Wu­longyuan Graces Opera Stage

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Wang Hui­hui Edited by Mark Zuiderveld

Pek­ing Opera Wu­longyuan adapted from Wa­ter Mar­gin is about how Song Jiang kills Yan Poxi. Pek­ing Opera mas­ter Zhou Xin­fang’s per­for­mance has made Wu­longyuan a reper­toire of Zhou’s Qi School.

Wa­ter Mar­gin has been long ad­mired by au­di­ences, and those heroes in the fic­ti­tious story who en­force jus­tice on be­half of Heaven have been praised widely. As pop­u­lar top­ics for play­wrights, their sto­ries have been adapted into op­eras, hence the pop­u­lar “Wa­ter Mar­gin Opera.” Wu­longyuan is a clas­sic opera adapted from Wa­ter Mar­gin, telling the story of how Song Jiang kills Yan Poxi (also known as Yan Xi­jiao) in their res­i­dence Wu­longyuan.

Wu­longyuan was adapted into Pek­ing Opera as early as the end of the Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911). Dur­ing the Re­pub­lic of China pe­riod (1912–1949), Wu­longyuan be­came a reper­toire of the Qi School cre­ated by Zhou Xin­fang (1895–1975, a Pek­ing Opera ac­tor who spe­cialised in the old male role). The Qi School plays an im­por­tant role in the Shang­hai School of laosheng (old male role), with Zhou con­sid­ered one of the great­est grand masters of Pek­ing Opera.

Mur­der in Wu­longyuan

Sto­ries of Wa­ter Mar­gin have spread widely and be­come fre­quent top­ics of sto­ry­tellers since the Song Dy­nasty (AD 960–1279). As early as the South­ern Song Dy­nasty (1127–1279), an orat­ing script en­ti­tled Da­song xu­anhe yishi (“records of the Xu­anhe pe­riod dur­ing the Song Dy­nasty”) by au­thor un­known doc­u­mented the his­tory of the Xu­anhe pe­riod dur­ing the Song Dy­nasty in de­tails. The book is di­vided into ten chap­ters, of which the fourth chap­ter is about Song Jiang and 35 oth­ers gath­ered in Liang­shan, and then they were re­pressed by Zhang Shuye, be­com­ing the first work re­lated to Wa­ter Mar­gin.

As zaju (va­ri­ety show) be­came pop­u­lar dur­ing the Yuan Dy­nasty (1271–1368), zaju about the Wa­ter Mar­gin sto­ries also ap­peared, and the num­ber of char­ac­ters in Liang­shan in­creased from 36 to 108. Since then, peo­ple have in­dulged in elab­o­rat­ing on sto­ries of those 108 heroes. At the end of the Yuan Dy­nasty and the be­gin­ning of the Ming Dy­nasty (1368–1644), nov­el­ist Shi Nai’an (c. 1296–1372) fin­ished a fic­ti­tious ver­nac­u­lar ver­sion based on the heroic sto­ries in or­a­tory scripts, zaju and folk­lore, hence Zhongyi shuhu zhuan ( Wa­ter Mar­gin).

Dur­ing the Wanli pe­riod (1573–1620) of the Ming Dy­nasty, a book­shop spe­cialised in print­ing plays and nov­els printed Wa­ter Mar­gin in Hangzhou for the first time, hence the Rongyu­tang edi­tion of Wa­ter Mar­gin. After that, many book­shops be­gan pub­lish­ing this mas­ter­piece, mak­ing it known to all, es­pe­cially the story about how Song Jiang kills Yan Poxi.

In the story, after learn­ing about Chao Gai, Wu Yong and other peo­ple tak­ing birth­day presents of an of­fi­cial by strat­egy, the gov­ern­ment dis­patches troops to ar­rest them. At that time, Song Jiang, an of­fi­cial of Yuncheng County, sends a se­cret mes­sage to Chao Gai re­gard­ing their sit­u­a­tion. There­fore, Chao and his men went to Liang­shan to elude the troops. Then the chief of Jizhou Pre­fec­ture sends troops to at­tack Liang­shan, but is de­feated by Chao and his men, as­ton­ish­ing the royal court. There­fore, the court sends a new pre­fec­ture chief to sup­press Liang­shan and in­forms each county to ar­rest Chao and his men. When Song Jiang gets the or­der from the court, he feels wor­ried at the thought of Chao killing the sol­diers. He orders his sec­re­tary Zhang Wenyuan to in­form each town­ship of the or­der from the royal court, then goes on a soli­tary walk.

