original playwright for the Shanghai spoken drama production. However, the interrelations between these works were never mentioned during the Cultural Revolution because anything created in the past was old and should therefore be smashed. In addition, only the new version was produced under the leadership of the correct revolutionary line — in this case, Jiang Qing.

The previous versions had been strongly imbued with ideology. A glance at Wang Shuyuan’s passionate postscript to his published play (1963) gives a sense of this and shows how, from Theatre Reform to the revolutionary contemporary model works, Chinese theatre had become a propaganda tool. Wang claimed that his work was inspired by the heroic stories he had learned on his four long visits to the historical revolutionary bases in Fujian and Jiangxi provinces:

For a long time, I have been hoping to write a play embodying a central idea, that is, to laud the Party’s leadership. I saw slogans and couplets on the walls of the villages and in the rooms of every household in these areas: “Listen to Chairman Mao’s words; follow the path led by the Communist Party!” These words expressed the inner feelings of hundreds of millions of people and they revealed the number one truth in the revolutionary struggle. The truth was paid for in blood…In my personal experience during the thought reform, I gained a deep understanding of the truth. What else in the world can be warmer than the shining glory of the Party?! What else in the world can be nobler and happier than conscientiously serving the people when the Party shines over us?

(1963, 131)

(p.176) Motivated by “strong feelings towards our great Party, great struggle, great people and our great time”, Wang wrote the script “from 1957 to March 1962” and revised it about ten times (131–32).

Despite the political emphasis, the practitioners of the three productions before 1966 managed to find some space to use their artists’ intuition and focused their performances around Lei Gang, an impetuous chief of the peasant bandits. He was the centre of the dramatic action, and the strength of his feelings on what to love and to hate, and the mistakes he made, were far more interesting for the audience than the Party representative’s preaching. In addition, he represented the outlaw archetype in the traditional repertoire with an updated Communist appearance. However, once model theatre came to dominate the stage, such an “improving character” could no longer be the protagonist because this would diminish the play’s supreme revolutionary theme. Another three-character artistic principle during the Cultural Revolution was “high starting point”, explained as follows: “If we write about the process by which heroes overcome their previous mistakes, this would put blemishes on to our heroes. Our heroes should be perfect from the first moment when they enter the stage” (Ma Shaobo et al. 1999, 1967).

Nevertheless, to omit Lei Gang, or to reduce his function in the play, would cause Azalea to lose its legendary “Robin Hood” appeal, which attracted audiences both during the Cultural Revolution and in recent revivals. Thus the 1973 model work retained Lei Gang as an important figure but his existence was utilized as a foil for the most heroic character, the Party representative Ke Xiang. A contemporary review made clear that Ke and Lei’s “relationship is not parallel; one is leading and the other is led; one is reforming and the other reformed. It is a relationship of principal and subordinate” (Nan Wenlong 1974, 31). The following two episodes will illustrate how the character of Lei Gang was relegated but kept its fascinating “outlaw” quality.

Lei Gang’s entrance

All four versions of the play between 1963 and 1973 (one huaju and three jingju)39 opened with Lei Gang’s escape from prison, but the scene’s function varied dramatically. Although ostensibly the “key scene of Lei Gang”, Scene One’s real function in the 1973 production was to prepare for Ke Xiang’s entrance in the next scene (Azalea Group 1974, 7).

Like all the model jingju productions, the play is introduced by a prelude (not a jingju conventional treatment of music), mainly played by Western instruments (see Figure 5.1). (p.177)

Ma Yongan—A Painted-Face Role Type and a Non-Painted-Face Character

Figure 5.1 40 Prelude in The Azalea Mountain

(p.178) The score illustrates that the theory of “high, big and complete” was also applied to the music. The high notes and wide range in the prelude reminded audiences of the Communist victory. From the twenty-fourth bar, the big gong, leading the percussion team, joined the prelude. Each stroke of the gong emphasized the beat of each bar, and the rhythm of the jingju percussion pattern blended into Western march-like music played by strings and brass, creating a martial atmosphere that was also exotic.

The prelude was followed by a few seconds of silence to prepare audiences for a dark scene where Lei Gang was in danger. Curtains were drawn slowly and quietly; it was pitch dark on the stage and in the auditorium.41 Suddenly, dogs barked (the sound effect used a recording of real dogs), and crowds ran shouting “Catch Lei Gang!” Jingju percussion and an unpleasant discordant tune, produced by both jingju and Western musical instruments, started (see Figure 5.2). The negative character (baddie), Viper, and his military men appeared holding lamps.

