A Mor­tal Case Caused by a Jade Bracelet

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Cui Hao Edited by Mark Zuiderveld Pho­tos by Mao Yu

Fa­mensi (“Fa­men Tem­ple”), a well-known clas­sic Pek­ing Opera, has been per­formed for over two hun­dred years since the birth of Pek­ing Opera.

Fa­mensi (“Fa­men Tem­ple”), a well­known clas­sic Pek­ing Opera, has been played con­stantly for over two hun­dred years since Pek­ing Opera be­gan, and never fails to im­press au­di­ences. Since the end of Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911), Pek­ing Opera artists such as Cheng Changgeng (1811–1880), Yang Yuelou (1844–1889), Sun Jux­ian (1841–1931), Tan Xin­pei (1847–1917) and Ma Lian­liang (1901–1966) have per­formed the play fre­quently on­stage.

“My last name is Liu, my first name is Jin and my cour­tesy name is Chun­hua. I was born in Yan'an Pre­fec­ture, Shaanxi. At age seven, I was cas­trated and en­tered the im­pe­rial palace two years later. I be­gan to serve the for­mer em­peror when I was thir­teen years old. Af­ter his death, I helped Em­peror Zhengde as­cend the throne.” This was Liu Jin (a painted-face role called xi­ao­hualian) who re­cited his lines. The play went on to re­veal how he judged the mur­der case fairly but un­in­ten­tion­ally.

A Case of In­jus­tice

Dur­ing his reign, Em­peror Xiao­zong (1488– 1506) of the Ming Dy­nasty (1368–1644) placed eu­nuchs in im­por­tant po­si­tions and or­dered the eu­nuch Liu Jin (1451–1510) to as­sist the crown prince Zhu Houzhao (Em­peror Wu­zong, reign: 1506–1522). Liu Jin made ev­ery at­tempt to flat­ter the crown prince, and was val­ued highly. When the crown prince as­cended the throne, he changed the era name to Zhengde. Ap­pre­ci­at­ing the ser­vices Liu Jin made in the old days, the em­peror put Liu Jin in a po­si­tion of chief, mak­ing him the most pow­er­ful eu­nuch at that time. Liu Jin was from the area of Xing­ping, a county in Shaanxi.

Favoured by the em­peror, Liu Jin as well as seven other eu­nuchs like Ma Yongcheng formed the “Eight Tigers” with Liu Jin as chief. With great power in hand, Liu Jin be­gan ac­cu­mu­lat­ing wealth. On one oc­ca­sion where an of­fi­cer got pro­mo­tion, Liu Jin asked him for “cel­e­bra­tion money,” but his de­mand failed to be ful­filled. He dis­missed the of­fi­cial im­me­di­ately. At that time, of­fi­cial Liu Yu took on the po­si­tion of gover­nor. He bribed Liu Jin with 10,000 taels of gold and of­fered him tens of thou­sands of sil­ver later on, and he fi­nally ad­vanced to Min­is­ter of the Board of War. Liu Jin's ex­clu­sive right ir­ri­tated Li Mengyang (1473–1530), one of the “Ear­lier Seven Masters.”

In 1506, Li Mengyang pre­sented a pe­ti­tion to the em­peror ask­ing the court to re­move the “Eight Tigers” from po­si­tions for the crimes they made to “elim­i­nate po­ten­tial threats and make the coun­try pros­per.” How­ever, Em­peror Wu­zong ig­nored the pe­ti­tion, which gave Liu Jin the op­por­tu­nity to pun­ish Li Mengyang and send him to jail. Be­hind bars, Li Mengyang wrote mes­sages to his friend Kang Hai (1475–1540) for help. Kang Hai was right­eous, de­spised power and wealth, and was fa­mous for po­etry and drama.

Af­ter Li Mengyang was im­pris­oned, Kang Hai had to brace him­self to visit Liu Jin. Learn­ing of Kang Hai's ar­rival, Liu Jin hur­ried out to greet him and hon­oured him as a dis­tin­guished guest. Kang Hai in­ter­ceded for Li Mengyang, whom Liu Jin agreed to re­lease out of re­gard for Kang Hai. In 1510, Liu Jin was ex­e­cuted by the court. Kang Hai was listed as his par­ti­san due to for­mer ac­quain­tance. At that time, the re­in­stated Li Mengyang framed Kang Hai for as­so­ci­a­tion with Liu Jin for self-pro­tec­tion, which hurt Kang Hai. Since then, Kang Hai “with­drew from civil ser­vice, aban­doned him­self to na­ture, gath­ered a wide range of ac­tors, cre­ated songs and bal­lads, directed the mu­sic and cos­tumes, played pipa

(a four-stringed Chi­nese mu­si­cal in­stru­ment) him­self and es­tab­lished a the­atri­cal troupe” called the “Kang Troupe,” be­com­ing the ear­li­est troupe of Shaanxi Opera. Kang Hai also wrote Liu Jin into his play be­cause he came from the same place with Liu Jin.