Song runs into the match­maker Wangpo as soon as he goes out­side the county gov­ern­ment. Wangpo points at Yan Poxi and tells Song that Yan and her fam­ily come from Dongjing (present- day Kaifeng in He­nan Province). Yan is a pretty 18-year- old girl and a tal­ented singer. After she and her fam­ily come to Yuncheng County, her fa­ther dies of an ill­ness. Yan can’t af­ford her fa­ther’s fu­neral. Wangpo hopes that Song can help them buy a cof­fin to bury Yan’s fa­ther. Song agrees, and gives Yan half a kilo­gram of sil­ver.

One day, Yan comes to ex­press her thanks to Song, and finds out that Song is still sin­gle, so she asks Wangpo to make a match for them. Song re­fuses to the match at the be­gin­ning, but is later per­suaded by Wangpo. After that, Song buys a res­i­dence in the county and some fur­ni­ture, and has Yan and her mother set­tle down there. At first, Song and Yan sleep to­gether each night, but he doesn’t go there fre­quently later some­how.

An­other day, Song and his sec­re­tary Zhang Wenyuan come to the res­i­dence to eat a meal. How­ever, Zhang and Yan ex­change flir­ta­tious glances with each other. When Song isn’t in, Zhang goes to the

res­i­dence again to have il­licit in­ter­course with Yan in se­cret.

Song learns about their re­la­tion­ship, but doesn’t pay much at­ten­tion to it, as he thinks that Yan isn’t his lov­ing wife ar­ranged by his par­ents. He doesn’t go to see Yan for a few months. One evening, Liu Tang, one of Chao Gai’s men, comes to Yuncheng to visit Song with a let­ter and five kilo­grams of gold for grat­i­tude. How­ever, Song keeps the let­ter and one gold bar, and puts them in his waist bag. After see­ing Liu off, Song goes back home. At that time, Yan urges Song to stay at the res­i­dence, and Song agrees.

After drink­ing liquor at home, Song and Yan have noth­ing to say to each other. At around 10 p. m., Yan goes to bed and lies down. Song, even un­happy, also goes to the same bed after tak­ing off his coat and belt, and plac­ing his bag and knife by the bed­side.

At around 4 a. m., Song gets up and walks out­side. He soon re­alises that he leaves his waist bag at his home, so he goes back to fetch it. How­ever, Yan has al­ready found the let­ter and gold bar in Song’s bag, and threat­ens Song that she will in­form the royal court. Song gets an­gry, and threat­ens her with a knife to shut her up. Yan screams, “Help, Song’s killing me!” When Yan screams again, Song presses on her with his left hand, and stabs Yan’s throat with the knife in his right hand. In case he fails to kill Yan, Song stabs her again. Yan’s head falls down on the pil­low. The story “Song Jiang kills Yan Poxi” had since spread, be­ing adapted into plays.

Wu­longyuan and Zhou Xin­fang

At the end of the Qing Dy­nasty, the story was adapted into a Pek­ing Opera; Yan Poxi was re­named Yan Xi­jiao, and her res­i­dence was called Wu­longyuan, hence the opera’s ti­tle. The play is a tra­di­tional opera high­light­ing both sheng (male role) and dan (fe­male role), and has been praised as an ex­em­plary Pek­ing Opera.

In the opera, Song Jiang takes

Yan Xi­jiao as his con­cu­bine, and builds Wu­longyuan for her to set­tle down in. How­ever, Yan has il­licit in­ter­course with Zhang Wenyuan. One day, Song comes to Wu­longyuan without know­ing Zhang has al­ready been there. Yan man­ages to hide Zhang from Song. At that time, Song has heard the scan­dal about Yan and Zhang, so they have a dis­pute, and Song leaves Wu­longyuan an­grily, swear­ing that he will never come back to Wu­longyuan. Yan and Zhang plan to be to­gether, so they de­cide to mur­der Song when con­di­tion per­mits.

