Two Vas­sal States Con­tend­ing for Hege­mony

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Wang Xiao­hua Edited by Justin Davis

Wu and Yue Con­tend­ing for Hege­mony, a play first staged in 1983, re­views the his­tory of the states of Wu and Yue vy­ing for hege­mony dur­ing the Spring and Au­tumn Pe­riod and de­picts this his­tory from a new per­spec­tive. It por­trays the suf­fer­ing of com­mon peo­ple and com­plex hu­man na­ture.

Dur­ing the Spring and Au­tumn Pe­riod (770–476 BC), vas­sal states con­tended for supremacy. As a re­sult, wars con­tin­u­ously broke out, and peo­ple suf­fered a lot. In that pe­riod, the State of Wu and the State of Yue on the south­east coast fought wars for hege­mony for more than 20 years. Gou­jian, the king of Yue (reign: 496–465 BC), made ar­du­ous prepara­tory mea­sures and even­tu­ally achieved his vengeance. Af­ter years of prepa­ra­tion, he launched a north­ward ex­pe­di­tion against the state of Wu. Fi­nally, Yue con­quered Wu, and the chronic war­fare ended.

In 1981, Bai Hua, a fa­mous play­wright, pro­duced a his­tor­i­cal play en­ti­tled Wuwang jinge Yue­wang jian

( Wu and Yue Con­tend­ing for Hege­mony). Draw­ing on the essence of tra­di­tional scripts, Bai wrote the work with a crit­i­cal eye. It is rich in po­etic flavour. The play re­views the his­tory of Wu and Yue in the Spring and Au­tumn Pe­riod and de­picts their vy­ing for hege­mony from a new per­spec­tive. Dif­fer­ent from tra­di­tional nar­ra­tives about Gou­jian an­nex­ing the State of Wu, the play is closer to the his­tor­i­cal facts and is char­ac­terised by ex­quis­ite de­tail. The play por­trays the suf­fer­ing of com­mon peo­ple and com­plex hu­man na­ture. It de­buted in 1983.

En­dur­ing Hard­ship to Con­quer the State of Wu

Dur­ing the Spring and Au­tumn Pe­riod, af­ter Duke Huan of Qi (reign: 685–643 BC) achieved hege­mony, the States of Jin and Chu rose in suc­ces­sion and tried to seize con­trol of the Cen­tral Plains. Around the mid­point of the Spring and Au­tumn Pe­riod, Jin and Chu be­came the two most pow­er­ful vas­sal states. The State of Wu and the State of Yue, sit­u­ated in China's south­east­ern coastal area, were very back­ward at the time, and their peo­ple were viewed as bar­bar­ians. Duke Jing of Jin (reign: 599–581 BC), fol­low­ing the ad­vice of Shen­gong Wuchen, propped up the State of Wu and en­cour­aged them to turn against the State of Chu. Wu then sent armed forces to at­tack small states that were af­fil­i­ated to Chu. Chu be­came weighed down pro­tect­ing af­fil­i­ated states, and the king of Chu suf­fered in­tensely. To re­lieve the threat of Wu, he united the State of Yue to con­strain Wu. As a re­sult, propped up by Jin and Chu re­spec­tively, Wu and Yue de­vel­oped rapidly and be­came mor­tal ene­mies.

In 496 BC, Yun­chang, the king of Yue, died and his son Gou­jian suc­ceeded to the throne. He Lü, the king of Wu (reign: 514–496 BC), took the op­por­tu­nity to at­tack Yue, but was de­feated and his toes were chopped off by the Yue army. Wu's troops re­treated in de­feat and He Lü died. So, He Lü's son, Fuchai (reign: 495– 473 BC), suc­ceeded to the throne. When He Lü ap­proached his end, he or­dered Fuchai to avenge him.

