A New Era of Pek­ing Opera

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Wang Hui­hui Edited by Scott Bray Pho­tos by Zhao Meng

Young­sters across the city are join­ing ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar clubs for Pek­ing and Kunqu op­eras. This al­lows them to learn more about Chi­nese cul­ture whilst hav­ing fun per­form­ing on stage.

In Septem­ber 2018, the “Na­tional Rhyme • Hand­some Youth of Western Bei­jing”—first In-school Young Adult Spe­cial Pek­ing Opera Per­for­mance ush­ered in its cli­max with the speech en­ti­tled part “Pur­su­ing a Brighter Fu­ture for Pek­ing Opera.”

“Since An­hui Opera troupes first came to the cap­i­tal city, 200 years have passed and nu­mer­ous artists have taken the stage. Our pre­de­ces­sors were com­mit­ted to car­ry­ing for­ward Pek­ing Opera, a bril­liant pearl of the Chi­nese na­tion that de­lights peo­ple all over the world. Young though we are, we can play a part in fol­low­ing that tra­di­tion while seek­ing new de­vel­op­ment. Please set your minds at ease, our dear­est adult au­di­ence. You will hear our loud and clear voices, see our fine physiques and pro­fes­sional poses. We will spare no ef­fort to learn Pek­ing Opera and take it to a higher stage by bring­ing forth the new through the old, car­ry­ing on the past while open­ing a way for the fu­ture, and pur­su­ing both artis­tic in­ge­nu­ity and moral in­tegrity.”

The first per­for­mance of its kind, over 90 stu­dents from 10 pri­mary and mid­dle schools in Men­tougou District per­formed six orig­i­nal Pek­ing Opera reper­toires for au­di­ences.

Here, in western Bei­jing, youth who love tra­di­tional the­atre sing beau­ti­ful Pek­ing Opera with de­vo­tion. In their in­ter­pre­ta­tion of sto­ries an­cient and mod­ern, these teens are pass­ing on Chi­nese virtues, pro­mot­ing the em­bod­i­ment of Chi­nese cul­ture and spread­ing the cul­ture of Pek­ing Opera, al­low­ing the seeds of this quintessen­tially Chi­nese pas­time to take root and flour­ish in the hearts of the younger gen­er­a­tion.

Young yet Promis­ing Ac­tors

The spe­cial per­for­mance be­gan with the play Mon­key King. Es­corted by crowds of “mon­keys” in yel­low cos­tumes, one short ac­tor took the stage and vividly per­formed a clever, right­eous and bold Mon­key King with singing and move­ment on par with a pro­fes­sional. The marvel­lous per­for­mance en­rap­tured the au­di­ence to thrilled ova­tions. Be­tween the ap­plause one au­di­ence mem­ber com­mented, “We re­ally owe it to those pri­mary school stu­dents for that su­perb per­for­mance. There's no doubt that they must have prac­tised very hard off­stage.”

The se­cond play, Li­uli Zhao, is a new his­tor­i­cal play that car­ries for­ward the virtue of the Chi­nese na­tion. Lo­cated in Men­tougou District, Li­uliqu Vil­lage was once where coloured glaze ( li­uli in Chi­nese) prod­ucts were pro­duced in the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644– 1911) dy­nas­ties. Af­ter the foun­da­tion of the Peo­ple's Repub­lic of China in 1949, coloured glass prod­ucts from Li­uliqu were used in many im­por­tant build­ings, such as the Great Hall of the Peo­ple, Chair­man Mao Me­mo­rial Hall and the Na­tional Mu­seum. Li­uli Zhao in­tro­duces the his­tory of the well­known Nine Dragon Wall, re­veal­ing the pro­duc­tion process for glazed tiles while de­pict­ing the con­tri­bu­tion the Zhao fam­ily has made to the Chi­nese na­tion dur­ing the last 400 years, their hearts putting the af­fairs of the state first. See­ing the young pri­mary school ac­tors co­op­er­ate so well on the stage brought the Zhaos' pa­tri­o­tism and fam­ily tra­di­tions to life.

To high­light the main theme of the times, Men­tougou District spe­cially cre­ated the anti- cor­rup­tion themed play As­sum­ing Of­fice. The play has been per­formed on many oc­ca­sions and won the Gold Award at the Bei­jing Sun­shine Youth Art Fes­ti­val. In the play, the mother of Chief Jus­tice Yao Liang de­ter­mines whether her son can han­dle cases im­par­tially through a triv­ial mat­ter. Af­ter un­der­stand­ing the good in­ten­tions of his mother, the Chief Jus­tice makes his po­si­tion known, swear­ing to serve as a right­eous up­holder of the law. The two 9-yearold ac­tors por­tray­ing Yao Liang and his mother boasted great ex­pres­sive force on the stage.