Chao Gai sends Liu Tang to visit Song with one let­ter and five kilo­grams of gold. When Song en­coun­ters Liu by chance, he hur­ries to ac­cept the let­ter and a gold bar, and puts them in his waist bag. After that, Song urges Liu to re­turn to Liang­shan.

On his way back home, Song runs into Yan who comes to find him. There­fore, Song has to go to Wu­longyuan with Yan. The next morn­ing, Song hur­ries to put on his clothes, and his waist bag drops to the ground when open­ing the door. When Yan wakes up, she finds the let­ter and gold bar. When Song comes back to fetch his bag, Yan ad­mits that she picked it up, and takes the op­por­tu­nity to threaten Song to divorce her and al­low her to marry Zhang. To re­gain the let­ter, Song agrees. How­ever, Yan claims that she will give the let­ter to Song at the county gov­ern­ment after she re­ceives the divorce let­ter. Song has noth­ing to do but kill Yan out of his own safety.

The opera is fas­ci­nat­ing, noted es­pe­cially Song Jiang’s per­for­mance. It is also a reper­toire of Pek­ing Opera artist Zhou Xin­fang and his Qi School. Zhou was born to an artis­tic fam­ily in Cixi, Zhe­jiang Province in 1895. He learned opera per­for­mance from his fa­ther at age 6, made his de­but on­stage and took on the stage name Qil­ing­tong ( seven- yearold boy) at age 7, and learned a lot about both young and old male per­for­mances of the Shang­hai School from Wang Hong­shou ( 1850– 1925, an opera artist). At age 12, he changed his stage name to Qil­in­tong ( kylin boy). Zhou came to Bei­jing in 1863. He joined Xiliancheng Opera Troupe, and per­formed with other opera masters, such as Mei Lan­fang ( 1894– 1961), Lin Shusen ( 1897– 1947) and Gao Baisui ( 1902– 1969). Zhou later re­turned to Shang­hai, and per­formed with Tan Xin­pei ( 1847– 1917), Li Jirui ( 1879– 1938) and Jin Xiushan ( 1855– 1915) with more ma­ture act­ing.

Be­tween 1915 and 1926, Zhou per­formed in dif­fer­ent the­atres in Shang­hai, and re­hearsed sev­eral clas­sic op­eras. He also went to Bei­jing and Tian­jin twice to pro­mote op­eras to north­ern au­di­ences. In 1925, Zhou took the lead in ap­ply­ing dra­matic tech­niques to Pek­ing Opera. Dur­ing the War of Re­sis­tance against Ja­pan ( 1931– 1945), Zhou ac­tively par­tic­i­pated in sal­va­tion ac­tiv­i­ties, and per­formed in pa­tri­otic op­eras to arouse pa­tri­o­tism from au­di­ence mem­bers.

To re­lieve vic­tims, Zhou and some other peo­ple from the cul­tural cir­cle jointly per­formed the drama Thun­der­storm in 1940. Zhou por­trayed Zhou Puyuan, and his per­for­mance has been unan­i­mously praised by the press. In 1943, Zhou was elected pres­i­dent of Shang­hai Per­form­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, and sup­ported Pek­ing Oper­arelated ac­tiv­i­ties, such as sup­port­ing the progress of Pek­ing Opera and or­gan­is­ing sa­lons for artists. In 1944, Zhou took over the Grand Golden The­atre as di­rec­tor. After the vic­tory of the War of Re­sis­tance against Ja­pan, the the­atre be­came a meet­ing place for pro­gres­sives from lit­er­ary and art cir­cles. After the found­ing of the Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of China in 1949, Zhou cre­ated and per­formed new plays, in­clud­ing Hai Rui shanghsu (“Hai Rui’s Ex­pos­tu­la­tion to the Em­peror”). In 1952, he par­tic­i­pated in the 1st Na­tional Drama Watch­ing and Per­for­mance Con­fer­ence, and was awarded for his per­for­mance in Xu Ce paocheng

(“Xu Ce Runs into the Royal Palace”). In 1955 and 1961, the Min­istry of Cul­ture, China Fed­er­a­tion of Lit­er­ary and Art Cir­cles and China The­atre As­so­ci­a­tion jointly or­gan­ised per­for­mances to cel­e­brate the 50th an­niver­sary of Mei Lan­fang’s and Zhou Xin­fang’s act­ing ca­reer, and the 60th an­niver­sary of Zhou Xin­fang’s per­form­ing ca­reer re­spec­tively.