Ma Yongan—A Painted-Face Role Type and a Non-Painted-Face Character

Figure 5.2 Introduction to Viper and his military men

(p.179) The jingju dance convention of group entrance and the beams of light from the running men’s lamps produced a beautiful picture and tense atmosphere on the stage. “Look!” a military man cried, pointing at an upstage figure who swung on a mountain rattan from the edge of one cliff to another. A spotlight effect illuminated Lei Gang, the courageous peasant rebel, in relief against the dark background. Viper, also under a spotlight but in a cold blue colour, fired at the figure, shouted “Run after him!” and led his group to exit.

After a couple of seconds of silence, the sound effect of rustling leaves could be heard. Lei Gang emerged behind the bushes. The stage was lit up, but not in full light because the brightest lighting effect had to be reserved for Ke Xiang, the most prominent heroic character.42 The percussion started up again. In the rhythm and beats of the jingju percussive sequences, Lei looked around and jumped out. At this moment, audiences could see a strong man fettered with chains. On his forehead and cheek there were two thick red slanting lines representing whiplash wounds. He wore one sleeve of his jacket (in the style of peasants in the area in the 1920s) and the other sleeve was tied around his waist. Wearing one sleeve was also a jingju costume convention to show the untidiness of one’s appearance (normally used for a mad person or a person in a dangerous situation). The rattling of the fetters made by the actor’s movements was skilfully inserted into the percussion and music played by jingju string instruments and the Western orchestra. Lei Gang started a dance sequence in fetters including different steps (some were mincing ones moving forward and sideways quickly and some were little hops), “eagle turns” and other up-and-down body movements, all of which expressed his difficulty walking with fettered ankles, his anxiety that he could not move faster, and his search for a rock to break his fetters.

Analysis of the beginning of Azalea and Lei Gang’s first entrance reveals how the Western stage devices (scenery, lighting, sound effects and Western musical instruments) and some jingju conventions were combined to present an important character in a model performance. When I interviewed Ma Yongan, he was very excited about this episode. He jumped out of the chair, and demonstrated a few movements for me, using them to demonstrate how he felt about acting conventions and real life:

I really like this scene because it reminds me of a jingju traditional play that I’ve often performed, Li Qi in the Pavilion.43 The protagonist (p.180) is an outlaw and in the play he wears fetters all the time. The restraint on his leg makes his entrance unique in the jingju tradition: he hops out, and this acting convention always received full-house applause. To me, Li Qi and Lei Gang are similar. Again, Stanislavski, my master Hao Shouchen and the jingju conventions are doing the same thing. [He noticed my facial expression.] Don’t laugh — we all try to act a character on the stage.

In the first scene of Azalea, we used quite a few body movements from the Li Qi play and made the fetter dance. However, I didn’t tell them [the authorities during the Cultural Revolution] about it, although those who understood jingju all knew where these gestures and movements came from [smiling slyly]. For example, I used some of Li Qi’s steps to hop to the side rather than forward to show the restraints that Lei Gang felt. In order to make the clanking noise of chains, the strength had to come from the actor’s arms, wrists and ankles. Again I learned it from acting Li Qi. Of course, I didn’t use the conventions completely as they appeared in the traditional play. You have to adapt them. In that play it was the daytime, and now in Azalea it was midnight. I also wore different costumes. In addition, we had sets of bushes on the stage and therefore when I peeped out from behind the bushes, I needed to push these leaves to the side and the traditional conventions, if used just by themselves, would not work, because I was dealing with leaves.44 However, my movements were not really the gestures that I assumed in daily life. I enlarged them and they became something standing between real gestures and our jingju conventions.

He demonstrated how he dealt with the bush’s branches. He lifted his left hand slightly in a rightwards direction and then downwards to push away the imagined leaves in front of him to the left. His right hand repeated the same movement, but starting from left to right. His movements again demonstrates the principles of “opposition” and “roundness” involved in the jingju conventions (cf. chapter 2) but less dance-like.

I noticed his fingers while he was demonstrating: his thumb went inside; there was a gap between his index and middle fingers; and another gap between the fourth and little fingers. (See Plate 5.3 — his left hand is in the exact shape that he demonstrated at the interview.) The way he arranged his fingers reminded me of the instructions relating to fingers for different role types given in Qian Baosen’s “Pithy Formulae on Movement”. Ma was using one for a male warrior rather than a painted-face role (1964, 67). On hearing my observation, Ma laughed and said:

(p.181) Whenever I have the facial pattern on and play the jing repertoire, I always arrange my hands with all five fingers separated from each other. This is the hand convention for a painted-face role because it will make a hand look larger. While I’m performing a contemporary play I try not to use it, as in real life people never have their five fingers straight and separated from each other as we painted-face roles do on the stage. However, I never realized that I had actually adopted a male warrior’s hand gesture until you noticed it today.

