About this Recording
82052 - GONG: Cuckoo Mountains - Beijing Opera Symphonic Suite


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.

Cuckoo Mountains


Under the immense influence of the Autumn Harvest Uprising in 1927, the Peasants' Self-Defence Corps raised the standard of revolt on the Cuckoo Mountains, on the borders of Hunan and Jiangxi Provinces. After three futile spontaneous endeavours, the Corps was on the brink of extinction and was eagerly seeking for the leadership of the Communist Party of China. The Party showed great concern for the Corps. In the spring of 1928, Ke Xiang, a woman Communist, was dispatched from the Jinggang Mountains, the central military base of the Communist Party of China, to make contact with the Peasants' Self-Defence Corps. On her way she was captured by the civil corps of the despotic landlords, but the Peasants' Self-Defence Corps successfully rescued her from the execution ground and she became Party representative to the Corps.

Ke actively implemented Mao Zedong's line of army building and did her best to reform the Peasants' Self-Defence Corps with proletarian ideology. One day, Lei Gang, commander of the Corps, mistook Tian Dajiang for a local despot, only because he made a living by working for a landlord as a carter. Ke stopped Lei from torturing Tian. With great patience, she educated Lei in class ideology and the Party's policy. Lei showed repentance for his error. Deeply moved, Tian joined the Corps. Under Ke's leadership, the Corps fought the local despots and distributed their hoarded grain to the poor peasants. The Corps also mobilised the masses to expand the force. Through training and consolidation, the Corps took on a vigorous aspect.

Under the command of Dushe Dan (Viper Gallbladder), the civil corps launched an attack on the Peasants' Self-Defence Corps. They laid an ambush and captured Aunt Du, Lei's adoptive mother. With Aunt Du as the bait, and with Wen Qijiu, assistant commander of the Peasants' Self -Defence Corps, as the planted agent, the civil corps attempted to lure Lei down the Cuckoo Mountains and destroy the Peasants' Self-Defence Corps. Ke saw through the enemy's fraud. She resolutely implemented the Party's instruction for Peasants' Self-Defence Corps to transfer out of the Cuckoo Mountains so as to join up with the main force of the Communist Army and shatter the enemy's attack, but Lei was eager to rescue his adoptive mother and take revenge. At the instigation of Wen Qijiu, he rashly descended the mountain for Aunt Du's rescue, in spite of Ke's dissuasion. He fell into the enemy's ambush and was put into prison.

Faced with the crisis, Ke remained calm and stood as firm as a rock. With the support of the officers and soldiers, she made the prompt decision for Li Shijian, one of the key members of the Corps, to lead the defence. She herself commanded a hand-picked squad for Lei's rescue. During a stormy night, the squad dashed across the Eagle-Worrying Ravine and rescued Lei and Aunt Du from prison, but on their way back, Tian heroically died in the battle against the pursuing enemy.

On the occasion of Ke's absence, Wen, with the excuse of moving the Corps, attempted to pull down the red flag and lead the troops over to the enemy camp. Li firmly stopped him. Ke returned in time with the hand-picked squad and led the soldiers in ridding themselves of Wen, the traitor. She told Lei that it was his desire for revenge that led to his mistake, and that only under the leadership of the Communist Party of China and by following Mao Zedong's revolutionary line, could the peasant's armed forces secure the final victory.

Just like a trickling brooklet joining the vast seas, the Peasants' Self-Defence Corps joined up with the main force of the Communist army and wiped out Dushe Dan's civil corps. They were reorganised into the Workers' and Peasants' Revolutionary Army and marched up the Jinggang Mountains to see their leader, Mao Zedong.

Highlights of Cuckoo Mountains

1) "Countless debts and tears"
Aunt Du, Lei Gang

Lei Gang escapes from the enemy's prison to a steep cliff where he comes across an old lady chopping firewood. She helps to break the chains on his legs. When the old lady tells him that her son, Du Shan is in Lei Gang's corps, Lei sadly identifies himself and tells her that her son has died in a battle. Lei promises to treat her as his adoptive mother. They then determine to seek revenge.

2) "We have undergone ups and downs"
Aunt Du, Lei Gang

Since its founding, the Peasants' Self-Defence Corps has met with three disastrous defeats. Lei traces the cause of their failure to the lack of leadership from the Communist Party. He now longs even more for leadership from the Party.

3) "Proletarians"
Ke Xiang

Ke Xiang is dispatched by the Communist Party to make contact with the Peasants' Self-Defence Corps. On her way, she is captured by Dushe Dan's civil corps. On the execution ground she faces death unflinchingly, demonstrating the unyielding integrity of a revolutionary.

