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82023 - In Praise of the Yimeng (Orchestral Highlights)

Revolutionary Operas and Ballets


In a letter of 9 January 1944, to the pingju (Ping Opera) theatre at Yan'an, the political capital of the Chinese Communist Party before the Revolution, Mao Zedong mentioned the importance of reversing the trend of traditional Chinese operas, where, for obvious reasons, there was little room for the lower ranks of society. This attitude epitomized the philosophy of the Chinese Communist Party towards stage art, manifested in particular during the period of the Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976. During this period, Mao Zedong's wife Jiang Qing, a former actress from Shanghai who had become heavily involved in politics, chose six revolutionary Peking operas and two ballets to serve as yangban (models) for the three thousand performing stage groups of the country. The six revolutionary operas are: Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, The Red Lantern, Shajiabang, Attacking the White Tiger Society, Harbour and The Cuckoo Mountain, while the two revolutionary ballets are The White-haired Girl and The Red Detachment of Women. These were considered models for the Chinese stage, proletarian revolution and the three elements of the Cultural Revolution, struggle, criticism and rehabilitation. Works in the same style soon appeared. These included In Praise of the Yimeng and In Praise of the Longjiang. An additional motive in their creation was also the possible elimination of political rivals connected with the Party Secretary of Beijing city, including Zhou Yang, Qi Yanming, Xia Yan, Lin Mohan, Tian Han and Zhang Geng, who were labelled 'anti-revolutionary', because of their support for traditional Peking opera.

It was the desire of Jiang Qing to produce Peking operas that might have the desired effect in as short a time as possible, and this inevitably involved large teams of script-writers, musicians and artists. Jiang Qing's advice was to attempt first works on a smaller scale and later expand them to larger forms. She also saw the possibility of borrowing material from existing operas and pointed out that singing and acting styles ought to be in accordance with those of traditional Peking opera, with no concession to the individuality of the performer, no matter how famous. One element she realised must be overcome, namely the portrayal of the villain, who may often appeal to the public through a display of martial arts and in exaggerated stage make-up. She praised in particular the Shanghai Peking Opera Company in its revision of Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, in which scenes involving the villain were cut in order to stress the qualities of the good characters.

It has been said that the Cultural Revolution began with the revolution in Peking opera. The Red Lantern played a significant part in the opening phase of the movement, praised officially by the authorities as 'a high quality modern Peking opera' after its first performance in Beijing in 1964 and subsequent revised performances in Shanghai and Guangdong in the following year, after which it was taken as a model for all varieties of regional Chinese operas. It was the most frequently performed of all these works between 1964 and 1966.

Lam Ching-wah



In Praise of the Yimeng
A Modern Revolutionary Ballet


Prologue: Dark clouds cover the mountain village. We are sent to drive off the wolves.

[1] - [2] It is autumn 1947. In the Yimeng mountain region, an armed working-team is sent to the mountains and the villagers gather to see off their relatives. Amid gunfire and smoke, the peasant woman Ying bids her husband, the leader of the team, farewell. Steadfast in the battle, they must triumph in victory. The returning battalion comes back to the village, as ferocious as tigers or wolves.

Scene 1: Milk is better than spring water. The army and the people are joined in a common cause.

[3] - [12] Ying finds the wounded leader Fang, while she is picking wild plants in the valley. She bandages his wounds with her apron. Half conscious Fang asks for water, but she has nothing to give him but the milk from her breast.

Scene 2: In the dark night the stove burns fiercely and passion and friendship run deep.

[13] - [19] The stars flicker in the sky. In her house Ying lights the stove to make chicken broth for her wounded comrade, hoping that he will soon recover. The bright fire in the stove represents Ying's burning heart.

Ying is not afraid of the enemy spies and tactfully sends them away, before hurrying to the mountain to tend the wounded comrade.

Scene 3: Looking after the wounded comrade with difficulty, but fighting the enemy with courage.

[20] - [22] Fang holds the bowl of chicken broth and is deeply moved. This is not chicken broth but the heart showing the affection of Ying for the people's army.

Suddenly shots are heard. In their search for the wounded man the returning battalion ascends the mountain, holding torches. Ying distracts them by drawing attention to herself.

Scene 4: Sacrificing oneself to save one's family and joining together to beat the returning battalion.

[23] - [24] Ying brings the enemy back to the village, where they threaten the villagers, ordering them to hand over the wounded man. In desperation they snatch Ying's baby and are ready to throw it on the fire. Fang steps forward to stop them, and his shout of warning frightens the bandits.

The returning battalion is about to lead Fang away, but the villagers form a wall, holding hands. The enemy threatens to shoot, but the villagers stand firm. All of a sudden shouts and shots are heard all around. The armed working team returns in the nick of time and the bandits, surprised, try to escape.

Red flags fly on the peaks of Yimeng Mountain. Everywhere in the valley songs in praise of heroes are sung. Milk of the people and the hot blood of warriors, army and people are as one. Joining in the fight they go ever forward.


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