This tiny detail of Ma’s fingers once again points to the relation between jingju training, conventions and acting. Even when actors perform contemporary plays, and even when they have no problems dealing with daily actions, their childhood training, subconsciously, still controls every gesture and movement when they are on the stage. This is the “stage habit” discussed in chapter 2.

Lei Gang’s speech and song in Scene One

After his dramatic entrance, Lei Gang is reunited with his Self-Defence Corps, but must recognize the cruel reality that their third attempted uprising has failed and now only a handful of rebel brothers remain. Lei Gang is in despair; he needs help and his Corps needs a leader. The dialogue reveals that Lei Gang has been seeking unsuccessfully to contact the Communist Party for a long time. Lei describes the situation and his passion in the following monologue, which is written in a verse style based on the sound of Mandarin (rather than the traditional heightened speech) and using the rhyme “ang”, with each even line ending in words such as dang (Party), xiongtang (chest), chuang (force one’s way forward) and qiang (gun). The translation unfortunately loses the rhythm but keeps the original style of line arrangement and punctuation.

  • Last September I heard,
  • The Communist Party,
  • Leading the poor and organized an autumn harvest uprising,
  • This incident caused a sensation across the Gan and Xiang Rivers.
  • The local rich and despots lost their power and prestige,
  • The poor brothers squared their shoulders and threw out their chests.
  • I, Lei Gang, could not find the Communist Party,
  • No choice,
  • I followed their example,
  • Stepping onto their path, forced my way forward.
  • I organized the uprisings,
  • And on the Azalea Mountain, we have our Corps with broadswords and guns.
  • (p.182) However, after so many attempts…(Wang Shuyuan et al. 1973, 10:47)

Lei Gang sighs deeply, then slowly starts a song.

Before moving on to the aria, a close reading of his speech is necessary. There are two stanzas, each containing six lines. The last line “However…” serves as an introduction to the coming aria. The first three lines of the first stanza are peculiarly arranged because they are actually one sentence arbitrarily divided into three sections. One might argue that it is for the sake of rhyme because the “Party” in the second line has an “ang” vowel sound. That is true, but at the same time when the word “Communist Party” — three syllables in Chinese — stands on its own in a line it gains importance in the verse. The commas before and after the word force the actor, when delivering the line, to make two pauses, and therefore Gongchan Dang (Communist Party) is pronounced in an abrupt and stressed style. Corresponding to the second line in the first stanza, the second stanza also uses three syllables in the second line, but here the first three lines are three independent sentences.

Lei Gang’s seven-line aria gives further expression to his despair. As noted earlier, singing is the most effective means of bringing out the character’s inner feelings in jingju:

  • Three times uprising and three times failure, we have gone through all the wind and waves,
  • Numerous good brothers lost their lives and their blood is all over the mountain.
  • Having failed, I am all the more longing to find the Communist Party,
  • Like a group of geese, without the leader, we cannot even form a line,
  • The night is now pitch dark, and we all wait for the dawn.
  • Oh, the Party, you are our beacon light that will illuminate the road in front of us!
  • [But] where are you! (Wang Shuyuan et al., 47).

Each line of the aria was accompanied by dance or tableau. When singing the “geese” line, seven actors stood in a V-shaped group formation: in the middle was Lei Gang; the other actors on both sides of him made themselves slightly lower — among this group, Lei was the prominent figure, although he would need to be lower than Ke Xiang when she appeared. Everyone stretched their arms to both sides and slightly to the back (as if they were goose wings), raised their heads and gazed into the distance. Their pose conveyed the image of geese flying in the sky anxiously seeking the correct direction. The stage blocking also moved the whole V-shaped group into a specific lighting area and their eyes were lit brighter as if they were under the imagined Party’s glory. At this point, Scene One made a clever (p.183) twist: although the action and the singing and dance were all arranged around Lei Gang, the structure of the plot and the blocking on the stage were means towards the ultimate objective of enhancing the prominence of Ke Xiang, the symbol of the Party’s leadership.

Scene One closes when Lei Gang decides to “grab (qiang) a Communist” from Viper’s execution site to “lead us forward!” The vowel in qiang was enunciated with tremendous volume, and the nasal ending “ang” strongly echoed dang (Party). Later, the audience will learn that the Communist whom the Self-Defence Corps is to rescue is Ke Xiang. She has been sent by the Party to reach Lei Gang and his fellow rebels because Mao Zedong, the insightful leader, is aware of their difficulties. The audience is told that the poor need the Party and the Party takes great care of the masses. Thus Scene One accomplishes its supreme mission.

