About this Recording
82048 - GONG: On the Docks (Orchestral Highlights)


In a letter of 9th 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 epitomised 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, Sha Family Riverside, Raid on the White Tiger Regiment, On the Docks and Cuckoo Mountains, while the two revolutionary ballets are The White-haired Girl and the Red Detachment of Women. These were considered models for Peking opera, proletarian revolution and the three elements of the Cultural Revolution; struggle, criticism and rehabilitation. 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 villian, 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 villian 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.


It is the early summer of 1963. At a loading bay in the Shanghai docks, Fang Haizhen, the Communist Party Branch Secretary, and Gao Zhiyang, a Communist Party member and foreman, together with the dockers, are rushing the loading of a batch of export rice seed onto a barge. The shipment is to aid the struggle of the Asian, African and Latin-American peoples against Imperialism. The barge will transfer the rice seed to a foreign ship, whose date for sailing has been moved up to keep clear of the coming typhoon. In the meantime, they are transferring into the warehouse the export wheat which Qian Shouwei had piled in the open. He once served the old regime before liberation and has continued to be employed as a dock controller since liberation.

The young docker, Han Xiaoqiang, who despises his job as a stevedore and is in low spirits owing to Qian's behaviour, drops and spills open a sack of wheat. Qian seizes the opportunity to pour glass fibre into the torn sack, together with the spilt wheat. Then, for the purpose of creating havoc and shattering China's international prestige, he makes Han Xiaoqiang carry a sack of the rice seed from a flatbed into the warehouse used to store wheat.

Fang discovers the accident on the spot and immediately looks again at the Communique of the Tenth Plenary Session of the Eighth Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Mao Zedong's instructions to be always aware of the class struggle made her sharp-eyed and clearheaded. She arouses the class-awareness of Zhao Zhenshan, head of the loading team, with the gist of the Communique, and makes up her mind to mobilise the masses to investigate the accident. A search of the warehouse is conducted that very night. Fang shrewdly lures Qian into giving himself away. To find out even more, she speaks to Han and reminds him that things have changed for the better since the Communists took power. Awakened to the situation, Han exposes Qian's wicked act. The hidden enemy is thus discovered and the task to aid foreign countries successfully accomplished.

Countless ships set sail simultaneously, their red flags fluttering. Facing the rising sun and filled with revolutionary pride, the Shanghai dockers are advancing courageously for the attainment of the lofty ideals of Communism.

1) Overture
The overture expresses the lofty sentiments of the Chinese working class and high aspiration of "having the whole country in mind and the whole world in view", and depicts the dynamic labour scene on the dock.

2) "We are determined to convey our profound friendship to all peoples"
Gao Zhiyang

The dock by the Huangpu River, Shanghai is bustling with activity. Under the direction of Gao Zhiyang, the foreman, the dockers are busy loading the export rice seed by barge to a foreign ship. It will then transport the rice seed to an African country. Filled with boundless pride, Gao looks at the harbour and sings, "Regardless of the high mountains and the vast seas, we are determined to convey our profound friendship to all peoples."

3) "I come to the riverside to help in the loading"
Fang Haizhen

Fang, the Communist Party Branch Secretary of the loading team, receives the information that the typhoon is fast approaching. In order to help the African country realise self-reliance in grain, the loading of the rice seed has to be finished that very day. The ship can then set sail the next day, one day ahead of schedule, and, keeping clear of the typhoon, transport the rice seed to the African country before her Independence Day.

4) "Since I left Shanghai after my retirement"
Ma Hongliang

Ma Hongliang, a retired worker, has spent six years in his native place since leaving Shanghai after retirement. However, he still feels a strong attachment to the docks. He makes a special trip to Shanghai to visit the dock where he once worked. He is glad to see the teeming production scene on the dock, where there are great numbers of cargo-handling machines working.

5) "In sailing, we have to keep close watch"
Fang Haizhen

Fang finds that the control office has dispatched the rice seed, the glass fibre and whole sets of loading equipment to the same transport line, thus causing congestion and hindering the loading of the rice seed. This arouses Fang's suspicions.

