‘Aus­pi­cious Union of Dragon and Phoenix’

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Liu Xian­shu, pol­ished by Mark Zuiderveld, pho­tos by Mao Yu

Longfengchengx­i­ang is a story in tra­di­tional Pek­ing Opera that tells of how mil­i­tary strate­gist Zhuge Liang saved Liu Bei with strategems in three bro­cade sacks.

The fa­mous tra­di­tional Pek­ing Opera Longfengchengx­i­ang (An Aus­pi­cious Union of a Dragon and a Phoenix) is de­rived from Ro­mance of the Three King­doms. The story is set against the back­ground of the tri­par­tite con­fronta­tion of the three king­doms of Wei (AD 220–266), Shu (AD 221–263) and Wu (AD 222–280) be­fore and af­ter the down­fall of the East­ern Han Dy­nasty (AD 25–220). Sun Quan (AD 182–252, founder of the King­dom Wei) and Zhou Yu (AD 175–210, a mil­i­tary gen­eral serv­ing un­der Sun Quan) plot­ted “a se­duc­tion scheme” against Liu Bei (AD 161–223, founder of the King­dom Shu) in or­der to re­cover Jingzhou, a mil­i­tar­ily strate­gic pass from the Shu King­dom. How­ever, Zhuge Liang (AD 181–234), a wise and re­source­ful mil­i­tary strate­gist serv­ing un­der Liu Bei, sees through the trick and thin, en­abling Liu Bei to es­cape dan­ger with his “strat­a­gems in three bro­cade sacks.” The story ends with the happy wed­ding of Liu Bei and his safe re­turn to Jingzhou. Longfengchengx­i­ang, with its mul­ti­ple char­ac­ters, in­volve­ment of var­i­ous roles in Pek­ing Opera, with par­tic­i­pa­tion of fa­mous artists as well as the aus­pi­cious theme, has be­come “a grand aus­pi­cious show” mainly pop­u­lar at fes­ti­vals and grand cer­e­monies.

Meet­ing Trick with Trick

Ro­mance of Three King­doms by Luo Guanzhong (c. AD 1330–1400, nov­el­ist of late Ming Dy­nasty and early Qing Dy­nasty) is China's first ful­l­length and novel with each chap­ter pref­aced by a cou­plet as a sum­mary of its con­tent. It is also a mas­ter­piece among his­tor­i­cal fiction nov­els. Set against the vast so­cial and his­tor­i­cal back­ground in the third cen­tury, the novel dis­plays fre­quent con­fronta­tions in tur­bu­lent times. Longfengchengx­i­ang orig­i­nated from the novel. To be spe­cific, it is cre­ated based on the 54th chap­ter of the novel, whose ti­tle is “State Mother Wu Meets the Bride­groom in a Tem­ple; Im­pe­rial Un­cle Liu Takes His Bride to the Wed­ding Cham­ber.”

In the time of the Three King­doms, Jingzhou was a place of mil­i­tary sig­nif­i­cance. Zhuge Liang wrote the “Long Zhong Dui” (“Strate­gies com­posed at the place of Longzhong”) that to unify the coun­try, Liu Bei had to oc­cupy Jingzhou first and form an al­liance with the Wu King­dom be­fore head­ing to­ward Cen­tral China in two ways of at­tack­ing Cao Cao. Later, Liu Bei and Sun Quan did form an al­liance and to­gether fought against Cao Cao in North China.

Af­ter Cao Cao failed in the Chibi Bat­tle, Liu Bei oc­cu­pied the Shu area (or to­day's Sichuan), and or­dered gen­eral Guan Yu to guard Jingzhou's sev­eral coun­ties which were un­der his con­trol. Among sev­eral coun­ties oc­cu­pied by the Shu King­dom, Nan­jun was lent to Liu Bei by Sun Quan for Liu's tem­po­rary stay and re­cu­per­at­ing Liu's troops. Liu Bei had spent nu­mer­ous ef­forts be­fore he man­aged to at­tain his pur­pose of “oc­cu­py­ing Jingzhou with­out re­turn­ing it to the Wu King­dom.” How­ever, as time went on with chang­ing cir­cum­stances, Lu Su (AD 172–217), a subor­di­nate of Sun Quan, re­peat­edly asked Liu Bei to re­turn to Jingzhou, yet this proved to no avail. On learn­ing that Liu Bei's wife had just passed away, Sun Quan and Zhou Yu con­spired in plot­ting “a se­duc­tion scheme.” They pre­tended that they were will­ing to let Liu Bei marry Sun Shangx­i­ang, Sun Quan's younger sis­ter, with the in­ten­tion of con­trol­ling Liu Bei and forc­ing him to re­turn to Jingzhou af­ter lur­ing him to cross the Yangtze River to wel­come his bride.