Young ac­tors pre­sented the vi­cis­si­tudes of life on the stage through­out the per­for­mance, of­fer­ing the au­di­ence a feast for the eyes—and ears. Un­like the pre­vi­ous three plays, the fourth— He Cried and the Bam­boo Sprouted— made au­di­ences shed silent tears. Adapted from The Twenty-four Fil­ial Ex­em­plars, the opera dis­cusses fil­ial piety, one of the foun­da­tional tra­di­tional eth­i­cal be­hav­iours of the Chi­nese na­tion which has long been highly praised by many an­cient sages.

Mod­ern teenagers also shoul­der a re­spon­si­bil­ity to carry for­ward the tra­di­tion of fil­ial piety.

Kong Rong Giv­ing up Pears is the ear­li­est na­tional play cre­ated and re­hearsed by Men­tougou District. The li­bretto of its core aria “How Hard It Is to Take 100 Years to Ed­u­cate Peo­ple” adopts the form of the sev­en­char­ac­ter sen­tence of tra­di­tional Pek­ing Opera while the tune it­self runs the gamut of mu­si­cal styles, speak­ing noth­ing of the clas­sic moves of Pek­ing Opera. The play has drawn ac­co­lades dur­ing the Na­tional Play Cup opera com­pe­ti­tion and Bei­jing Arts Fes­ti­val alike.

The last act of the per­for­mance, Bricks Worn away by Princess Miaoyan’s Foot­prints, show­cased the re­sults of the stu­dents in Men­tougou study­ing the na­tional play. In the Yuan Dy­nasty (1271–1368), Princess Miaoyan went out to bat­tle with her fa­ther Kublai Khan (reign: 1260–1294). Af­ter wit­ness­ing the cru­elty of war, she de­cided to be­come a nun at Tanzhe Tem­ple in to­day's Bei­jing to atone for her fa­ther and pray for peace. There, she prayed in the Aval­okites­vara Hall ev­ery day. As time passed by, her foot­prints were left on the brick floor. Now the bricks worn away by the princess's foot­prints are en­shrined at Tanzhe Tem­ple in western Bei­jing, a trea­sured mon­u­ment.

Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Xi Jin­ping once said: “The clas­sics should be em­bed­ded in the minds of stu­dents and be­come the genes of Chi­nese na­tional cul­ture.” To fur­ther im­ple­ment the spirit of the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Con­fer­ence, the Men­tougou District Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion has taken the lead in bring­ing na­tional plays into the class­room, in­clud­ing Pek­ing Opera in school text­books and es­tab­lish­ing Pek­ing Opera classes and clubs in pri­mary and sec­ondary schools.

A head of the Men­tougou District Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion re­marked that the youngest ac­tor par­tic­i­pat­ing in the spe­cial per­for­mance was only eight years old. In truth, the per­for­mances of these chil­dren are pro­tect­ing the na­tion's quin­tes­sence while show­cas­ing tra­di­tional virtue. In re­cent years, many schools in Men­tougou have set up opera cour­ses and pop­u­larised tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture like Pek­ing and Kunqu Opera at school through “3:30 Af­ter Class” club ac­tiv­i­ties. So far, more than 3,000 stu­dents from over 10 schools have stud­ied opera. Some of these young ac­tors have even staged many Pek­ing Opera per­for­mances, win­ning mu­nic­i­pal­level awards.

‘3:30 Af­ter Class’ Opera Club

Pek­ing Opera em­bod­ies the essence of tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture. Chi­nese opera cul­ture has a long his­tory, its many forms from pre­vi­ous dy­nas­ties all pro­vid­ing es­sen­tial nu­tri­ents for the for­ma­tion of Pek­ing Opera. In­flu­enced by var­i­ous artis­tic el­e­ments, though it for­mally came into be­ing in the 19th cen­tury, Pek­ing Opera boasts a core spirit of Chi­nese cul­ture that has lasted over 2,000 years. In ad­di­tion, Pek­ing Opera com­ple­ments clas­si­cal art such as po­etry, cal­lig­ra­phy and

paint­ing and the aes­thetic tastes of the Chi­nese peo­ple. As a per­form­ing art it tends to com­bine the vir­tual and the real, break­ing the space and time con­straints of the stage with com­pre­hen­sive roles, ma­ture per­for­mances and mag­nif­i­cent vigour. Pek­ing Opera to­day is not merely a type of opera—it is an en­cy­clopae­dia of Chi­nese civil­i­sa­tion. So what makes young boys and girls fall in love with that thick tome of civil­i­sa­tion? Ask any young per­former and they will give the same an­swer—“3:30 Af­ter Class.”

