Show at re­built tem­ple site brings his­tory to life

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By XULIN in Nan­jing xulin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

The Porce­lain Pagoda in Nan­jing, Jiangsu prov­ince, was first known to the Western world for its gor­geous col­or­ful glaze in the 19th cen­tury. Then, ev­ery night, 140 lamps were lit for il­lu­mi­na­tion.

Now, it’s re­mark­ably dif­fer­ent when you visit the re­built tower in the Great Bao’en Tem­ple at night, when it turns into a nat­u­ral stage with the shin­ing pagoda as the back­drop.

Two stages rise from the ground as per­form­ers dance, with pro­jec­tions of im­ages such as run­ning horses on the pagoda’s sur­face, which is ac­tu­ally a screen.

The 70-minute show Rev­er­ies of the Porce­lain Pagoda made its de­but in early Oc­to­ber and it will run through Nov 15. It de­picts three sto­ries re­lated to the pagoda with the theme of bao’en, which means re­pay­ing a debt of grat­i­tude.

The sto­ries fea­tured cover the Ming Dy­nasty (13681644) em­peror Yon­gle’s fil­ial af­fec­tion for his mother; Tang Dy­nasty (618-907) monk Xuan­zang’s ad­ven­tures when he trav­eled from China to In­dia to col­lect su­tras and how Sid­dhartha Gau­tama be­came the Bud­dha.

Nan­jing citizens over the age of 50 can watch the show for free if they bring their chil­dren, who must pay for their own tick­ets.

“It’s the first real scenery show at a his­tor­i­cal site mu­seum. The spirit of bao’en is a tra­di­tional Chi­nese value that we should pro­mote,” says Mei Shuaiyuan, the show’s chief di­rec­tor. He is also the chair­man of Scenery Cul­ture Co, Ltd based in Bei­jing.

A pi­o­neer of China’s shi­jing yanchu, or real-scenery shows, Mei has staged 17 such shows that com­bine real scenery such as moun­tains and rivers and lo­cal cul­ture.

“Such shows are about Chi­nese phi­los­o­phy — the har­mony be­tween hu­man be­ings and na­ture. The best cul­ture makes a per­fect match with the pret­ti­est scenery,” he says.

In the early Ming Dy­nasty, Em­peror Yon­gle built the royal tem­ple, in­clud­ing the 78-meter-high pagoda in­side it, in mem­ory of his mother.

Word of its beauty then spread to the Western world in the 19th cen­tury af­ter overseas trav­el­ers vis­ited it and vividly de­scribed it in their writ­ings.

In 1839, the au­thor Hans Chris­tian An­der­sen men­tioned the Porce­lain Pagoda in China in his fairy tale The Gar­den of Par­adise.

De­stroyed dur­ing the Taip­ing Re­bel­lion (1850-64), the iconic pagoda was re­opened to the pub­lic last De­cem­ber af­ter years of restora­tion.

In 2010, prop­erty ty­coon Wang Jian­lin do­nated 1 bil­lion yuan ($148 mil­lion) to re­build the tem­ple.

Pre­cious Bud­dhist relics have been en­shrined in the Great Bao’en Tem­ple dur­ing its long his­tory, in­clud­ing monk Xuan­zang’s skull sarira. In 2008, arche­ol­o­gists claimed a piece of skull sarira of Sid­dhartha Gau­tama was un­earthed in the tem­ple.

“It feels amaz­ing to watch sto­ries that ac­tu­ally hap­pened here sev­eral hun­dred years ago, es­pe­cially as the place is now a ru­ins mu­seum where you can wor­ship cul­tural ar­ti­facts,” Mei says.

“We will have about 300 per­for­mances next year.”

Bei­jinger Wang Ying, 29, who has watched a per­for­mance at the site, says: “It’s fan­tas­tic to watch a show at such a his­tor­i­cal site and learn about its his­tory. The per­form­ers are also very pro­fes­sional.”

Mei says while he has so far used the moun­tains and the rivers as back­grounds for large-scale per­for­mances, this time he used more of the sur­round­ing tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­ture, col­or­ful light­ing and ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy.

“The mar­ket for tourism per­for­mances in China is boom­ing,” he says. “Chi­nese tourists now en­joy night ac­tiv­i­ties and they are also start­ing to watch per­for­mances. The govern­ment also at­taches im­por­tance to this.”

Mean­while, Mei re­cently signed con­tracts with Viet­nam and is in ne­go­ti­a­tion with coun­tries such as Italy and Greece to pro­duce real scenery shows for them.

PHOTOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

The 70-minute show Rev­er­iesoft­hePorce­lainPagoda de­picts three sto­ries re­lated to the pagoda with the theme of re­pay­ing a debt of grat­i­tude.

The show is set in front of the Porce­lain Pagoda in the Great Bao’en Tem­ple.

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