Zhuge Liang saw through this, and de­cided with­out hes­i­ta­tion to meet this trick with his own. He of­fered plans to Liu Bei. Liu Bei ac­cepted and paid a visit to Qiao Xuan, fa­ther of two beauties of Da Qiao and Xiao Qiao and the fa­ther-in-law of Zhou Yu. The pur­pose of Liu Bei's visit was to make Qiao Xuan per­suade Sun Quan's mother, Wu Guo Tai (“State Mother Wu”) to con­sent to mar­riage. Qiao Xuan ad­vo­cated the mar­riage be­tween Liu Bei and Sun Shangx­i­ang, and made ef­forts to push the mat­ter when he met Wu Guo Tai, who fi­nally agreed to meet Liu Bei in the Sweet Dew Tem­ple. As soon as Sun Quan learned this, he or­dered his gen­eral Jia Hua to am­bush the Sweet Dew Tem­ple to as­sas­si­nate Liu Bei. How­ever, Zhao Yun saw through the plot. Af­ter Wu Guo Tai met Liu Bei in Sweet Dew Tem­ple, she be­came sat­is­fied with Liu Bei, and agreed to let him marry her daugh­ter Sun Shangx­i­ang. Sun Quan never ex­pected that his “se­duc­tion scheme” would come to noth­ing but con­trib­uted to the mar­riage.

Later, Sun Quan and Zhou Yu came up with a sec­ond plan—to lure Liu Bei by of­fer­ing him palaces and beauties. How­ever, Zhuge Liang had pre­pared a sec­ond strat­a­gem in the bro­cade sack. Fol­low­ing the strat­a­gem, Zhao Yun released the false mes­sage that Cao Cao was plan­ning to at­tack and oc­cupy Jingzhou. Liu Bei was anx­ious to re­turn to Jingzhou with Sun Shangx­i­ang. Sun read­ily agreed, bade farewell to her mother Wu Guo Tai and was

ready to set off with Liu Bei. On learn­ing this, Zhou Yu hur­ried to de­ploy troops to in­ter­cept Liu Bei. How­ever, troops were or­dered by Sun Shangx­i­ang to with­draw and to not take fur­ther ac­tions. Then the boats pre­pared by Zhuge Liang came to Liu Bei's res­cue and his peo­ple, who re­turned to Jingzhou safely and joy­ously.

Per­suad­ing Wu Guo Tai at Sweet Dew Tem­ple

Longfengchengx­i­ang is ac­tu­ally the ti­tle for two ex­cerpts— Sweet Dew Tem­ple (also named A Se­duc­tion Scheme) and Re­turn­ing to Jingzhou, telling the story of the mar­riage be­tween Liu Bei and Sun Shangx­i­ang, with the plot start­ing in Sweet Dew Tem­ple and end­ing in Luhuadang. Ac­cord­ing to the book Jingju Zhi Bian­qian (Changes and De­vel­op­ment of Pek­ing Opera) by Qi Rushan (1877–1962, play­wright and scholar), Fushou Troupe at the end of the Qing Dy­nasty was the first Pek­ing Opera troupe to per­form. It was not un­til the pe­riod of the Repub­lic of China (1912–1949) that Longfengchengx­i­ang be­came its com­mon ti­tle. The dragon in the ti­tle refers to Liu Bei of the Shu King­dom, and the phoenix refers to Sun Shangx­i­ang, the princess of the Wu King­dom, with their mar­riage rep­re­sented as aus­pi­cious.

