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Yueju Opera production sings the praises of Song Dynasty official

By Lin Qi| China Daily| Updated: May 6, 2023 L M S


Zouma Yushi, an original play by the Xiao Baihua Yueju Opera Troupe, hails the integrity of Song Dynasty (960-1279) official Chen He. [Photo provided to China Daily]

In the History of the Song, the official historical record of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), a chapter gives a brief overview of a righteous official named Chen He. It is only about 700 words, chronicling his life and career and depicting the consistent efforts to fight against corruption he made while serving as yushi dafu, in charge of disciplining wayward imperial officials.

One of his deeds mentioned in the book is that Chen once lodged a rebuke of Tong Guan — then a treacherous high-ranking official — with Emperor Zhao Ji who, however, showed no interest and tried to leave before Chen finished his words. Chen grabbed the emperor's robe to stop him, so hard that part of its front was torn apart.

Chen's dogged, maverick persistence went unappreciated, and he was sidelined at court and demoted to minor positions outside the imperial city.

His integrity, unyielding spirit and devotion to his duties has inspired Xiao Baihua Yueju Opera Troupe, based in Ningbo, Zhejiang province — also Chen's hometown — to produce Zouma Yushi, an original play centering on Chen and the fight against Tong and his self-seeking faction.

The production, premiered in March 2022, has so far been staged more than 40 times, including the latest performance at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing on April 8.

Yueju Opera — a major school of traditional Chinese opera — is primarily popular in Zhejiang, its birthplace, and in nearby Jiangsu province and Shanghai. It is characterized by a soft, gentle style of singing and graceful movements.


Zouma Yushi, an original play by the Xiao Baihua Yueju Opera Troupe, hails the integrity of Song Dynasty (960-1279) official Chen He. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"These distinctive features of Yueju Opera, however, posed a great challenge for us when working on an anti-graft theme like that of Zouma Yushi, which would demand a hard, strong feeling," says Wang Wenlong, director of the production.

He says they worked out several methods to present an atmosphere of solemnity as a way to accentuate the encounter between right and wrong. One of them was an integration of the performance styles of Peking Opera and Wuju Opera, a folk opera also originating in Zhejiang, while adding drum beats, by which they managed to intensify the intended stage atmosphere of tension and power.

"While showing the artistic accumulations of Ningbo, we also wanted to create a new performing style, a new example of Yueju Opera," he says.

The troupe also staged a classic play, Zhui Yu, at the NCPA. The two productions marked the beginning of a diverse program mounted by Ningbo Performance and Arts Group to showcase the city's drama traditions in the nation's capital, according to Lin Hong, chairperson of the group.

A dance drama on the past and present of Ningbo as a major port, titled Great Port in the East, will be staged at the NCPA in mid-May, which will be followed by another dance performance in late June about the great composer Xian Xinghai (1905-45) whose masterpiece Yellow River Cantata has been inspiring patriotism for nearly a century.

Lin says the productions will show the cultural strength of the "made in Ningbo" artistic brand at the country's premier theater.