Yedda (Guan Ye)
In May 14 class, when Alison came to visit our class and gave us a
amazing speech, we saw several pictures of The Red Detachment of Women—
one of the eight model operas—in which the actresses dress in military
uniform but dance ballet. It's totally mixed and in some way it looks
silly, however, it's still a bold attempt which enhance the
development of Chinese opera apart from Peking Opera.
Alison suggested that our Chinese art should add more Chinese element,
and pointed out that Peking Opera is not the only represtation of
Chinese element. Just like our Chinese audience always get tired of
Director Zhang Yi Mou's piece which frequnently add Peking Opera in
it. Just like the his piece of work— "Chines eight minites"—at the
closing ceremonies of the Athens Olympics. That means Chinese cultural
and spirit have mant contents and intentions and Peking Opera is a
small part of them. When referring to the eight model operas the
Cultural Revolution are definitly brought to people's mind, However,
it's unfair to say so.
She also mentioned that the ways of training in recent Chinese art
college sre not quite suitable to cultivate people's creation and
creative thinking because colleges attach much attention to the basic
skills of art and not enough attention are paid to the creative
thinking and innovation. It's impossible to yhinking about the real
situation that the 800 million Chinese people just watch eight model
operas and Yang Ban Xi is a very clear evidence of conservative
artistic creation. In spite of the negative part of Yang Ban Xi, there
are still some advantages of it which I will mention in the following
interview with Professor Li.
And she played some short videos for us which records the performance
of modern dance by some amatuers. Is it necessary for the artists to
receive nomal classes? Last time, Mr. Zhao Chuan led us to the
warehouse and we watched an amazing short drama named the Small
Society. This play is also performanced by the amatuers. In one place,
the profesional perfomers have great skills; In the other place, the
amatuers have passiona and ture emotion. You can't have yopur cake and
eat it and skilled and stylized are sometime brother and sister.
When one watch the eight model operas, it's easily for the audience to
tell good people apart from the bad people and there is no need for
you to guess the results of the story because Ithe triumph of the good
over evil are applied to all these operas, which sometimes don't
correspond to reality. The main roles in the opera are always caveed
as those who embodies all the fine quailities of an communist. In
Chinese, we just call it "nobly, great, omnipotent. I t's impossible
to find the real people in life even in that period. Character
profiling is a phenomenon that does not bode well for the development
of Yang Ban Xi. Interestingly, foe the reason that Jiang Qing, Mao's
wife and the main supervisor of Yang Ban Xi, is a female that many of
the main character in the opera are female too. For example, Lie Tie
Mei in the Red Lantern and the Red Detachment of Women.
Genarally speaking, in recent China most critics agree that the
Cutural Revolution is a mistake as well as the eight model operas. And
I decided to interview with Professor LI, one of those rare shcolars
holding an positive attitude toward Yang Ban Xi or at least in part.
He told me two good aspects of those models and express his suggestion
of the future development of those operas.
At first place, the eight model operas were creatived by the first
class playwriter and acted by famous actor or actress. They were all
experienced a strict training of operas. For example, Wang Zeng Qi,
the author of "Shajiabnag"—one of the eight model operas. He is also
a famous modern Chinese writer. Chinese government of that time
devoted a lot of manpower and materials to the creation and staging of
Yang Ban Xi. Certainly, the government had a clear objective of
polital goals which should be blamed by the critics. .
Arts definitly should learn from each other and borrow the essential
or new parts. And the western classic ballet can express the women's
gentle and soft.quite welll, so the idea of blending ballet into
Chinese opera is not bad though the details should pay more attention
to. For example, another piece of the eight model operas—Taking Tiger
Mountain—take the symphoy into the work as an introduction of the
Interestingly, during my interview with Professor Li, who is
specialized in Yang Ban Xi, he said he still remember the tune of the
symphoy and can help himself humming a tune. He argued that the
symphoy fits the whole environment of northeast of China wheree the
story happened, and this cannot be express only through the Chinese
tradition instrument, Ching-hu. He also mentioned that the Ching-hu
only has tow strings which lead to a relative low range, on the
contrary the western instrument like piano and violin has a wide range.