The above analysis demonstrates that, while Scene One stresses political correctness, it is well equipped with tense dramatic action, acting skills, dance and songs, involving both the individual performer (Lei Gang) and supporting roles. The opening scene attracts the audience immediately, and behind all the excitement and Communist ideology there is a strong outlaw archetype — rescuing a hero or a fellow rebel from the execution ground — in the tradition of Chinese theatre and literature. Tang Sai’er (chapter 4) opens with the rescue of a woman rebel. Similarly, in Water Margin, the central figure, Song Jiang (a government official), is rescued by the bandits and later becomes their leader. According to Wang Shuyuan, the execution plot in Azalea was taken from a real story of the second civil war that he had heard during his visits to the revolutionary base. It again reveals the fact that theatre and narrative have long played an important role in Chinese life, and they were the education the illiterate gained. Thus the traditional Chinese Robin Hood story was woven into the Communist ideology.

Azalea exemplifies the experiments the model theatre carried out with jingju. In many ways, it continued to tackle an old problem: how to make a traditional theatre present a revolutionary story and how to use the stylized conventions to “reflect reality”. This time, backed by the authorities, a collective force was organized, dealing with all the four basic skills of singing, speaking, dance-acting and combat more strategically and systematically.

Implications of the Model Theatre for the Future Jingju

Firstly, role types were abolished in the model works, and therefore characters in the play became the focus of the music and acting. Consequently, the boundaries between the conventions used by different role types were broken and an actor could adopt any acting skills (including the music and singing) to portray a character, especially where the main heroic character was concerned. The elimination of the role types (p.184) of sheng, dan, jing and chou was superficial; the fundamental generalization was kept to serve the ideology as positive and negative characters were imposed on the theatre while new methods were invented to make the good guys more glorious and bad guys shameful.

Secondly, the stylized form was disrupted. More everyday-life gestures and movements were integrated and more choreographed dance was used. Directors and spoken drama actors worked with jingju performers to blend the two styles of acting together. The Western orchestra was introduced and composers were involved. Although the xipi and erhuang modes were used,45 their dominance was reduced since the stylized modal systems with metrical types were altered by mixing melodies of differing role types or Western music, and by using frequently changing tempos. To take Lei Gang’s aria as an example, it is based on the xipi mode with a primary metre type, which contains two beats to a bar: one accented and one unaccented. Conventionally, this “primary metre type” starts the first written character from an unaccented beat in the opening line. However, in the following music score (see Figure 5.3) that opens the aria (“Three times uprising and three times failure, we have gone through all the wind and waves”), the character san (three) is placed at the accented beat. According to Jin Guoxian, a jingju huqin player and a composer, the aria borrowed the style of opening line from the two-six metre type to give a stress on the word and to bring out Lei Gang’s disappointment more powerfully.46 In addition, the tempo changes five times within eight written characters of one musical sentence of fifteen bars.

In the model jingju, the music was composed as a whole piece. Arias were usually based on the xipi or erhuang modes, but with bold alterations. Main characters — either positive or negative — were given their own musical motif. For example, the above-quoted prelude is a magnified version of the Party representative Ke Xiang’s heroic melody. Many jingju professionals feel that the main achievement of the model works was in the revolution of jingju’s aria music (Ma Shaobo et al. 1999; Fu Jin 2004; Liu Yunyan 2006; my interviewees also made similar comments).

Heightened speech disappeared completely in order to make revolutionary speeches easier to understand. But the function of heightened speech as a “bridge” to link dialogues and arias was also lost, and more incongruity occurred. Having learned lessons from previous model works, Azalea experimented with a new style of reciting: the playwrights were told to write all the speeches in verse;47 and huaju actors were used as vocal instructors to work with the cast on how to recite lyrics (p.185)

Ma Yongan—A Painted-Face Role Type and a Non-Painted-Face Character

Figure 5.3 The first line of Lei Gang’s aria

with the pronunciation and tones of ordinary Mandarin. Stage sets were introduced, and this certainly affected the actors’ performance. As Ma Yongan demonstrated, the original acting conventions had to compromise with the naturalistic stage presentation.

Indeed, the creation of model theatre was a thorough revolution in every aspect of jingju, as planned by Jiang Qing in 1964, and the process of writing and (p.186) rehearsal was a long and exhausting battle for everyone involved. According to Li Zhongcheng, one of the four playwrights of the 1973 jingju script, rehearsals of Azalea (from the end of 1970 to 1973) always ran from eight in the morning until ten at night, three sessions every day. Sometimes there was no break at the weekend because “we were told we were working for the revolutionary cause and thus an individual’s need was nothing at all”. On hearing my exclamation, “What did you exactly do twelve hours a day every day?!” he laughed:

We rehearsed! Don’t you remember that Jiang Qing once used the word “grinding”? Indeed, we ground everything through. Every gesture and movement, and every line of speeches and songs was designed by a group of experts while actors had to perform them in a perfect way. In addition, people from the above often came to the rehearsals, giving instructions and we practitioners had to put their words into practice…At that time, to make every minute gesture or singing phrase to a model standard was the supreme mission for us; nobody would dare reveal any impatience.48

What Li Zhongcheng said confirmed what has been written about the revolutionary contemporary model theatre. Behind every line or gesture in Azalea, or in every model/post-model work, there was a big team effort, ideologically and artistically. It is not difficult to understand how performers were remoulded by the “grinding work” they went through and how, as a result, the influence of model theatre penetrated into every aspect of singing, speaking, dance-acting and combat in jingju, and perhaps into the indigenous theatre in general. Its impact can still be felt on today’s stage.

