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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. It was not until the 1940s and 1950s when a group of writers including Guo Moruo (1892-1978), Tian Han (1898-1968) and Cao Yu (1910-1997), started to write plays, that significant progress was made in Chinese theater in modern times. White Snake, Guan Hanqing and Xie Yaohuan, created by Tian Han, were poetic dramas, representative of this era.

White Snake, also known as Leifeng Pogoda, a story about a snake spirit, can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty, but it was not until the Qing Dynasty that it was put on the stage as a Kunqu Opera. It tells how a white snake, which had practiced asceticism for 1,OOO years, turned into a beautiful lady by the name of Bai Suzhen, and came down to earth. She met Xu Xian, the young owner of a drug store in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. They fell in love with each other, and soon go married. However, they were persecuted by a rascally monk named Fa Hai- To safeguard her marriage, Bai Suzhen went to the land of the immoftals to steal medicinal herbs, fought with Fa Hai on Jinshan Hill, and suffered a great deal. Finally she was buried under the Leifeng Pagoda. In the unqu Opera version, the white snake is not evil and loves Xu Xian wholeheartedly, making the audience admire her for her spirit of resistance to her fate. (Fig.4-7)

It took Tian Han 10 years to adapt "White Snake" as a Peking Opera. Tian Han carried forward and developed the historical achievements of his predecessors, and raised the image of the white snake to a higher level with a poet's romanticism. Lady Bai, as created by Tian Han, is a brave, decisive, gentle and kind woman, full of heroism.

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