Af­ter re­turn­ing to his state, Fuchai con­ducted drills with his troops ev­ery day. Two years later, Gou­jian learned that Fuchai trained his troops day and night and was pre­par­ing to get re­venge. Gou­jian de­cided to strike first. His se­nior of­fi­cial, Fan Li, ad­mon­ished him, but Gou­jian was de­ter­mined. Gou­jian led his army to at­tack Wu. Hear­ing the news, Fuchai mo­bilised his troops to meet the en­emy head on. The two armies met each other at Fu­jiao (to­day's Wux­ian County, Jiangsu Prov­ince). Gou­jian's army was ut­terly de­feated. Gou­jian fled to Kuaiji Moun­tain with his troops. Only 5,000 Yue war­riors sur­vived. Wu's army pur­sued them re­lent­lessly and even­tu­ally sur­rounded them tightly on the moun­tain. Wen Zhong (de­ceased in 472 BC) and Fan Li, two se­nior of­fi­cials un­der Gou­jian, per­suaded him to bear the hu­mil­i­a­tion of sur­ren­der so they could sur­vive. They also bribed Bo Pi (die in 473 BC), a favoured min­is­ter of Fuchai, to try to get him to ini­ti­ate peace. Wu Zixu (de­ceased in 484 BC), prime min­is­ter of Wu, was op­posed to Gou­jian's re­quest, and ad­vised the king of Wu to kill Gou­jian so as to re­move the cause of fu­ture prob­lems. Bo Pi, who was ea­ger to ob­tain Gou­jian's money and was jeal­ous of Wu Zixu's mer­its, spared no ef­forts in in­cit­ing Fuchai to ac­cept Gou­jian's re­quest. Fuchai agreed to live in peace with the State of Yue on the con­di­tion that Yue must ac­knowl­edge al­le­giance to Wu and that Gou­jian serve as a slave in Wu for three years.

There­fore, ac­com­pa­nied by Fan Li, Gou­jian went to the State of Wu and worked as a horse keeper. Ev­ery day, Gou­jian fed horses and cleaned car­riages in prepa­ra­tion for hunt­ing ac­tiv­i­ties led by the king of Wu. At night, he lodged in a stone house and held vigil at the tomb of He Lü, hop­ing to go back to his moth­er­land some­day. Three years later, Gou­jian and his fol­low­ers were al­lowed to re­turn to their

na­tive state. He slept on a wood­pile and ate gall blad­der to keep his hu­mil­i­a­tion in mind and re­mind him­self to take re­venge. Fan Li for­mu­lated a set of poli­cies to pro­tect the cit­i­zens and make the state rich and strong. Gou­jian per­son­ally worked on cul­ti­vat­ing land, and his wife wove clothes. He was cour­te­ous to the wise, aided the poor and com­forted and com­pen­sated be­reaved fam­i­lies. The gen­eral pop­u­la­tion came to love him, and the State of Yue be­came richer and stronger.

In 482 BC, the State of Wu fin­ished build­ing a canal, con­nect­ing the Yishui River in the north with the Jishui River in the west. They con­verged at Huangchi (to­day's Fengqiu, He­nan). Fuchai told the feu­dal princes in the Cen­tral Plains to meet at Huangchi. At the gath­er­ing, Wu and Jin vied with each other to be the leader of the al­liance. Wu ended up gain­ing the up­per hand. The meet­ing at Huangchi helped Wu re­alise its goal of seek­ing north­ward hege­mony but also ended up mark­ing the be­gin­ning of the end of its em­pire.

When Fuchai was at­tend­ing the meet­ing, Gou­jian led his troops to at­tack the cap­i­tal of Wu. As a re­sult, the crown prince of Wu was cap­tured. Fuchai im­me­di­ately with­drew his troops back to his state when he heard about this de­vel­op­ment. Af­ter their long jour­ney, the Wu war­riors were so ex­hausted that they could not resist the at­tack. Fuchai ended up send­ing Bo Pi to Yue with lav­ish gifts in an at­tempt for peace. Gou­jian knew that Wu, though de­feated, was still strong and that he could not an­nex it at the mo­ment, so he agreed to make peace with Wu. There­fore, the Yue troops with­drew from Wu.

Four years later, Yue at­tacked Wu once again. The Yue troops won three suc­ces­sive battles, strik­ing a heavy blow to Wu. In 475 BC, Yue went on a puni­tive ex­pe­di­tion against Wu. Yue seized Wu's cap­i­tal and be­sieged its palace Gusu Tai. The Yue army be­sieged the State of Wu for three years. The Wu troops were seized with such a panic that they fled in great disor­der. Fuchai ended up killing him­self with his own sword. Gou­jian an­nexed the State of Wu and be­came the last hege­mon of the Spring and Au­tumn Pe­riod.

Cast­ing Mer­i­to­ri­ous Min­is­ters aside af­ter the Tri­umphant Re­turn

The his­tor­i­cal drama Wuwang Jinge Yue­wang Jian con­sists of seven main scenes. Its au­thor, Bai Hua, is a cel­e­brated play­wright and poet, who has writ­ten po­etry, prose and nov­els since mid­dle school. In 1961, he was trans­ferred to the Shang­hai Haiyan Film Stu­dio, where he worked as a scriptwriter. In 1964, he worked as a scriptwriter for the Modern Drama Troupe in the Wuhan Mil­i­tary Re­gion. His mas­ter­works in­clude Mama Ya Mama !