In Sweet Dew Tem­ple, fol­low­ing Zhuge Liang's ar­range­ment of meet­ing trick with trick, Liu Bei crosses the Yangtze River to the Wu King­dom to wel­come his bride. As the story goes, Liu Bei is 48 years old, who is con­sid­ered older than the ap­pro­pri­ate age for mar­riage, when Sun Shangx­i­ang is only 18 years old. So State Mother Wu says to State El­der Qiao, “I do not know about this im­pe­rial de­scen­dant of Liu Bei. Please ask him to meet me in Sweet Dew Tem­ple to­mor­row. If I am not sat­is­fied with him, you go ahead with your plan. If I am sat­is­fied with him, I will al­low him to marry my daugh­ter.”

Qiao Xuan of­fered Liu Bei a beard colourant and man­aged to deal with the cir­cum­stances. His fol­low­ing words in favour of Liu Bei be­come the cli­max of the scene. “I beg My High­ness not to men­tion killing, and please al­low me to tell the story from the be­gin­ning. Liu Bei is the descen­dent of the Prince Jing of Zhong­shan, so he has the blood­line of the im­pe­rial fam­ily of the Han Dy­nasty…the army gen­er­als serv­ing un­der Liu Bei are peer­less; and Zhuge Liang is quite good at de­ploy­ing schemes. Tak­ing Liu Bei's life is not dif­fi­cult, but if you do so, his fel­lows will not let you off eas­ily. If they come over to fight for re­venge, both king­doms of Shu and Wu will be hurt and Cao Cao of the King­dom Wei will get ad­van­tages. There­fore, I would like to per­suade My High­ness to agree upon the mar­riage.” This sec­tion in the tune of Xipi Yuan­ban (orig­i­nal ver­sion of Xipi melody in tra­di­tional Chi­nese op­eras) sung by State El­der Qiao still en­joys pop­u­lar­ity to­day. The per­for­mance of State El­der Qiao's role by the fa­mous Pek­ing Opera artist Ma Lian­liang (1901–1966) has a free and smooth style. With his vig­or­ous and deep voice and va­ri­ety in vo­cal tune, Ma has dis­played the sta­tus and char­ac­ters of State El­der Qiao. To­day, his per­for­mance is con­sid­ered ex­cel­lent and peer­less.

There are two ma­jor schools with dif­fer­ent per­for­mance styles in Pek­ing Opera, one be­ing the North­ern School (or “Bei­jing School”) rep­re­sented by per­form­ers in Bei­jing, the other be­ing the South­ern School rep­re­sented by Shang­hai per­form­ers. The per­for­mances of Longfengchengx­i­ang are mostly of the North­ern School ver­sion. In the South­ern School ver­sion, there is a clas­si­cal per­for­mance pat­tern called “wuyin Liantan” which means that sev­eral roles take turns in singing one or more lyrics.

In the Sweet Dew Tem­ple per­for­mance staged by the Shang­hai Jingju The­atre Com­pany, there are as many as 68 lyrics sung in the form of wuyin Liantan, rep­re­sent­ing a ma­jor achieve­ment made by the Shang­hai Troupe in dis­play­ing the artis­tic quin­tes­sence of the South­ern School of Pek­ing Opera. To­day, re­hearsals of Longfengchengx­i­ang not only ex­plores the quin­tes­sence of Pek­ing Opera, but also en­riches the Pek­ing Opera's reper­toire and of­fers more per­for­mance op­por­tu­ni­ties for its ac­tors.

Re­turn­ing to Jingzhou un­der False Pre­tenses

Ac­cord­ing to tra­di­tional cus­toms, all house­holds would paste New Year paint­ings on gates, walls of their houses in Spring Fes­ti­val and on other fes­tive occasions. One of the com­monly-seen themes of the New-year Paint­ings of Yan­gli­uqing Town of Tian­jin is “Re­turn­ing to Jingzhou.” De­pict­ing at­trac­tive scenes in the Pek­ing Opera show, the paint­ings are quite pop­u­lar. Start­ing with Sweet Dew Tem­ple and end­ing with Re­turn­ing to Jingzhou, the story is a com­plex plot. The re­count­ing of the story is not com­plete with­out the men­tion of the plot of “strat­a­gems in three bro­cade sacks.” In the ex­cerpt Re­turn­ing to Jingzhou, Zhuge Liang sees through the “se­duc­tion scheme” set by Sun Quan and Zhou Yu, and de­cides to face trick with trick. Be­fore Zhao Yun es­corted Liu Bei to cross the Yangtze River, Zhuge Liang left “strat­a­gems in three bro­cade sack” to him, telling him to open the sacks in times of dif­fi­culty and fol­low strat­a­gems to res­cue Liu Bei.