As Pek­ing Opera grew in pop­u­lar­ity af­ter the mid-qing Dy­nasty, Liu Jin be­gan to ap­pear on­stage. He be­came best known for the play Fa­men Tem­ple. Dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Xiao­zong of the Ming Dy­nasty, Song Gu­oshi, who passed the im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tion at the county level, sent his son Song Xing'er to the fam­ily of Con­sta­ble Liu Gong­dao to work as a farm­hand due to his bit­ter poverty, and be­trothed his daugh­ter to Fu Peng, the hered­i­tary com­man­der in Shaanxi, but with­out a wed­ding cer­e­mony.

One day, Fu Peng en­coun­tered Sun Yu­jiao when com­ing to Sun­ji­azhuang and fell in love with her at first sight. He left the jade bracelet on pur­pose, later picked up by Sun Yu­jiao. He didn't ex­pect that Match­maker Liu dis­cov­ered his se­cret. The greedy Liu took one of Sun Yu­jiao's em­broi­dered shoes, in­tend­ing to act as match­maker for her and Fu Peng, but the shoe was stolen by her son Liu Biao, a no­to­ri­ous vil­lain. He used the shoe to black­mail Fu Peng. The con­sta­ble Liu Gong­dao tried to per­suade him, but Liu Biao re­fused to make up. That night, Liu Biao went to find Sun

Yu­jiao, but mis­tak­enly killed Sun Yu­jiao's aunt and un­cle. He at­trib­uted the mur­der to Liu Gong­dao by leav­ing the head of Sun Yu­jiao's aunt in Liu's yard.

Fright­ened, Liu Gong­dao or­dered Song Xing'er to bury the head. But Liu Gong­dao was wor­ried about leaks, so he ended up killing Song Xing'er and bury­ing him along with the head in a cinnabar well. Sun Yu­jiao's fam­ily re­ported the case to the court. Zhao Lian, the mag­is­trate of Meiwu County, en­quired about Sun Yu­jiao's bracelet and Sun told him the truth. Zhao Lian put Fu Peng and Sun Yu­jiao in prison. How­ever, there was still no in­di­ca­tion of the where­abouts of the head of Sun Yu­jiao's aunt. Zhao Lian ar­ranged a meet­ing for Fu Peng and Sun Yu­jiao and or­dered his as­sis­tant to eaves­drop on their con­ver­sa­tion, which made him re­alise that he mis­judged the case and gave rise to much be­wil­der­ment.

At that mo­ment, Liu Gong­dao came and re­ported that Song Xing'er stole his prop­erty and es­caped, which con­vinced Zhao Lian that Song Xing'er was the mur­derer. Zhao Lian or­dered to have Song Gu­oshi and Song Qiao­jiao ar­rested that night and com­manded them to hand over Song Xing'er. Song Qiao­jiao didn't be­lieve that her young brother would have com­mit­ted such a crime and ques­tioned Zhao Lian in court. Un­able to an­swer, Zhao Lian im­pris­oned Song Qiao­jiao on a charge of chal­leng­ing the of­fi­cer. In prison, Song Qiao­jiao met Sun Yu­jiao and ev­ery­thing be­came clear. Song Gu­oshi ran­somed Song Qiao­jiao with the money the Fu fam­ily was granted. In or­der to gain her father's jus­tice, Song Qiao­jiao cried out her griev­ance on the same path where Liu Jin ac­com­pa­nied the em­press dowa­ger to Fa­men Tem­ple to of­fer in­cense.

Song Qiao­jiao elab­o­rated on the whole in­ci­dent in the Bud­dhist hall. Liu Jin de­cided on a whim to or­der Zhao Lian to re­view the case, sup­ported by the em­press dowa­ger. Zhao Lian fi­nally told the truth, ar­rested

Liu Gong­dao and Liu Biao and re­viewed the case. At last, Liu Biao and Liu Gong­dao were con­demned to be be­headed while Match­maker Liu re­ceived 30 whips of the rod. The em­press dowa­ger also promised Sun Yu­jiao and Song Qiao­jiao to Fu Peng. This story was staged by play­wrights for a long time.

Masters in Clas­sics

The adap­ta­tion of Fa­men Tem­ple into Pek­ing Opera gained pop­u­lar­ity. In ad­di­tion to Pek­ing Opera, Fa­men Tem­ple has been in­cluded in Shanxi, Shaanxi, Hu­nan, Han, Sichuan, An­hui, He­nan and He­bei op­eras. In 1845 dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty, Yang Jingt­ing from Tongzhou, Bei­jing com­piled the book Du­men Jilue (de­scrib­ing the cus­toms and op­eras of Bei­jing) which in­tro­duced the scenery and cus­toms of Bei­jing and many clas­sic plays in­clud­ing Pek­ing Opera— Fa­men Tem­ple, the ear­li­est found record. The book also gave an ac­count of twenty-six per­form­ers of laosheng from eight troupes at that time. At the end of the Qing Dy­nasty, Fa­men Tem­ple be­came one of Em­press Dowa­ger Cixi's favourite plays.