4) "I am from An yuan"
Ke Xiang

After being rescued from the execution ground, Ke becomes Party representative to the Peasants' Self-Defence Corps. Ke tells the soldiers how her father and elder brother were killed in an An yuan coal mine and how the wicked mine-owner burnt her mother, younger sisters and younger brothers to death and how she began her revolutionary career, inspired by the Autumn Harvest Uprising.

5) "Huanglian and gall taste equally bitter"
Ke Xiang, Lei Gang, Soldiers

Lei mistakes Tian Dajiang, who makes a living by working for a landlord as a carter, for a wicked despot. Ke stops Lei from torturing Tian. She tells Lei and the soldiers that the hardworking people all over the world share the same hatred, just as huanglian and gall taste equally bitter. .After her persuasion and education, Lei makes a sincere apology to Tian for his error. (Huanglian is a Chinese medicinal herb which has a bitter taste.)

6) "Green bamboos flourish on the Cuckoo Mountains"
Li Shijian

Under Ke's leadership, the Peasants' Self-Defence Corps is busy training and consolidating the troops. The despotic landlords are publicly denounced and their hoarded grain distributed to the poor peasants. The soldiers and peasants are in high spirits.

7) "Our victory depends on our strong will and solidarity"
Ke Xiang

The scout reports to Ke that Dushe Dan is busy preparing for an attack on the Peasants' Self-Defence Corps. Ke immediately sends Li Shijian to the Jinggang Mountains for instructions and discusses with Lei Gang the countermeasures.

8) "The troops have been moving out of the mountains"
Lei Gang

Ke Xiang resolutely executes the Party's order for the Corps to move out of Cuckoo Mountain and join up with the main force of the Communist Army. Lei, however, is eager to take revenge on Dushe Dan and does not comprehend the Party's intentions and is in low spirits.

9) "The Party representative is just a coal miner from Anyuan"
Wen Qijiu

Wen Qijiu, the assistant commander, who has secretly turned traitor, seizes the opportunity to sow dissent between Lei and Ke. He says to Lei that Ke, being a coal miner from An yuan, has no hatred for Dushe Dan. Thus, it is understandable that she shows no sympathy for the local people and their suffering. Lei, however, being a native, should not have forgotten the incidents on Cuckoo Mountain.

10) "The flames are raging"
Lei Gang

Wen Qijiu's instigation upsets Lei further. He does not believe, however, that Ke is a coward as he has seen how she faced the firing squad.

11) "The riotous clouds sweep past"
Ke Xiang

Dushe Dan captures Aunt Du and attempts to trap Lei using her as bait. Lei is so anxious to rescue Aunt Du that he rashly descends the mountain in spite of Ke's protests. Wen Qijiu then seizes the opportunity to make the soldiers go down the mountain and also stirs up their resentment for Ke. Faced with the grim situation, Ke's heart is in turmoil. She feels certain, however, that with the leadership of the Communist Party and the support of the masses the Corps will surely salvage the situation and defeat the enemy.

12) "The sinister bandits have laid an ambush"
Aunt Du, Lei Gang

Just as Ke has expected, Lei is caught in the enemy's ambush. He meets Aunt Du in the enemy's prison. They are both filled with grief.

13) "The standard of revolt has risen and fallen three times on Cuckoo Mountains"
Aunt Du, Lei Gang

Aunt Du tells Lei that the standard of revolt has risen and fallen three times. It is only after Ke's arrival at the Mountains that the Peasants' Self-Defence Corps is able to stand on its feet. She reproaches Lei for not learning from his past experience.

14) "The storm plunges the whole world into darkness"
Ke Xiang

Ke leads a squad of hand-picked soldiers down the Cuckoo Mountains to rescue Aunt Du and Lei. They succeed in their mission. During their retreat, however, Tian Dajiang dies in his effort to protect the wounded Lei.

15) "Flames are raging in my chest"
Lei Gang, Zheng Laowan, Li Shijian, Aunt Du

Ke returns to the Mountains and leads the soldiers in ridding themselves of Wen. When Lei is told that Tian has died in the battle to cover his retreat, he is greatly grieved and remorseful. Zhen, Li and Aunt Du criticise him for his rashness which led to Tian's death.

16) "The lesson paid for with blood"
Ke Xiang

Ke urges Lei to keep in mind the lesson which has been heavily paid for in blood. She tells Lei that it was his desire for revenge that led to his error. The able leadership of the Communist Party of China and Mao Zedong's revolutionary line however helps secure the victory of the peasants' Self-Defence Corps.

17) "At last, our wishes are fulfilled"
Ke Xiang, Soldiers

A message is received from the higher authorities that the Peasants' Self-Defence Corps is to be organised into the Workers' and Peasants' Revolutionary Army. The soldiers celebrate the news that they have long awaited. They are determined to wipe out Dushe Dan's civil corps and ascend Jinggang Mountain to see their leader, Mao Zedong.

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 Strategy 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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