It would need another research project to judge whether the model theatre’s impact was destructive or productive, or in some aspects more destructive than productive and in other aspects vice versa, because every aspect is a huge topic. For example, characters in model jingju took over role types. Virtually every Chinese scholar regards this as a progressive step for the genre. Indeed, previous discussions show that excellent actors always emphasize the importance of acting characters on the stage, and this distinguishes artists from artisans. Nonetheless, is there any difference between “acting characters” in model theatre and in the experience discussed by Cheng Yanqiu, Li Yuru and other practitioners? If characters on the jingju stage were created through reading the play text, seeking the characterization and looking for the given circumstances for these characters, would the future production become a copy of huaju that follows the example of Western-style theatre? Then how is jingju or the Chinese indigenous theatre different from the spoken drama? After all, is it necessary for jingju or the indigenous theatre to adopt (p.187) spoken drama’s approach to a play and to a character? Does the abolition of role categories really emancipate actors’ creative ability or does it reduce the variety of acting styles? Is the “naturalness” presented by stage sets appropriate for actors’ performances in which dance, mime and songs are still essential? Endless questions can be asked. Li Zhongcheng commented: “After the model theatre period, jingju will never go back to the way it was before.”49 Once Pandora’s Box is opened all the consequences have to be dealt with, no matter whether they are “positive or negative”, to use a Maoist dichotomy.

The influence of model theatre on performers has been tremendous, although they may not agree with the “model approaches”. Wu Hsing-kuo, a principal performer who works in Taiwan (cf. chapter 8), recalled the excitement he and his colleagues felt when they first watched video tapes of model productions after the martial law had been lifted on the island: “We were stunned. We had never imagined that jingju could bring in so many non-jingju elements and blend them together.”50

Indeed, these non-jingju elements opened up people’s imaginations. After the Cultural Revolution, as professionals gained relatively more freedom, they started putting on experimental works. For example, in 1980, the fifty-seven-year-old Li Yuru performed the kabuki play Mirror Lion (adapted by Du Xuan and directed by Kong Xiaoshi),51 and in 1983, Ma Yongan finally realized his twenty-five-year-long dream of performing Othello on the jingju stage (see Plate 5.4).

However, post-reform China has experienced its own problems. The “open door” policy and the economic reforms brought immense and rapid changes. Jingju performers, like everyone else in the country, had to confront new challenges. This time, in addition to the theatrical tradition and ideological interference, they had to deal with financial pressures, which after 1949 had mainly been taken care of by the state-subsidized system. Furthermore, the disappearance of the traditional repertoire for over ten years had produced an audience accustomed to model theatre that lacked the knowledge to appreciate indigenous theatrical conventions, while an unprecedented variety of entertainment forms provided ever-increasing competition. Facing the fast-changing new world, what can jingju and its performers do? Yan Qinggu, a loud and mischievous martial clown, and his sophisticated hypertexts in his internet blogs will yield more insight into the evolving nature of twenty-first-century theatre.


(1) My curiosity regarding his lifestyle and the name he had taken from a Chinese transcription for Sakyamuni was elaborated in my book (2003, 176–78).

(2) It was fourteen days before his sudden death. I use this chapter as a tribute to Ma Yongan’s contribution to jingju.

(3) There are exceptions. For example, the famous jing role character Judge Bao is a man full of intelligence, wisdom, courage and resourcefulness.

(4) Another division is into four categories; the jing of martial arts is further separated into two groups. I use the simplifed version.

(5) It is in an exaggerated shape of hammer with a big round head, which is a property carried by Xu Yanzhao, a painted-face character in a few jingju plays. Arias are important for the portrayal of this character and gradually tongchui became a sub-type of the jing role that specializes in singing.

(6) Sankuai wa lian in the jingju term. The other basic pattern is called “whole face” (zhenglian) which is used either for extremely virtuous and positive or for extremely treacherous and negative characters. The “whole face” applies one colour to the entire face with delicate brushwork in a second colour to delineate eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth and sometimes tiny wrinkles to produce the desired facial expression. The difference is that the villains are always in matt white, and Cao Cao, as discussed in the text, is a typical example.