The com­plete Pek­ing Opera Fa­men Tem­ple is a ma­jor one, con­sist­ing of a se­ries of acts such as “Pick­ing up the Jade Bracelet,” “The Cinnabar Well” and “Meiwu County,” which can be per­formed sep­a­rately. The play fea­tures nu­mer­ous char­ac­ters, com­plete roles and rich and dis­tinct per­son­al­i­ties, turn­ing out to be a clas­sic among tra­di­tional plays. As a rare en­sem­ble cast, the play stresses im­por­tance to singing, orat­ing, and act­ing, each with its own fo­cus. The older gen­er­a­tion of Pek­ing Opera masters such as Tan Xin­pei, Qiu Shen­grong (1915–1971), Yuan Shi­hai (1916–2002), Tong Zhiling (1922–1995) and Yan Ju­peng (1890–1942) all tried out for the play, proof of its pop­u­lar­ity and in­flu­ence.

Fa­men Tem­ple be­came a no­table play with char­ac­ters and roles due to ef­forts made by sev­eral gen­er­a­tions of per­form­ing artists. The video ver­sion of Fa­men Tem­ple that en­joyed wide pop­u­lar­ity was the one made in 1950 star­ring Yang Baosen (1909–1958), Wang Quankui (1911–1987), Zhang Jun­qiu (1920–1997) and Zhan Shifu (1919–1968).

In 1951, the au­dio ver­sion played by Tan Xiaopei (1883–1953), Hao Shouchen, Hua Huilin (1913–1964) and Xiao Changhua was re­leased. The most fa­mous au­dio ver­sion was recorded by Ma Lian­liang, Qiu Shen­grong, Zhang Jun­qiu and Xiao Changhua in 1958. Ma Lian­liang, Qiu Shen­grong and Zhang Jun­qiu at their artis­tic peak put on an im­pres­sive per­for­mance in such an en­sem­ble cast where all roles known as sheng (main male role), dan (fe­male role), jing (painted-face role) and chou (clown role) demon­strated their skills.

The char­ac­ter Zhao Lian played by Ma Lian­liang gave a full play to the style of “Ma School.” Qiu Shen­grong, the top artist that played painted-face roles ( jing), took the role of Liu Jin, a painted-face eu­nuch. The spo­ken

part re­vealed his solid foun­da­tion. He didn't wear whiskers as Liu Jin was an in­flu­en­tial eu­nuch, but he painted his mouth and face red to in­di­cate Liu Jin's rough char­ac­ter­is­tics and com­pelling power.

Zhang Jun­qiu, founder of the “Zhang School,” played the role of Song Qiao­jiao and set a high stan­dard in both singing and ora­tion. His com­plaints about the in­jus­tices her brother suf­fered were ac­com­pa­nied with clear enun­ci­a­tion brought an artis­tic en­ter­tain­ment to the au­di­ence. Zhang Jun­qiu's per­for­mance out­shined his con­tem­po­raries.

The most mem­o­rable char­ac­ter was Jia Gui, played by clown per­fomer Xiao Changhua, whose per­for­mance set the high­est stan­dard for lit­tle painted-face roles of xi­ao­hualian in Pek­ing Opera while Jia Gui be­came the pro­to­typ­i­cal syco­phant in tra­di­tional Chi­nese op­eras. Sup­port­ing roles such as Match­maker Liu played by Zhao Liqiu, Liu Gong­dao played by Ma Fulu (1900– 1969), Liu Biao played by Zhang Hongx­i­ang (1916–2007), Song Gu­oshi played by Ma Shen­g­long, the em­press dowa­ger played by Geng Shi­hua, Sun Yu­jiao played by Ma Yan­fen and Fu Peng played by Ru Fuhua all gave out­stand­ing per­for­mances.

Re­view­ing the Case

The Pek­ing Opera Fa­men Tem­ple fea­tured a tense pace of plot and comic tone, which proved suc­cess­ful over the last cen­tury. Although the play was about a court case, it was full of hu­mour and sar­casm. The four char­ac­ters in the play be­came well known. Zhao Lian who at­tained the po­si­tion of county mag­is­trate by pass­ing the im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tion was a care­less of­fi­cer but adept at bribery, sur­viv­ing pun­ish­ment. De­spite be­ing ig­no­rant, Liu Jin acted ar­bi­trar­ily and judged cases on oc­ca­sion. Song Qiao­jiao still came to the res­cue of her fi­ancé even though he com­mit­ted a crime due to an­other woman. Jia Gui took ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to please the of­fi­cers and even asked the county mag­is­trate for bribes. The four char­ac­ters left an un­for­get­table im­pres­sion on au­di­ences and be­came a le­gendary clas­sic.

