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Sacrifice to the Sea
Shanghai Opera (沪剧): Sea Battle 1894 (甲午海战)

17 Sep 2010


Captain Deng Shichang (邓世昌) played by Zhang Qing (张清)

(Shanghai Opera Troupe 上海沪剧团) 

投辕请战成泡影, 破敌条也落空。
李中堂只盼洋人来调停, 太后治政太昏庸。
我纵有报国成仁志, 也难以上阵杀敌立丰功。
到如今, 我是枪杆不拿拿钓竿, 竟作悠闲钓鱼翁。


百姓怨声重, 声声摧裂我心胸。
我邓世昌空有利剑在手中, 难刺敌寇胸。
身为水师应尽责, 怎能够任敌宰割不交锋。
为民难解痛, 为国难尽忠,
称什么水师将勇, 算什么护国效忠,
枉为是食禄受俸, 真叫人扪心自愧无地自容。

There are many popular opera styles in Shanghai, but only Shanghai Opera is authentically grown from this land; and only one play in Shanghai Opera, and in fact in all Chinese operas, that nearly brought the entire city to stand still in the late 70s. It was the time when The Sea Battle 1894 (甲午海战) was screened on TV.

By then there was no colour televisions yet, not in Shanghai, and very few households even possessed a black & white TV set. On the night when the Sea Battle 1894 was shown, those who did have a small set (normally 12 inch) would place it outside for all their neighbours and passersby to watch. If you lucky enough you could watch the opera from the start to the finish on your way home after work, with just few episodes missing.

It was indeed a unique era when Chinese people sincerely revered their national heroes and were keen to make their own contribution in a united effort to build a better country.

Shanghai Opera is closely related to more ancient opera forms - Wuxi Opera (锡滩) and Suzhou tone (苏滩) - and has absorbed wide range of local folk music. Its singing and performing fashion is not as masculine as that of Beijing Opera which is traditionally played by all-male-actors, nor is it as soft as Yue Opera that is conventionally played by all-female-actress. In Shanghai Opera actors and actress seldom cross dresses.

Like Beijing and Yue Opera, Shanghai Opera also accommodates a variety of schools, with Ding Style (Ding Shie 丁是娥), Shi Style (Shi Xiaoying 石筱英) and Yang Style (Yang Feifei杨飞飞) being the most cherished female ones, while Jie Style (Jie Hongyuan 解洪元, Ding's husband), Wang Style (Wang Pansheng 王盘声) and Shao Style (Shao Binsheng 邵滨生) the most popular male approaches.

In the Sea Battle 1894, the leading role was played by Zhang Qing (张清, 1933 -) in Wang Style (王派). Zhang’s performance is utterly superb, as always, and his portrayal of the national icon is totally unique - no one did better than him before with Wang Style which is specialised in depicting romantic young scholars, and none after, as he manages to interpret the captain in such a soulful and tuneful manner yet remains to be straightforward and blocky (糯而无脂粉气, as a Shanghai Opera lover commented online).

Indeed, today's China needs fewer sweethearts but more warriors, and fewer cheap entertainers but more real artists, like Zhang Qing, so as to help strengthening the noble spirits in order to prepare the nation for tough new challenges looming so closely ahead.

Prev: September 7, 2010
Next: September 18, 1931


September 17, 1894

Historical photo:

Captain Deng Shichang's ship Zhiyuan charges towards Japanese war vessel at full throttle on the Yellow Sea.

116 years ago, on September 17, the Sino-Japan war erupted on the Yellow Sea, started by an unexpected attack of Chinese fleet by Japanese Navy force, which became a turning point in China’s modern history for the ancient country to go through the period from a total break down to a genuine resurrection.

Captain Deng Shichang who at the crucial moment directed his ship to charge towards Japanese war vessel at full throttle and died along with his entire crew after the ship was hit by a Japanese torpedo has become a national icon ever since, representing the undefeatable Chinese spirit against Japanese aggression.

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