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Entering New Era

The-Revolution of 1911 put an end to the 2,000-year rule of the feudal dynasties. The Chinese people, who had traditionally looked down on opera performers, with the absorption of modern democratic ideology began to change their attitude toward them. The government of the Republic of China included Chinese theater in popular education; magazines and newspapers started to promote Chinese theater and advocate its reform; and new-type operas and troupes arose at this historic turning point. All these things accelerated the development of Peking Opera, which began to be performed throughout the country. Hence it acquired the name "national opera." There was a spate of famous actors and actresses and schools of this opera in the early decades of this century.

Four Famous Dan Actors

Peking Opera puts its stress on conveying emotion rather than on telling a story. Performers mainly express their feelings through songs and recitations. Singing, which occupies the leading position as a means of expression in Peking Opera, absorbed influences from the Anhui, Han and Kunqu operas, and was constantly refined. There are various schools, each represented by Outstanding actors and actresses and having its own tunes, melodies and rhythms. For instance, The Trial of Yu describes how a courtesan by the name of Su San is treated unjustly and thrown into prison. One day, when she is being interrogated, she finds that the main judge is her lover, but she is forced to keep silent about this. The Trial of Yu puts stress on displaying Su San's complicated feelings. Various schools of Peking Opera, with different leading dan actors, interpreted this role in different ways (how frightened Su San is when she is taken to face the judges, how sad she is when telling her story, and how surprised she is when she finds that the main judge is none other than her lover.

Mei Lanfang, Shang Xiaoyun, Cheng Yanqiu and Xun Huisheng were the four most famous dan actors of Peking Opera at this time, each having his own unique characteristics with regard to action, expression and music. In addition, each had his own special repertoire, and these have been handed down from generation to generation. Eventually, they formed the four main schools of Peking Opera.(Fig.4-1)

From the early days of the Republic of China to the 1930s, famous laosheng actors of Peking Opera included Tan Xingpei, Yu Shuyan (1890-1943), Yan jupeng (1890-1942), Gao Qingkui (189O- 1940), Tan Fuying (1906-1977) and Ma Lianliang (1901 - 1966); celebrated wusheng actors were Yang Xiaolou (1878-1938) and Gaijiaotian (1888-1970); well-known Jing actors included Jin Shaoshan(1889-1948),Hao Shoucheng (1886-1961), Hou Xirui (1892-1983), and Qiu Shengrong (1915-1971); and Xiao Changhua (1878- 1967) was the most famous chou actor.

The Shanghai School and Zhou Xinfang

Shanghai was the first metropolis of modern industry and commerce in China, as well as the springboard for Western civilization entering the country. The combination of Western civilization and modern commercial and economic factors brought forth a flexible environment for the arts. The Peking Opera of Shanghai, which was totally different from the Peking Opera of Beijing, was known as the Shanghai School. To Suit the modern trend and meet the tastes of urban citizens, the Shanghai School adopted various measures to break with outmoded conventions, reform itself, widely absorb the strong points of other operas, and stress urban aesthetic standards.

Zhou Xinfang (1895-1975), who began to perform on the stage at the age of seven, was the most important representative of the Shanghai School of Peking Opera. Well known throughout the country, Zhou Xinfang spared no efforts to develop a natural and true-to-life style. He created a large number of unforgettable characters, such as Xu Ce in XU Ce Runs Through the Town, Hai Rui in Hai Rui Lodges an APPeal, SongJiang in Black Dragon Compound and Song Shijie in Four Successful Candidates. The most outstanding character created by Zhou, Song Shijie, who is always ready to take up the cudgels to help the weak, gets an in justice righted despite the opposition of a number of evil officials. He is experienced and resourceful, and has a sense of humor .As an ordinary citizen, Song Shijie presented a new image when he first appeared. He was different from other symbols of honesty, who tended to be officials, and soon captured the hearts of the audiences.(fig.4-2)

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More Encouraging Progress
Some people said that after Kong Shangren and Hong Sheng, two famous playwrights, passed away, no remarkable achievements were made in the Chinese theater, and only actors and actresses enjoyed glory. It is true that for a long period of time, no outstanding dramas were created.
New Fashion Drama and Liantaiben Drama
In the early years of the 20th century, Chinese theater spared no effort to improve its artistry and win audiences. Of various artistic reform programs, the new fashion drama and liantaiben drama were two important achievements.
New Flowers on an Old Tree
Along with the establishment of the new social system, theatrical circles, including opera troupes, schools and performers, came under the leadership of the government cultural administration departments. Almost all opera actors and actresses could draw wages; they did not need to solicit audiences to make a living.
The Prosperity and Development of New Operast
Along with the transformation of Chinese society, Chinese opera actors and actresses began to modify their performances, costumes and makeup to suit the tastes of the inhabitants of the newly burgeoning cities.
Turning Reality into Drama
The principle of turning reality into drama and displaying modern life by means of traditional operas has been an endeavor of playwrights of this century.
Untiringly Reviewing History
It seems that Chinese playwrights, artists and audiences never tire of historical themes. On the 20th century stage, newly adapted dramas based 0n historical stories occupy a dominant position.

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