In re­cent years, Men­tougou has pop­u­larised tra­di­tional Chi­nese pas­times such as Pek­ing Opera and Kunqu Opera through their “3:30 Af­ter Class” club ac­tiv­i­ties. Many chil­dren be­gin to learn and per­form Pek­ing opera from the day they step into pri­mary school.

“Be­fore I went to school, I thought Pek­ing Opera was just about singing and pos­ing. Af­ter join­ing the club, I be­came much more in­ter­ested in Pek­ing Opera. For me, the most im­pres­sive thing about Pek­ing Opera is its beau­ti­ful singing and deep mean­ings, from which I can recog­nise some tra­di­tional virtues,” said Liu Yichen, a 10-year- old ac­tor who played the lead role of Meng Zong in He Cried and the Bam­boo Sprouted.

Liu joined the opera club in first grade. Five years later, he now can sing dozens of Pek­ing Opera arias and has played sev­eral roles. Though the aria for the spe­cial per­for­mance was a full 10 min­utes and fea­tured stylised move­ments and singing, Liu de­liv­ered a stel­lar per­for­mance due to his years of learn­ing the ba­sics.

Fifth grade stu­dent Zhang Ji­ashu por­trayed a teacher in the play Kong Rong Giv­ing up Pears. Young as he is, he looked ex­pe­ri­enced and re­served. Zhang was at­tracted to Pek­ing Opera when he was still in preschool. It was then that he be­gan watch­ing TV shows about tra­di­tional opera, learn­ing about the roles and back­ground of Pek­ing Opera. “I fell in love with Pek­ing Opera when I was very young thanks to its cos­tumes, tunes and sto­ries.” Zhang tells us, “Af­ter join­ing the club, I got to learn more about Pek­ing Opera. My favourite role is laosheng (old gen­tle­man).” He be­gan learn­ing and prac­tis­ing the play Kong Rong Giv­ing up Pears in first grade, say­ing that by tak­ing roles in the play, he can learn their virtues, such as pa­tri­o­tism, re­spect for the el­derly and love for the young.

Tak­ing af­ter his grand­mother, Ai Zi­jie has been fond of Pek­ing Opera since he was very young. At the spe­cial per­for­mance, he played the lead­ing role in Li­uli Zhao. Pre­fer­ring the tunes of Pek­ing Opera to the look of its roles, Zi­jie re­marked that the mu­sic could ex­press the emo­tions of the roles. He also spoke more highly of Pek­ing Opera than pop­u­lar mu­sic. As the young artist puts it, the con­tent and mean­ing be­hind Pek­ing Opera is pro­found, with an end­less amount of things to learn, form­ing the unique charm of Pek­ing Opera.

The more one savours Pek­ing Opera, the more beau­ti­ful it be­comes. This is what makes Pek­ing Opera a quin­tes­sen­tial el­e­ment of Chi­nese cul­ture. Through the ef­forts of teach­ers and ed­u­ca­tors alike, chil­dren are dis­cov­er­ing their tal­ents and in­ter­ests through Pek­ing Opera.

Aes­thet­ics-based Ed­u­ca­tion

The beauty of Pek­ing Opera can only be ex­pe­ri­enced when one is calm and re­laxed. Yet with peo­ple be­com­ing more rushed as sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy con­tin­ues to de­velop with each pass­ing day, Pek­ing Opera is grad­u­ally fad­ing away while fast con­sump­tion be­comes main­stream. Fac­ing this dilemma, in­sight­ful ex­perts have be­gun tak­ing ac­tion, re­gard­ing schools as the foun­da­tion for Pek­ing Opera's re­vival.

Be­hind the scenes of the spe­cial per­for­mance, one per­son was busy guid­ing the stage set­tings and dress­ing the lit­tle ac­tors. That per­son was Liu Bao­huan. Sixty- twoyear- old Liu serves as the direc­tor of Bei­jing Ying­guan Yide Cul­ture De­vel­op­ment Cen­tre and sec­re­tary­gen­eral of the Men­tougou District Opera As­so­ci­a­tion. Dur­ing the past eight years, she has been com­mit­ted to pop­u­lar­is­ing Pek­ing Opera at school. Around the age of eight, Liu was at­tracted to Pek­ing Opera

and she has felt a re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­mote the art ever since.

Mei Bao­jiu (1934–2016, Pek­ing Opera artist) once pro­posed that opera should go into the class­room and en­lighten chil­dren with tra­di­tional virtues con­veyed in opera sto­ries like hu­man­ity, jus­tice, pro­pri­ety and wis­dom. In­spired by Mei's pro­posal, Liu made her mind to bring Pek­ing Opera into schools.