( Mother, Mother!) and Ai, Ninggu Zai Xinli ( Love, So­lid­i­fied in the Heart). Wuwang Jinge Yue­wang Jian is a his­tor­i­cal stage play, di­rected by Lan Tianye and star­ring Lü Qi, Zheng Rong, Xiu Zongdi, Tong Di and Guo Ji­aqing.

In the play, Fuchai is de­ter­mined to avenge his fa­ther He Lü, who was killed by the king of Yue, Gou­jian. Fuchai led his troops to at­tack Yue and de­feated Yue's troops. Gou­jian begged to sur­ren­der to the king of Wu, who, in­cited by Bo Pi, a se­nior min­is­ter of Wu, ac­cepted Yue's sur­ren­der. Gou­jian, to­gether with his queen and his coun­sel­lor Fan Li, went to Wu, where they worked as slaves. Gou­jian fed horses for the king of Wu and won the lat­ter's trust. Three years later, the king of Wu, set­ting aside the dis­sua­sion of Wu Zixu, al­lowed Gou­jian and his fol­low­ers to go back to Yue.

Back in his ter­ri­tory, Gou­jian was con­stantly fo­cused on aveng­ing his in­sult. He adopted the sug­ges­tions of Wen Zhong and Fan Li, his two coun­sel­lors, and for­mu­lated strate­gies for re­ju­ve­nat­ing his state. Gou­jian wore sim­ple gowns and ate sim­ple meals and ob­served the con­di­tions that the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion were liv­ing and work­ing in. He won the sup­port of his peo­ple and brought about unity through­out the state. The peo­ple of Yue were de­ter­mined to hit back at the State of Wu. Se­nior Min­is­ter Wen Zhong of­fered ad­vice to weaken the State of Wu though. He had a plan to bribe Bo Pi with a large sum of money to sow dis­cord be­tween the king of Wu and his ad­viser Wu Zixu, make ac­tive prepa­ra­tions for war and wait for an op­por­tu­nity to wipe out the State of Wu and cor­rupt Fuchai with se­duc­tive women.

Fan Li paid a per­sonal visit to Zhu­luo Vil­lage (in to­day's Zhuji City,

Zhe­jiang Prov­ince) in or­der to look for women to ma­nip­u­late Fuchai. He met Xi Shi, a beau­ti­ful woman who was in­volved with silk. Fan Li ex­plained the sit­u­a­tion to Xi Shi. Greatly moved, she wanted to help avenge the in­sult im­posed by Wu. Gou­jian was en­tranced by her beauty. Fan Li made a prompt de­ci­sion to send Xi Shi to Wu. Fan Li also re­minded Gou­jian of the great cause of re­ju­ve­nat­ing the State of Yue. For­tu­nately, Gou­jian came to his senses and re­turned to his mis­sion of en­rich­ing his state and in­creas­ing his mil­i­tary force. Sev­eral years later, Gou­jian took a mass pledge and raised an army to sup­press the State of Wu. The com­mon peo­ple swarmed to the river­bank to see their king and the troops off. An old vil­lager sent his sec­ond son to the army. This young man was named Zhonggeng. The old man pro­posed a toast to Gou­jian's troops and wished them a vic­tory. Gou­jian poured the wine into the river, drank the river wa­ter to­gether with his war­riors and crossed the river to be­gin their east­ward march.

Af­ter three years of fierce battles, Yue even­tu­ally seized Gusu (to­day's Suzhou), cap­i­tal of Wu. Fuchai com­mit­ted suicide by cut­ting his own throat on Gusu Tai. Af­ter the de­feat of Wu, Fan Li, know­ing that Gou­jian was a man who could share bad times but not good times to­gether, es­caped with Xi Shi on a boat. Win­ning vic­tory, Gou­jian ex­torted ex­ces­sive taxes and levies and car­ried out large-scale con­struc­tion. In his re­splen­dent and mag­nif­i­cent im­pe­rial palace, cer­e­mo­nial flags and weapons stood in great num­bers, and beauties were as plen­ti­ful as clouds. Gou­jian in­dulged in wine and women. Soon, he sent his queen into ex­ile and or­dered Wen Zhong to com­mit suicide. He also kept the com­mon peo­ple be­yond the palace gates, who had shared his woes with him.

A Golden Part­ner En­sur­ing Eter­nal Artis­tic Ap­peal

In 2014, the Bei­jing Peo­ple's Art Theatre re­hearsed Wuwang Jinge Yue­wang Jian once again. It was co-di­rected by the 88-year-old Lan Tianye and Liu Xiaorong, a young di­rec­tor. This time, Wang in­vited Wang Lip­ing, a fa­mous com­poser, to write mu­sic for the play and 85-year-old Bai Hua con­tin­ued as the play­wright, mak­ing some up­dates.