Frankly speaking, it is undeniable that the Model Operas have
influenced the musical taste of the greater part of China's population
in the period since the Cultural Revolution. During the heights of the
Cultural Revolution, each one of them would have been watched by every
Chinese man, woman and child more than twice a year on average. They
are an element in Chinese cultural history that cannot be –-but often
In a word, the eight model operas were based in great parts on
traditional Chinese as well as "Western" musical-dramatic heritage,
fashioned in a way prescribing certain fixed meanings by multiplying
them on all possible levels of the work, performing, musical and so
on. Today, we would take it something queer. In song-and-dance
extravaganzas with revolutionary messages, while the graceful dance
moves of these shows drew from ballets, the actresses wore earthy
peasant garb which reinforced communism's image of a noble proletariat.
Yang Ban Xi dates back to the 1940s. Already in the 1940s, and
especially since Mao's Yan'an Talks in 1942, our Chinese traditional
artists had been adapted to fit new ideological contexts, and all the
important theoretical principles underlying the eight model operas had
already been formulated, as Mao gave out a directive to adhere to
"revolutionary realism and romanticism", to present life realistically
but model-like and "on a higher plane". At the time when the new China
has recently been buil, it's a trend to adapt the Chinese traditon
opera into a new one. raditional works were revised, mainly in plot,
and new operas with contemporary, revolutionary themes were written,
but not enough to Mao's liking. In the early 1960s, he complained that
China's stage was still dominated by "emperors, kings, general,
chancellors, literati and beauties".
The former leader of China fonud this and wanted to use this trend to
compose several new operas and rich the spare time of people, the
result proved it incorrect, however. Since the 1960s Yang Ban Xi
boomed because of the Cultural Revolution. In the unforgetable ten
years Chinese artists had creative eight model operas.
Most important, all these were trying to describe the real society and
contemporary life of Chinese people, and is definitly unlike the
tradition ones which talks about gifted scholars and beautiful
landies. There is an old saying that art originate from the real life
but is not equal to it. In some extent, we can say that it's a great
advance of opera creation. Nevertheless, Professor Li said that most
of the work are talking about class conflict which is taken as the
main content of our life, such as strugglling with the Japanese army.
It is obviously that our life are much more than class society, and
this kind of simplification can not represent the issues in our society.
The Cultural Revolution seems like such a long time ago, however,
nobody could actually forget it even our teenagers in the twenty-first
century. It seems like our Chinese attitude toward it is ambioguous,
since some one criticize it oppress the intellectuals while others
think the whole society is in "good" order. Under the leadership of
Deng Xiao Ping, our government decided that the Cultural Revolution is
a whole mistake and denied everything relating to it, including the
eight model opera and others. It is still an opening question that
whether Yang Ban Xi is a mistake too. The Wikipedia notes that
"Although these works bear unmistakable political overtones of the
time when they were created, they nonetheless had significant artistic
values, and for this reason, some of the works remain popular even
today, over thirty years after the Cultural Revolution."
Maybe we can call it a try of modern Chinese opera. At present, the
eight model operas have come back to our sight again as some theater
plan to replay them and our audience actively response to it.
Additionally, the eight model operas are still alive today. Songbooks
and audiovisual products of the Model Operas are readily available and
popular with consumers. Their songs are sometimes sung in karaoke bars
and at parties, as a recall of the past and nostalgia elicited.
Professor Li mentions that it's a pity we do not go on in the road of
revise the traditon opera and blenging the western art style into our
opera creations. Maybe keep chasing this pavement and continuously
making new try in art field is a relatively good choice.
Yang Ban Xi grew in China at a very special time and we definitly
should recognize it's improvements in some cases though it looksa sort
of silly in nowadays. Maybe we can just learn from the way that
blending different art forms into the traditon arts. And I am very
fond of modern dance, especially after Defny played the shorting video
shouting Jin Xing—who received transsexual operation in the 1990s.
Excluding the political elements and the influence of the Cultural
Revolution, modern dance and Yang Ban Xi still some similarities