Re­ju­ve­nat­ing Pek­ing Opera re­quires sup­port from the gov­ern­ment and schools and the par­tic­i­pa­tion of pro­fes­sion­als and so­cial elite. Af­ter learn­ing that many opera col­lege grad­u­ates were trou­bled by em­ploy­ment dif­fi­cul­ties, Liu made a plan to per­suade them into join­ing her team, know­ing that these pro­fes­sion­als could pro­vide pro­fes­sional train­ing to chil­dren at pri­mary and sec­ondary schools. “Pek­ing Opera is our trea­sure,” Liu says: “We can't teach them hap­haz­ardly, an un­der­stand­ing of the ba­sics is fun­da­men­tal. That is what I think, and that is what I do.”

In March 2010, Liu went to Heis­han Pri­mary School in Men­tougou with two col­leagues, newly grad­u­ated from the opera academy, with the hopes of pro­mot­ing Pek­ing Opera at the school. Their in­ten­tions were strongly sup­ported by Pres­i­dent Chen of Heis­han Pri­mary School and recog­nised by the Men­tougou District Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion.

Liu re­calls, “I was very im­pressed by the words of Pres­i­dent Chen then. He said, ‘Although I can't sing Pek­ing Opera, I be­lieve it should be pro­moted among chil­dren as part of tra­di­tional cul­ture.' He was happy to make room for Pek­ing Opera for the chil­dren at school.”

With that vote of con­fi­dence, Liu and her team be­gan their ini­tial at­tempts at Heis­han Pri­mary School. They held au­di­tions for each first grade class, form­ing two spe­cial classes for boys and girls learn­ing Pek­ing Opera. Their lec­tures be­gan with in­still­ing a ba­sic un­der­stand­ing of Pek­ing Opera, what kind of opera it is, and its def­i­ni­tion and his­tory. A few classes later, Liu found that the chil­dren were en­am­oured with Pek­ing Opera, giv­ing the team in­sur­mount­able con­fi­dence.

“Pek­ing Opera is a defin­ing na­tional art and part of tra­di­tional cul­ture, but it's grad­u­ally fad­ing from mod­ern so­ci­ety. The par­ents of to­day's chil­dren aren't fully ex­posed to Pek­ing Opera be­cause they lack a fun­da­men­tal un­der­stand­ing of Pek­ing Opera. We're try­ing to pre­vent that from hap­pen­ing with this gen­er­a­tion,” Liu con­tin­ued, “The fact that many chil­dren like Pek­ing Opera shows that these tra­di­tional arts still have the power to move peo­ple. There sim­ply haven't been op­por­tu­ni­ties for it to en­ter peo­ple's lives. Pek­ing Opera al­lows chil­dren to learn tra­di­tional cul­ture, to learn what it means to be Chi­nese, and gives them a de­light not avail­able in reg­u­lar class that il­lu­mi­nates their hearts.”

Af­ter suc­cess­fully bring­ing Pek­ing Opera into their first school, as­so­ci­ated so­cial or­gan­i­sa­tions, schools, district ed­u­ca­tion com­mis­sion and en­thu­si­as­tic Pek­ing Op­eras fans be­gan to cre­ate and adapt plays suitable for chil­dren to per­form. The newly adapted play Kong Rong Giv­ing up Pears earned the praise of Li Chonglin, vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at the Na­tional Academy of Chi­nese The­atre Arts and na­tional first- class play­wright. “Char­ac­terised by orig­i­nal­ity and Pek­ing Opera cul­ture, the play has opened an artis­tic chan­nel to chil­dren's minds.” Li com­mented, “Though the chil­dren haven't stud­ied Pek­ing Opera for long, their per­for­mance

was marvel­lous. This orig­i­nal script car­ries with it the great civil­i­sa­tion of the Chi­nese na­tion, and now chil­dren re­mem­ber and pro­mote its pre­cious virtues at a young age.”

Zhang Ya, head of the Sports and Arts De­part­ment of Men­tougou District Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion, said, “We want chil­dren to pass down this na­tional her­itage out of in­ter­est and love, not from be­ing or­dered to. It's not easy to cre­ate or adapt new plays, so we've co­op­er­ated with other cir­cles. As a huge fan of Pek­ing Opera, Ms. Liu Bao­huan has been en­thu­si­as­tic about pass­ing down the art to chil­dren. Sev­eral plays of the spe­cial per­for­mance were cre­ated or adapted by Mr. Li Chonglin, who also serves as our chief direc­tor. It's been a joint ef­fort from all par­ties that's con­tributed to to­day's de­sir­able re­sults. Speak­ing of bring­ing opera into schools, I be­lieve aes­thetic ed­u­ca­tion comes first. To ed­u­cate chil­dren with art and cul­ture is right at the heart of our think­ing. We want our chil­dren to be able to mas­ter artis­tic skills, ap­pre­ci­ate art­work and pass on good val­ues.”