Af­ter cross­ing the Yangtze River, Liu Bei and Zhao Yun opened the first sack. Fol­low­ing the plan in­side the sack, they dis­patched 500 sol­diers to pur­chase pork, lamb and fruits in lo­cal mar­kets and cir­cu­lated news in the city that Liu Bei and Sun Shangx­i­ang would be mar­ried. To en­sure the plan's suc­cess, they also paid a visit to State El­der Qiao to gain his sup­port. State El­der Qiao thought highly of Liu Bei, and con­sid­ered the mar­riage be­tween Liu Bei and Sun Shangx­i­ang was well-jus­ti­fied and would gen­er­ate ad­van­tages. On the other hand, Zhou Yu never ex­pected that his seem­ingly witty trick would fail to work and cause twice as much loss. In other words, Liu Bei would marry Sun Shangx­i­ang, and the sol­diers of the Wu King­dom would be de­feated. Af­ter learn­ing that his trick failed to work af­ter the meet­ing in Sweet Dew Tem­ple, Zhou Yu con­spired with Sun Quan to have palaces built for Liu Bei. Their in­ten­tion was to in­dulge Liu Bei in sen­sual plea­sures to dis­suade Liu from re­turn­ing to Jingzhou. Aware of dan­ger, Zhao Yun opened the sec­ond sack. Fol­low­ing the plan in­side it, Zhao Yun lied about the mil­i­tary's sit­u­a­tion to Liu Bei, stat­ing that Cao Cao dis­patched half a mil­lion sol­diers to oc­cupy Jingzhou, cre­at­ing an ur­gent cir­cum­stance. On learn­ing this, Liu Bei was greatly sur­prised and wor­ried as ex­pected by Zhuge Liang, and wanted to re­turn to Jingzhou im­me­di­ately with Sun Shangx­i­ang, who was a sen­si­ble woman, will­ing to fol­low Liu Bei. She said, “To­day is New Year's Day, when peo­ple pay homage to their an­ces­tors by vis­it­ing their graves. I will go to the palace and tell my mother that we will per­form an homage cer­e­mony by the river­side. Then we will hire two small boats and cross the river in se­cret.”

In the palace, af­ter see­ing tears on her daugh­ter's face, State Mother Wu learned what her daugh­ter and son-in-law would do is more than pay homage to an­ces­tors by the river­side. Out of love for her daugh­ter, she agreed and said, “To re­turn to Jingzhou, you have to pass Chaisang, but Zhou Yu will never al­low you to do so. You can take this pre­cious sword which be­longed to your fa­ther. For any­one dar­ing to stop you, just kill them and go.” Then Sun Shangx­i­ang and Liu Bei set off for Jingzhou. Af­ter learn­ing of Liu Bei's es­cape, Sun Quan and Zhou Yu dis­patched gen­er­als to in­ter­cept the cou­ple. At a crit­i­cal mo­ment, Zhao Yun had no other way but to open the third sack. Fol­low­ing the plan in­side it, Sun Shangx­i­ang re­proached the gen­er­als who later with­drew the troops. Board­ing the boats pre­pared by Zhuge Liang at the river­side, Liu Bei re­turned to Jingzhou safely.