6) "A single stone has stirred up innumerable waves"
Gao Zhiyang

Han Xiaoqiang, Ma Hongliang's nephew, who has been dreaming of becoming a sailor, is reluctant to work as a docker. The malicious Qian Shouwei seizes the opportunity to ferment discord. He says to Han that a docker is a "disgraceful coolie" who "is treated as an inferior", and that the dock will not be managed well by these people. Qian's incitement depresses Han and causes Han to drop a sack of wheat, which then breaks open. Qian quickly sweeps the spilt wheat into a dustpan which contains some glass fibre, and pours it into the torn sack. Then, in order to create confusion and shatter China's international prestige, he makes Han carry a sack of rice seed from a flatbed into the warehouse used to store wheat. The incident of the torn sack of wheat is discovered, but the whereabouts of the sack is unknown. Gao gets angry and determines to make a thorough investigation of the matter.

7) "The land is picturesque"
Fang Haizhen

Having discovered the accident, Fang immediately reads again the Communique of the Tenth Plenary Session of the Eighth Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Mao Zedong's instructions to remember the class struggle, arouses Fang's suspicion that there may be a complicated class struggle behind the seemingly innocent accident.

8) "The tempest"
Fang Haizhen

The truth of the accident has yet to be found. Han, at Qian's instigation, submits an application for his transfer from the dock. The sharp Fang is determined to uncover the evil manipulator.

9) "On thinking of the Communist Party, I become sharp-eyed and clearheaded"
Fang Haizhen

The stevedore section receives a notice that, owing to the approaching typhoon, the sailing date of the freighter, Chang Feng, will be moved one day earlier. Thus, all the wheat has to be loaded into the freighter before dawn. The loading team conducts a thorough check of the warehouse in order to locate the torn sack of wheat before loading the rest of the wheat onto the freighter. The sack is still not found at 2 o'clock in the morning. Though anxious to get to the bottom of the matter, Fang felt that, under the capable leadership of the Communist Party and with the co-operation of the dockers, the truth of the accident will certainly be found out.

10) "Myriad hardships and hazards"
Gao Zhiyang

It has been discovered through investigations that the torn sack of wheat mixed with glass fibre has been mistakenly loaded onto the barge of rice seed. The barge is already on the way to the foreign ship moored outside the harbour. Unable to contact the barge, Gao decides to run after the barge in the violent storm. He is willing to sacrifice personal safety in order to maintain the international prestige of the country.

11) "You should make a comparison between life before and after the liberation"
Ma Hongliang

In order to clear up the mystery of the accident, Ma Hongliang takes Han Xiaoqiang to the Class Struggle Exhibition, so as to arouse his class awareness with the story of how terribly the dockers suffered under the old regime.

12) "The kindness is higher than the sky"
Ma Hongliang

At the Class Struggle Exhibition, Ma Hongliang bitterly tells Han Xiaoqiang how Han's father, though seriously ill, was whipped by the foreman and forced to carry coal in a snowstorm and finally died by a coal heap. He earnestly instructs Han that it was only after the liberation when dockers finally stood up and became masters of their own fates. This was possible through the kindness of the Communist Party and Chairman Mao Zedong.

13) "The carrying pole"
Fang Haizhen

At the same time, Fang also visits the exhibition. Stroking the carrying pole which the dockers used to carry the goods before liberation, she tells Han how the dockers, under the leadership of the Communist Party, held high their carrying poles and fought bravely against the imperialists and the feudal labour contractors.


14) "Be loyal to the people and the Communist Party"
Fang Haizhen

Fang and Ma sincerely and earnestly advise Han never to be unworthy of the nurturing of the Communist Party and persuade him to "rein in at the edge of the cliff' and be loyal to the people and the Communist Party.

15) "Spreading like the East Wind"
Fang Haizhen

Fang and Ma's enlightening talk heightens Han's class awareness and Han is emboldened to expose Qian's plot. Fang enthusiastically calls on the workers to devote their lives to the world revolution.

16) "Returning to the harbour with boundless pride"
Gao Zhiyang

Gao successfully catches up with the barge and recovers the broken sack, thus foiling Qian's wicked scheme.

Gong Guotai, Arranger

Gong Guotai was born in the Chinese city of Henan in 1946 and studied at the Intermediate School of the Shanghai Conservatory before joining the Shanghai Peking Opera Company in 1966. He is a member of the Shanghai Drama Association, the Shanghai Opera Music Association and the Shanghai Musicians Association. His major compositions in the field of Peking Opera include Taking Tiger Mountain by Strateg}o; On The Docks, In Praise of Longjiang, Glittering Fruits, and Wedding on the Execution Ground, the last two honoured by official awards in China.

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