The Pek­ing Opera Wu­longyuan is Zhou’s

most rep­re­sen­ta­tive play. As early as 1920, Zhou per­formed in Quan­ben Wu­longyuan (“the full-length edi­tion of Wu­longyuan”) at Shang­hai Dan­gui Diy­i­tai The­atre, and cre­ated Liu Tang xi­ashu (“Liu Tang Sends the Let­ter”) aside from Nao yuan (“Creat­ing a Tremen­dous Up­roar in Wu­longyuan”) and Sha Xi (“Killing Yan Poxi”). The cli­max of the opera is Song Jiang killing Yan Poxi. The scene when Song Jiang gets in­tol­er­a­ble and combative with a sweat­ing face has be­come a clas­sic one on the stage. After the found­ing of the Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of China, Zhou adapted Wu­longyuan again to high­light Liu Tang xi­ashu, show­cas­ing Song’s sym­pa­thy for Chao Gai and his men, and fore­shad­ow­ing Song’s mur­der of Yan. Tal­ented at both sing­ing and act­ing, Zhou left many clas­sic per­for­mances that won uni­ver­sal praise. Li­u­tang xi­ashu and Zuolou sha Xi (“Killing Yan Poxin in the Build­ing”) were in­cluded in the colour film Zhou Xin­fang’s Stage Art shot in 1961.

A Unique Per­form­ing Style

Aside from Pek­ing Opera Wu­longyuan, Zhou’s reper­toires also in­clude Xu Ce paocheng, Xiao He yuexia zhui Han Xin

(“Xiao He Chases Han Xin un­der the Moon) and Dong Xiaowan. In terms of sing­ing, Zhou learned from Tan Xin­pei, Sun Jux­ian ( 1841– 1931), Wang Guifen ( 1860– 1906) and other opera masters, per­formed with prom­i­nent fel­low artists, achieved mas­tery through com­pre­hen­sive study, and cre­ated his own style.

Zhou had a hoarse but deep voice, which helped shape the Qi School’s ma­jor fea­ture. His sing­ing was sim­i­lar to spo­ken lan­guage, lively yet sim­ple. He paid at­ten­tion to act­ing, and strove to demon­strate the char­ac­ter’s per­son­al­i­ties through sing­ing, speak­ing, act­ing and ac­ro­batic fight­ing. He also made good use of ar­ti­fi­cial whiskers, gar­ments and props to shape the char­ac­ter. No mat­ter which char­ac­ter Zhou por­trayed, he was a nat­u­ral on­stage, mak­ing each of his ac­tions, ges­tures, moves, winks and fa­cial ex­pres­sions fit into the story’s con­text. For ex­am­ple, the way he pushed and pulled a knife in and out of Yan Poxi was ex­clu­sive to Song Jiang in the Pek­ing Opera Wu­longyuan.

Zhou’s per­for­mance not only ex­pressed tra­di­tional Pek­ing Opera, but ab­sorbed the per­form­ing styles of lo­cal opera, film and drama to fur­ther in­no­vate it. All this con­trib­uted to Zhou’s sta­tus as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Shang­hai School of Pek­ing Opera. Fea­tur­ing a bleak yet vig­or­ous sing­ing, Zhou ex­celled at ex­press­ing emo­tions. The sing­ing of the Qi School has its own pat­tern and re­flects real life, creat­ing a strong rhythm and on­stage pres­ence.

In Wu­longyuan, Song Jiang’s at­ti­tude to­wards Yan Xi­jiao changes from pity, in­dul­gence, and tol­er­ance to anger after learn­ing of Yan’s dis­loy­alty and threats. Though Song has mixed feel­ings in the play, the Qi School suc­ceeded in por­tray­ing the story in vivid de­tail. After Song kills Yan in de­spair, his panic-stricken look was rep­re­sented well by Zhou Xin­fang.

Zhou’s per­for­mance of Song Jiang in Wu­longyuan has be­come an on­stage clas­sic, noted for his sweat­ing face. The Qi School cre­ated by him has also con­trib­uted to Pek­ing Opera, turn­ing a bril­liant page in the his­tory of Chi­nese drama.

Song Jiang (left) and Yan Poxi in the Pek­ing Opera Wu­longyuan

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