(7) In the traditional repertoire, the protagonist Zhang Dingbian in Jiujiang could be acted by either a male warrior or a painted-face role. In 1959, Yuan Shihai (1916–2002), a jing actor, and his colleagues revised the old version and it has since become a popular production for a painted-face of jiazi. No warrior type would take Zhang Dingbian any more. Yuan Shihai, best known for his character of a Japanese commander, Sasayama, in the model production Red Lantern, became a disciple of Hao Shouchen in the 1940s. When Ma Yongan performed Yuan’s version of Jiujiang, he added more brushstrokes to the facial pattern to give his own mark. However, both the style of the brushwork and the principle Yuan and Ma used were taken from the Hao school. This example shows again how jingju is carried on from master to disciple, and how individual actors attempt to bring their own personal mark to the tradition. My discussion of Ma’s Zhang Dingbian facial image is based on Liu Zengfu (1990), a beautifully designed book with images of facial patterns and erudite discussions of different schools of the painted-face role type.

(8) Huang Zuolin (1906–94), who studied and worked at the London Theatre Studio with Michel Saint-Denis in 1935 and later became one of the leading directors in China, was probably the first person to use xieyi to define Chinese indigenous theatre (1979, 292). Huang had first raised the concept of “outlook on drama” (xiju guan) in 1962. On his suggestion, spirited debates took place in theatre circles from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, involving both practitioners and scholars, on issues like “writing meaning”, “writing reality”, theatrical illusion, the fourth wall, Stanislavski’s Method, Brecht’s theory of Verfremdungseffekt, Mei Lanfang’s approach to jingju (representing principles of Chinese indigenous theatre), and so on. These discussions further encouraged people to work on different styles of experimental theatre, and both huaju and xiqu flourished for a few years before being disrupted by the economic reforms.

(9) Telephone interview notes, 29 July 2007.

(10) The “three prominences” are as follows: among all characters give prominence to positive characters; among positive characters give prominence to heroic characters; and among heroic characters give prominence to the main heroic characters. “Positive” reads revolutionary and on the correct Communist line. In addition, the main heroic characters must be portrayed as tall, big and perfect, both physically and mentally.

(11) In February 1966, Jiang Qing convened a Forum on Literature and Art in the Armed Forces in Shanghai and gave a speech in which she raised the principle formally (1971, 97).

(12) Five jingju: The Legend of the Red Lantern (Hong deng ji); Shajiabang; Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy (Zhiqu Weihushan); Sweeping the White Tiger Regiment (Qixi Baihutuan); and The Dock (Haigang). Two ballets: The White Haired Girl (Baimao nü) and The Red Detachment of Women (Hongse niangzi jun). One symphony with jingju arias: Shajiabang. According to Gao Yilong and Li Xiao, it was Jiang Qing who first used the term yangban xi, or model theatre, in April 1965 to refer to her work with three jingju productions. The Drama Bulletin soon adopted the term, followed by the Shanghai newspapers in May 1965 when the Red Lantern was touring there (1999, 271). The History of Chinese Jingju (Ma Shaobo et al. 1999) states that Kang Sheng, then head of the Central Cultural Revolution Group, announced the eight model works and their associated companies on 28 November 1966 at the Ensemble of the Capital Proletarian Cultural Revolution. From reading the People’s Daily and other contemporary materials, and trying to recall the events of the time, I believe that the term was largely publicized among the masses in May 1967. To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the speeches Mao delivered on 23 May 1942 at the Yan’an Forum, the guideline for all sectors of the arts over subsequent decades, the People’s Daily on 23–31 May 1967 published Mao’s five instructions on art and literature which had never before been seen by the public. The newspaper also republished the Yan’an Forum speeches and two full play scripts: Red Lantern and Shajiabang. Alongside these key materials, numerous articles lauding the model theatre were also published. At that time, everybody had to read newspapers in groups as part of political study sessions every day; then yangban xi, as a term, entered the popular language.

(13) These were plays written after the eight model works had been officially announced, and Jiang Qing’s followers, such as Yu Huiyong and Liu Qingtang, were directly involved in the creative process of these works. There were five jingju plays and two ballets. Jingju: The Azalea Mountain (Dujuan shan); Song of the Dragon River (Longjiang song); The Warfare on the Plain (Pingyuan zuozhan); Panshiwan and The Red Detachment of Women (Hongse niangzi jun). Ballets: Song of the Yimeng Mountain (Yimeng song) and Brothers and Sisters on the Greenland (Caoyuan ernü).

(14) Chinese scholars have started using qian (earlier) and hou (later) to distinguish them (Fu Jin 2002; Liu Yunyan 2006).

