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Shanghai Opera (沪剧):
Preserve the Fire in Reed Marshes

14 November 2010

Yangcheng Lake

A piece from the opera performed by Zhang Qing as an injured resistance warrior (张清) and Shi Xiaoying (石筱英) as a village grandma.

Zhang Qing as the warrior:


The moon is like a silver hook,
The stars are pieces on a chess board,
The landscape is so breathtaking
As if a scroll of ink painting:

By the foot of Yu Hill
Rice crops start to ripen;
In the deep of Yangcheng Lake
Crabs begin to gain weight.
In between the waves,
Fishermen's nets are spread out;
From the reed marshes
Wild ducks take flight.

This is the land of rice bowl and fish ponds,
This is our great South Yangtze River,
Which must not be colonised by Japanese,
But the devils grow so hysterical and callous,
The battles become more brutal
Than ever.
I can't wait to recover
From wounded leg
To return to the battlefield sooner,
And to trash all of Japanese flag
That sticks on the face of China
Like a piece of medicated plaster.

Of eight Model Operas dominated the stage during the Cultural Revolution years, two were conveyed from Shanghai Opera repertoires.

Among all Chinese operas, that are based on various local dialects and amount to 300 plus, Shanghai Opera is known to be the most innovative and fashion conscious, always keen to keep up with the latest traits to remain relevant and never afraid of trying out new things to explore wider horizons.

Shanghai Opera The Successor (自有后来人) by Patriots Shanghai Opera Troupe (上海爱华沪剧团) depicts a Chinese resistance warrior in disguise as a railway worker in the region under the Japanese occupation. As soon as it was staged in early 60s, the tickets were sold like hot potatoes; and among many causes for its huge popularity, one big contributing factor is the appearance of a specially-made huge electronic toy engine that would at one point run across the stage to add visual effects to the show. Later the play was conveyed to Beijing Opera and retitled The Legend of Red Lantern (红灯记), with the fancy part involving the toy engine excluded. The engine has never returned to Chinese stage since.

The second Shanghai Opera that has been conveyed to Beijing Opera and becomes a Model is Preserve the Fire in Reed Marshes (芦荡火种), originally created by Shanghai Opera Troupe (上海市人民沪剧团) based on a true historical event. During the WWII, there were 36 injured resistance warriors hidden in a village called Shajiabang by the Yangcheng Lake (阳澄湖) near Shanghai. When Japanese army and their local collaborators searched the area, the injured were forced to take refuge in the marshes and spend a lengthy period living a life with no shelter, medicine and food. But they all survived the ordeal, thanks to the collective rescue effort made by a teahouse owner, the villagers and the underground CCP organisation.

The play received enthusiastic responses from the audience in Shanghai and in its surrounding regions in the South Yangtze River, for its beautiful music, its intricate storyline and its humorous dialogues.

Later when it was conveyed to Beijing Opera it has been renamed Shajiabang (沙家浜), but the original version in Shanghai opera has never lost its appeal and is still performed on stage to this day.

This is an episode from Preserve the Fire in Reed Marshes recorded in early 60s, Jie Hongyuan (解洪元, Zhang Qing and Wang Huazhong's teacher and voted by Shanghai audience as the Emperor of Shanghai Opera) as doctor disguised by CCP chief, Ding Shie (丁是娥, known as the Queen of Shanghai Opera) as teahouse owner and Shi Xiaoying (石筱英, the creator of Shi Style) as village grandma.

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