Re­gard­less of dis­sua­sion, Zhou Yu con­tin­ued fol­low­ing Liu Bei un­til they reached the out­skirts of Jingzhou, and con­fronted the sol­diers of King­dom Shu ar­ranged by Zhuge Liang. At Zhuge Liang's or­der, two gen­er­als— Huang Zhong and Wei Yan staged an am­bush within Jingzhou City and made a sur­prise at­tack against Zhou Yu's troops. Af­ter be­ing de­feated in the bat­tle, Zhou Yu re­treated to Luhuadang, where he was am­bushed by Zhang Fei. Zhang Fei was wait­ing for him dis­guised as a fish­er­man. Zhou Yu was first caught and then released by Zhang Fei. On re­al­is­ing his fail­ures and losses, Zhou Yu was so irate that he vom­ited blood, yet had no other way but to re­turn in shame. In the ex­cerpt Re­turn­ing to Jingzhou, there is a fa­mous aria by Sun Shangx­i­ang in Xipi Yuan­ban on her first ap­pear­ance, which ex­presses her ten­der feel­ings and mood swings. With the mu­sic ac­com­pa­ni­ment of Jinghu Huaqiang (florid or­na­men­ta­tion in Pek­ing Opera with the Pek­ing Opera fid­dle of Jinghu), the singing is all the more im­pres­sive. With heart-stir­ring singing, be­gin­ning with “In for­mer times Liang Hong and Meng Guang made a per­fect cou­ple”, to­gether with the artist's per­for­mance fea­tur­ing both ten­der­ness and power, Sun Shangx­i­ang's role as a woman with adamant will un­derneath a frag­ile ap­pear­ance.

Fa­mous Artists in the Grand Show

The ti­tle of Longfengchengx­i­ang alone de­liv­ers a pleas­ing mes­sage. It is hon­oured as “the aus­pi­cious show” in Pek­ing Opera, and is fre­quently per­formed on the Pek­ing Opera stage in the New Year. In the past, it was a must-see Pek­ing Opera to cel­e­brate fam­ily re­unions dur­ing Spring Fes­ti­val and other fes­ti­vals. De­spite hard­ships and frus­tra­tions, a happy end­ing even­tu­ally comes. The show in­volves par­tic­i­pat­ing roles in Pek­ing Opera. With the ap­pear­ance of al­most all im­por­tant char­ac­ters of the Wu King­dom and the Shu King­dom in Ro­mance of Three King­doms, the opera presents many spec­ta­cles. All roles in sheng (main male roles), dan (fe­male roles), jing (male roles with painted faces) and chou (clown roles) have ex­cel­lent per­for­mances, and the singing, recita­tion, act­ing and ac­ro­batic move­ments of the per­form­ers are all fas­ci­nat­ing in their own ways. There are both civil­ian roles and fight­ing roles, with the for­mer em­pha­sis­ing song, while the lat­ter em­pha­sises fight­ing. The recita­tions are par­tic­u­larly note­wor­thy.

Take the role of Sun Shangx­i­ang (role of “qingyi,” one of the main di­vi­sions of the fe­male roles in Pek­ing Opera) as an ex­am­ple. In her wed­ding cham­ber, she sings a lengthy aria in man­ban (slow tune). When bid­ding farewell to the State Mother Wu in the palace of the Wu King­dom, her singing and act­ing are pro­found. In re­turn­ing to Jingzhou, she cir­cles around on the stage with Liu Bei and Zhao Yun. All these per­for­mances are rooted in hard work and act­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Many fa­mous artists have per­formed in the show. For ex­am­ple, Tan Fuy­ing played the role of Liu Bei, Mei Lan­fang and Cheng Yan­qiu played the role of Sun Shangx­i­ang, Ma Lian­liang played Qiao Xuan, Yang Xiaolou played Zhao Yun, Ye Shenglan played Zhou Yu, Hao Shouchen and Yuan Shi­hai played Zhang Fei. These artists, from dif­fer­ent schools of Pek­ing Opera, have dis­played their own tal­ent. In Longfengchengx­i­ang, there is the com­mon prac­tice of sev­eral artists co-play­ing one role, mainly in sheng and dan roles. In the past, most Pek­ing Opera artists par­tic­i­pated in per­form­ing. With so many artists in­volved, the show is ex­cel­lent and at­trac­tive, bring­ing aus­pi­cious­ness to fes­ti­vals and occasions. The show has since be­come a com­mon choice for fes­tive and cer­e­mo­nial occasions with its lon­glast­ing pop­u­lar­ity.

Li Li and Li Hong from Tian­jin Pek­ing Opera The­atre play­ing Sun Shangx­i­ang (left ) and Wu Guo Tai in Longfengchengx­i­ang

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