“Pick­ing up the Jade Bracelet” is the first act of the play, in­cor­po­rat­ing huadan, xi­aosheng and choudan roles. Due to its loose con­nec­tion with the fol­low­ing, it formed a sep­a­rate act favoured by the au­di­ence. The high­light of the play be­gan with the em­press dowa­ger of­fer­ing in­cense to Bud­dha.

Though Fa­men Tem­ple in­cluded the whole roles of Pek­ing Opera, the lead­ing role of Liu Jin wore a red mask which he gained by judg­ing the case fairly in Fa­men Tem­ple. The play had com­plete roles of sheng, dan, jing and chou, and even the sup­port­ing cast gave a great per­for­mance. More­over, the roles of Jing and Chou re­cited their lines plainly. Liu Jin didn't have many lines but spoke them through­out the play, a rare scene in Pek­ing Opera.

Af­ter the em­press dowa­ger gave the or­der to go to Fa­men Tem­ple, Liu Jin and other ret­inues to­gether with the em­press dowa­ger kept still, leav­ing the time for the hon­our guard played by the walk-on roles to sing Yiguan­qian (“mov­ing of an of­fi­cer”) and formed a se­ries of scenes as if walk­ing to Fa­men Tem­ple. The walkon roles sang as they walked in an im­pos­ing man­ner. When the song ended, it im­plied that the pro­ces­sion ar­rived at Fa­men Tem­ple.

It was the unique ex­pres­sion tech­nique of space and time in tra­di­tional opera. Hu­mour used through­out the play of­ten amused the au­di­ence. When Liu Jin es­corted the em­press dowa­ger with the com­pany to Fa­men Tem­ple to pray for im­mor­tal­ity, the folk girl Song Qiao­jiao made a sud­den ap­pear­ance along the way. Liu Jin was an­gry and said, “Where is the lo­cal of­fi­cer? How dare the young girl! Kill her!” Jia Gui im­me­di­ately gave the or­der but was stopped by the em­press dowa­ger.

“It is wrong to kill peo­ple in the Bud­dhist hall,” said the em­press dowa­ger, “Go and see whether she has a plaint form.” Liu Jin obeyed but scolded Jia Gui, “How dare you kill peo­ple in the Bud­dhist hall!” “My fault,” Jia Gui pre­tended to make an apol­ogy. Liu Jin con­tin­ued to ask, “Whose idea is it?” Though still fresh in his mind, Jia Gui replied, “Who knows!” It al­ways made the au­di­ence smile.

When Song Qiao­jiao learned that her fi­ancé had been tor­tured into con­fess­ing to the county mag­is­trate, an idea came to her that no mat­ter what dif­fi­cul­ties came, she would com­plain of the in­jus­tices to the em­press dowa­ger. Af­ter lis­ten­ing to the state­ment in the “Bud­dhist Hall,” the em­press dowa­ger or­dered to re­view the case. Liu Jin played by Qiu Shen­grong, once com­plained, “Who would have ever pre­dicted the case!” Jia Gui added, “How to deal with such an un­ex­pected case!” Liu Jin asked, “How?” Xiao Changhua who played the role of Jia Gui used to re­ply in a di­alect, “It's up to you!”

Liu Jin took it se­ri­ously and en­quired, “Which county does Fa­men Tem­ple be­long to?” “Meiwu County,” an­swered Jia Gui. Liu Jin or­dered, “Call the county mag­is­trate!” The di­a­logue per­formed by Pek­ing Opera masters Qiu Shen­grong and Xiao Changhua placed the im­age of Liu Jin and Jia Gui at an artis­tic peak.

Though Xiao Changhua and Ma Fulu pre­vi­ously per­formed as clowns, they had to play sup­port­ing roles as Ma Lian­laing, Tan Fuy­ing, Zhang Jun­qiu and Qiu Shen­grong. Other sup­port­ing roles were also im­pres­sive, though they never played in lead­ing roles. To­gether they made the clas­sic Fa­men Tem­ple into a mas­ter­piece.

The rebels led by Liu Jin ex­posed him to mor­tal dan­ger. How­ever, the story of his re­view­ing of the case in the Ma­havira Hall was passed down through the years and gained fame as a clas­sic play.

Ling Ke, from the Tian­jin Pek­ing Opera Theatre, play­ing Zhao Lian (the man who kneels) in the Pek­ing Opera Fa­mentem­ple

Liu Shuyun play­ing Sun Yu­jiao in the Pek­ing Opera Pickingupthe­jade­bracelet

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.