The his­tor­i­cal drama also fea­tured a new cast. A great many young and mid­dle-aged pro­fes­sional ac­tors and ac­tresses joined in, such as Pu Cunxin, Lu Fang, Zou Jian, Bao Dazhi and Huang Wei. Zou Jian, a young ac­tor from the Bei­jing Peo­ple's Art Theatre, took on the role of Gou­jian. In re­cent years, Zou Jian has played a lead­ing role in sev­eral grand dra­mas. He has his own un­der­stand­ing of the role of Gou­jian. He does not por­tray Gou­jian as a king who swal­lowed his hu­mil­i­a­tion and bore a heavy load, aroused all his ef­fort to make his state pros­per­ous and later be­came a wise king. In­stead, Gou­jian, por­trayed by Zou Jian, was a crafty, two-faced king adept in po­lit­i­cal trick­ery. The roles of fa­mous of­fi­cials Fan Li and Wen Zhong have been per­formed by Pu Cunxin and Bao Dazhi, re­spec­tively, both of whom are pro­fes­sional ac­tors. Hu­man na­ture is high­lighted in their per­for­mances. The stage de­sign re­pro­duces the mag­nif­i­cent his­tor­i­cal scenes and ro­man­tic ap­peal. Fea­tur­ing a syn­the­sis of real­ity and drama­ti­sa­tion, the play is a per­fect blend of clas­sic and modern aes­thetic styles.

On Oc­to­ber 23, 2015, Wuwang jinge Yue­wang jian, was staged in Shang­hai at the 17th China Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val. Thirty-two years af­ter its de­but in Bei­jing, this drama was now staged in Shang­hai, Bai Hua's home­town. Bai Hua stated: “I am lucky to see this drama. This in­di­cates that the play has some mon­u­men­tal mean­ing. How­ever, this does not mean that I am com­mend­able. In­stead, it means a com­mem­o­ra­tion in the sense of the tra­di­tional cul­ture of the Chi­nese na­tion. This is of vi­tal im­por­tance.” Bai Hua gave some ex­am­ples to il­lus­trate that Gou­jian, the king of Yue, was ca­pa­ble of be­ing a great man, for he could swal­low hu­mil­i­a­tion and en­dure hard­ships to ac­com­plish his am­bi­tion. How­ever, af­ter he suc­ceeded in restor­ing his state, he iso­lated him­self from his peo­ple. “What Gou­jian was con­cerned about was not his peo­ple but his throne. That's why he turned out to be a fail­ure.”

Bai Hua's works are full of po­etic flavour. Wuwang Jinge Yue­wang Jian is un­doubt­edly an ex­quis­ite literary piece. The fol­low­ing lines from Xi Shi are Bai's favourites in the work: “I am fed up with the up­roar of heavy traf­fic on the street, I am afraid of hear­ing a cry when some­one suf­fers a wrong. Stand­ing high above the masses, I will feel dizzied. I have no wild wishes. I love for­est- clad moun­tains and limpid streams, thatched cot­tages, bam­boo forests and path­ways full of green grass. On my ta­ble there are al­ways fra­grant flowers, and birds twit­ter out­side the win­dow. I live on a sim­ple diet. I drink a clear spring as wine. I see no gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials. I hear no bat­tle cry. In the front range there is my friend and in the back hill, my neigh­bour. I would like to get mar­ried with a farmer who is good at singing, play­ing mu­sic and com­pos­ing prose. He will plant rice seedlings at the edge of the field while I weave skirts with thin silk in a thatched cot­tage. I can see him from the win­dow and he can hear my singing.” Bai Hua said this is what hap­pi­ness means to him.

The bat­tle for hege­mony be­tween the king of Wu and the king of

Yue van­ished in the glint and flash of dag­ger-axes and swords. For thou­sands of years, the story of Wu and Yue con­tend­ing for hege­mony has been widely read, and Gou­jian's courage while he en­dured hard­ships with his peo­ple to re­store his state is much ad­mired. The his­tor­i­cal drama by the Bei­jing Peo­ple's Art Theatre, gives a new ex­pres­sion to Gou­jian. Ac­cord­ing to the drama, Gou­jian, af­ter ac­com­plish­ing both suc­cess and fame, be­came cor­rupt and de­gen­er­ate. This end­ing is thought-pro­vok­ing. Af­ter 30- odd years of pol­ish­ing and ac­cre­tion, this un­con­ven­tional his­tor­i­cal drama has been listed among the out­stand­ing plays of the Bei­jing Peo­ple's Art Theatre.

Wu and Yue Con­tend­ing for Hege­mony staged by Bei­jing Peo­ple’s Art Theatre

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