Show at rebuilt temple site brings history to life
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.
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.