School-based Opera Pop­u­lar­i­sa­tion

Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Xi Jin­ping pro­posed at the 2018 Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Con­fer­ence that the gov­ern­ment should com­pre­hen­sively strengthen and im­prove aes­thetic ed­u­ca­tion at school and ad­here to aes­thetic- and cul­ture- based ed­u­ca­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion's work plan to pro­mote opera in schools, the Men­tougou District Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion has taken the lead in im­ple­ment­ing the project.

Heis­han Pri­mary School, the first school in Men­tougou to pro­mote Pek­ing Opera, has been at the fore­front of the cam­paign for eight years. Cour­ses in un­der­stand­ing Pek­ing Opera are avail­able to first and se­cond grade stu­dents, while third to sixth graders can par­tic­i­pate in Pek­ing Opera Clubs and take in­stru­ment play­ing cour­ses. Its stu­dent ac­tors, school text­books and plays have been awarded sev­eral mu­nic­i­pal- level and district- level hon­ours. In May 2016, the school be­came the in­tern in­struc­tor and stu­dent base of the Bei­jing Vo­ca­tional Col­lege of Opera and Arts. In Jan­uary 2017, the school was recog­nised as an Art Ed­u­ca­tion Fea­tured School in Bei­jing. Through its eight- year trial run, Heis­han Pri­mary School has be­come a model for pro­mot­ing Pek­ing Opera in schools, set­ting an ex­am­ple with promis­ing re­sults for the whole district.

Dayu No. 1 Pri­mary School and Bei­jing No. 2 Ex­per­i­men­tal School Yongding Branch School have since fol­lowed suit by es­tab­lish­ing Pek­ing Opera cour­ses and par­tic­i­pat­ing in re­lated per­for­mances and com­pe­ti­tions. Thus far, both schools have had re­mark­able re­sults.

School-based na­tional plays in­te­grate Pek­ing Opera cour­ses with school cul­ture and sub­ject mat­ter. It teaches Pek­ing Opera rhyme and cul­ture while pass­ing on both na­tional and so­cial­ist core val­ues. Boys and girls at school are tak­ing on the task of re­viv­ing this quintessen­tially Chi­nese art by study­ing Pek­ing Opera. As chrysan­the­mums bloom, Men­tougou too is im­mersed in the fra­grance of their blos­soms and Pek­ing Opera this au­tumn.

Chen Jiangfeng, direc­tor of the Men­tougou District Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion, said with de­light: “The district ed­u­ca­tion com­mis­sion will or­gan­ise a spe­cial school-based opera per­for­mance ev­ery year from 2018. Through the pro­fes­sional cre­ation and adap­ta­tion of plays, the cam­paign will fur­ther con­nect the class­room with the stage and strengthen stu­dent un­der­stand­ing of opera while pro­mot­ing tra­di­tional cul­ture.” The district ed­u­ca­tion com­mis­sion will fur­ther deepen its re­form of school­based aes­thetic ed­u­ca­tion. Eight district-level fine arts projects and stu­dios, and 15 district-level opera fea­tured school al­liances are set to be es­tab­lished along­side con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment to the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. The com­mis­sion will also be co­or­di­nat­ing so­cial re­sources and build­ing an in­ter­ac­tive school-fam­ilyso­ci­ety ed­u­ca­tion mech­a­nism, which prom­ises to fos­ter and im­ple­ment the core val­ues of so­cial­ism while cul­ti­vat­ing so­cial­ist builders and suc­ces­sors who have open minds, el­e­gant taste, cul­tural con­fi­dence, na­tional sen­ti­ment and in­no­va­tive spir­its.

Par­tic­i­pants in the ”Na­tional Rhyme • Hand­some Youth of Western Bei­jing”—first In-school Young Adult Spe­cial Pek­ing Opera Per­for­mance

Ap­ply­ing make-up for a young per­former

A new pro­duc­tion of the his­toric play Li­ulizhao

A young ac­tor singing in the First In-school Young Adult Spe­cial Pek­ing Opera Per­for­mance

Bai zhuan, a play show­cas­ing the cul­ture of Men­tougou District

Child per­form­ers dis­play their ac­ro­bat­ics skills in the play The Mon­key King.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.