(15) Gao Yilong and Li Xiao include these plays in their book History of Traditional Chinese Theatre on Contemporary Themes (1999). However, they referred to the above plays as “new plays on current affairs” (shishi xinju) or “new plays in contemporary costume” (shizhuang xinxi), while the term xiandai xi is used only to describe plays written in the Communist-controlled areas and in the People’s Republic of China.

(16) Yu Cong and Wang Ankui give the following example. In Nanjing, seven local genre companies created 1,073 plays with contemporary themes within six months. Among them, the Yueju Company’s contribution was most noticeable. All the sixty-three employees, from the head of the company to the cook, were involved in writing 285 scripts and 121 adaptations on contemporary themes (2005, 285). An editorial in The Drama Bulletin, no. 1 (1959, 4) observed: “The problem was that much of the emphasis was given to the speed and quantity without paying enough attention to the quality of theatre productions. Thus, many plays with contemporary themes were not good enough and seemed a little rough. Audiences found them boring.”

(17) I follow the official English translation. This department is also known as the propaganda department.

(18) This document was one of the five to be published by the People’s Daily in May 1967; see note 12.

(19) The rest were spoken drama companies and cultural workers’ ensembles (wengong tuan, mainly attached to the army or at the county level) performing variety shows including spoken drama plays.

(20) Some of my interviewees commented on the frightening atmosphere in the theatre circles caused by Jiang Qing’s speech. At that time, they all anticipated that another revolution was imminent and revolutionary contemporary plays would be the only repertoire they could stage. These opinions can also be seen in published memoirs and biographies — for example, Biography of Qiu Shengrong (Liu Qi 1996), Biography of Zhao Yanxia (Yin Bo 1985) and My Grandfather Ma Lianliang (Ma Long 2006). Ironically, these practitioners never realized that they would be the target to be attacked and to be wiped off the stage in the coming decade.

(21) Mao’s conception was based on political expediency; it did not mean that he liked new or contemporary plays. During the Yan’an period, he owned an old gramophone and often listened to old jingju records in his cave dwelling. Ding Ling (1904–86), a revolutionary woman writer who also lived in Yan’an, commented: “Chairman Mao…appreciated highly artistic works and even those with little ideological value…However, Chairman Mao was a great politician and a revolutionary, who was responsible for leading the Party and the revolution of the whole country. He naturally brought everything into line with the political track and the revolutionary course. His specific position made him advocate certain things, although they might not be his own favourite. He had to encourage these works” (1999, 1:138–39). From 1975 to 1976, about forty jingju and kunju traditional plays were made into films and video records to entertain Mao when he was very ill. This “top-secret task” brought back some senior performers who had been driven off the stage for the previous ten years, and has left a tiny number of recordings of excellent performances, in comparison to the thousands of works in the traditional repertoire (Ma Shaobo et al. 1999, 1918–20).

(22) Numerous amateur groups were organized to perform model jingju.

(23) This discussion could lead to another cultural investigation on the model theatre. A generation or two grew up with the yangban xi, a false popular culture created and forced on to the whole nation by ideology. The model theatre formed an important part of their identity. Thirty years later, the memory of high-handed policy involved in the theatrical works has faded, whereas the lyrics and arias became part of the nostalgia for their childhood and youth. While I was writing this chapter, Shajiabang was being performed in the Shanghai Yifu Theatre (2007), and the ticket prices were 30 yuan to 220 yuan (from £2 to £15), quite a normal price for today’s jingju. In July 2008, the Shanghai Jingju Theatre presented Hong Kong audiences a complete “contemporary jingju” programme (two full-length productions plus highlights from the other two model jingju); tickets were priced from HK$100 to HK$350 (from £6 to £22) (http://www.lcsd.gov.hk/en/ppr_release_det.php?pd=20080514&ps=03). It is worth noting that the term xiandai jingju dominates press release on the mainland when model operas are performed: yangban xi (model theatre) or the adjective geming (revolutionary) has faded away. Meanwhile, the cutting-edge Chinese youth culture also made use of model theatre. As Yan Ting Yuen observes in her film, young practitioners “revisited the checkered art-historical past to reclaim the form by borrowing its riffs, and even lifting its dance moves” (2005).

(24) Pang Zenghan, one of the scriptwriters of a contemporary jingju work Interrogating the Chair that Li performed, recalled that Ke Qingshi, the first secretary of both the Shanghai Municipal Party Committee and the Communist Party Central Committee East China Bureau, asked on several occasions what Li Yuru’s attitude was towards plays on contemporary themes, and whether or not she had done any work for them. Interview notes, 30 July 2000.

