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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. This pursuit, on the one hand, gave full play to the social functions of Chinese theater, and on the other hand, bravely started the modernization of traditional Chinese theater. In this respect, some dramas were successful, some failed, and the others were neither successes nor failures. But in this zigzag course, Chinese theater came to maturity.

Shanghai Opera Luohan Coin and Peking Opera The White-Haired Girl

The Shanghai Opera Luohan Coin has as its theme opposition to arranged marriages, and publicizes the new concept of the Marriage Law. At the same time, it exposes the pain in the hearts of Chinese women who suffered under the feudal marriage system. Fei'e, who dreamed of an ideal marriage, is forced to marry a carpenter called Zhang, whom she has never met before. Some 20 years later, she discovers that her daughter keeps a Luohan coin. She believes that the coin is a love token. She opens her own jewelry case, and takes out the Luohan coin her lover gave her 20 years before. Determined not let her daughter make the same mistake she made, she makes up her mind to help her make her dream come true.

Although the opera is difficult to stage, some sections, especially those depicting Fei'e's transition from hesitation to awakening, are still popular with playgoers.

For a long time, many people believed that Peking Opera was too hide-bound by tradition to be able to be used to depict modern themes. But in 1959, China Peking Opera Troupe performed The White-Haired Girl, adapted from a drama of the same title. The performance was Successful in explaining the new political message that "the old society turned people into ghosts, and the new society changed the ghosts back into the people." It also eliminated all doubts as to whether the classical operas could handle modern subject matter. Using to the utmost their creativeness and rich experience, leading Peking Opera actor Li Shaochun (1919-1975) and actress Dujinfang (1932- ) were convincing in their roles, by skillfully adapting traditional forms to the new substance.

Enrich Life with Songs, Dances and Poems

In the 1980s and 1990s, the creation of modern operas entered a new stage. No longer do people dispute whether operas have lost their character Wang Guowei's definition is "Operas are stories demonstrated with songs and dances." That means that they express the author's unique feelings toward modern life through songs, dances and poems.

The modern Caicha Opera The Jiangxi Oil Mill does not make efforts to create a certain image or to exaggerate the contents of the story. It just tells a straight forward narrative concerning the life of an ordinary family which runs an oil mill in rural China. As the market economy grows, the young people from the oil mill leave to seek other jobs. Uncle Man, the owner of the workshop, has hundreds at his beck and call at the beginning. But by the end of the opera, he is lonely and isolated. His son is obedient to him, and marries the woman his father chooses for him, but whom he does not love. Still, he has a strong desire for love deep in his heart. The changes in the characters' careers and family ties tell the audience that the old rural stoicism, which was a product of the small-scale peasant economy, is now outdated China.

The hard facts of China's modernization have made playwrights aware that the backwardness of the peasants was the reason for China's slow historical progress. The peasants, as a class, are exposed as backward and criticized fully in modern operas. Grandpa Shangang, a Sichuan opera adapted from a novel of the same title and presented by the Chengdu Sichuan Opera Troupe, is representative of this type of opera. Grandpa Shangang is a leading member of a rural organization at the grassroots level. He works hard but he treats the local people harshly He parades miscreants through the streets and imprisons them unlawfufly. To his surprise, his student granddaughter writes a letter to the local people court, asking whether her grandfather's actions are against the law or not. By the end of the opera, Grandpa Shangang, handcuffed and puzzled about many issues, says good-bye to his fellow- villagers and his tearful granddaughter.

Full of local flavor, these operas not only carry forward the excellent traditions of poetry and song used to enliven stage performances, but have also absorbed the best achievements of oral folk literature.

Hopes for the future and nostalgia for the past mingle in the same way as the traditional culture and consciousness of modernity. The Chinese opera culture of this century has changed and developed through the process of these mixtures.

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