(25) Other problems included her lifestyle and her way of treating tradition. She had to do self-criticisms at meetings for her star habit of wearing make-up and fashionable outfits because this was regarded as the result of rotten bourgeois influence. She was also criticized for employing private tutors to practise more jingju acrobatics, to learn kunju and bangzi repertoire (and most of them later were adapted into jingju by her), and to learn more of Cheng Yanqiu’s singing method. The criticism was based on the idea that she only paid attention to professional expertise, neglecting political studies. In addition, she showed a tendency to seek her own style, and this was regarded as bourgeois individualism.

(26) The Spring Wind Blows Thousands of Willow Branches (Chunfeng yangliu wanqian tiao) (1958–59); Chunmei Goes to a Birthday Party (Chunmei Zhushou) (1963); Sister Red (Hong Sao) (1964–65) and Interrogating the Chair (Shen yizi) (1963–64), which was later revised according to “model theories” performed by a younger actress (Li Ruru 2002, 1:1–17).

(27) In order to write an article on Interrogating the Chair, I held several interviews in April 2000 with Li Yuru.

(28) Minutes of meetings for the rehearsals and performances of The Chair are preserved in the archive of the Shanghai Jingju Theatre. The above information is from the minutes dated 23 January 1964.

(29) Minutes, 2 April 1964.

(30) Li had to make self-criticism for these words, recorded in the minutes, 23 January 1964. During the Cultural Revolution, the above comments formed one of the crimes she had committed, and for which she was physically tortured.

(31) Forty years later, we regard the whole issue as ridiculous, but at the time it was a question of life or death. In Shanghai, a practitioner of the local folk vocal art (quyi) added small comic elements in his adaptation of the model play and this resulted in his death sentence. In Beijing, a choreographer was accused of “sabotaging the model works” because she altered dance steps due to the limited performing space. Subsequently, she committed suicide (Ma Shaobo et al. 1999, 1950). There are many similar stories.

(32) Interview notes, 30 January 2007.

(33) Other three-character formulae included duo cemian (multi-facets), duo langtou (multi-waves), duo huihe (multi-exchanges) and gao qidian (high starting point); see Chen Sihe (1999). Discussions in English on Cultural Revolutionary literary theories can be found in Yang Lan (1998).

(34) Playwright: Wang Shuyuan; Director: Wang Xiaoping.

(35) Written by Xue Enhou et al., directed by Xiao Jia and Zhang Aiding.

(36) Directed by Yin Yuanhe. The female Communist leader was acted by Li Lifang. Through this play, Li drew Jiang Qing’s attention, and Li was later removed to Shanghai and acted the heroine in The Dock (Haigang), one of the eight model works.

(37) The name was Wu Dou in earlier versions.

(38) As seen in chapter 4, from the early 1960s to the end of the 1970s, most plays were written by a team rather than an individual playwright. The scriptwriters for the 1973 Azalea were Wang Shuyuan, Li Zhongcheng, Wang Zengqi and Yang Yumin.

(39) The discussion is based on the published huaju and 1973 jingju scripts, VCD recording of the 1974 film version, and contemporary reviews of the two 1964 jingju productions, mainly Qin Fengwen (1964, 7:38–39) and Gong Xiaolan (1964, 8:40–41).

(40) My thanks to Yao Zhongwei for transforming the original numbered notation into stave notation. On the stage, the percussion, including the danpi drum, clappers, big/small gongs, cymbals and Western instruments, played an important role, but the percussion score is not included in the original Chinese version.

(41) This was another reform carried out by the model theatre. It attempted to create the illusion for the audience by darkening the auditorium.

(42) The same design of lighting effect can be seen in every model work, since it resulted from the “three prominences” theory. Kirk Denton (1987, 119–36) offers a detailed discussion on colour and lighting employed in Tiger Mountain.

(43) A famous production of the Hao Shouchen school. Weng Ouhong gives a full analysis of the development of the Hao school’s performance (1985, 380–433).

(44) The leaves were artificial, but on the non-mimetic traditional stage there is no set at all and movements are mimed out, as we noted with “smelling flowers” in The Drunken Imperial Concubine.

(45) Jiang Qing instructed clearly that model jingju could only use these two modal systems. All others as discussed in chapter 1 were forbidden.

(46) Interview notes, 20 September 2007.

(47) Interview notes with Li Zhongcheng, 26 April 2007.

(48) Interview notes with Li Zhongcheng, 26 April 2007.

(49) Interview notes with Li Zhongcheng, 26 April 2007.

(50) Interview notes with Wu Hsing-kuo, 22 June 2004.

(51) Li Yuru was last on stage when she was seventy-one years old. In 1980, she married Cao Yu (1910–97), one of the great dramatists in contemporary China, after which she spent more time in Beijing and started writing. She published a full-play script, a novel that was adapted into a twenty-five-episode TV play and many articles on her acting experience. Her new book on jingju (edited by Li Ruru) was published by the Shanghai Arts and Literature Publishing House in 2008.