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Xiju Opera: The Song of Red Flower
红花曲

4 March 2012
 

Beijing Opera may be the best known Chinese opera form in overseas, but it is Kunqu (昆曲) that has the deepest connection to classic Chinese culture with much more articulated visual & audio presentations.

Despite the fact that nearly all Chinese operas more or less have a root in Kunqu, it is Xiju (锡剧) that shares more cultural heritage with this ancient stage art, thus has conveniently adapted many features from it, from dialect, costume, melody to music instruments.

Xiju Opera, also know as Tanhuang (滩簧)and Changzhou Opera (常州戏), was developed in the area around Lake Tai (太湖), where Kunqu was originated. While Kunqu is nurtured in classic literature and being highly stylish in performance thus is best appreciated by high art lovers, Xiju takes a rather light and more casual approach, therefore are more popular among the general population. But their soothing melodies, both from Lake Tai region, are equally appealing to ear, and their stunning costumes, mainly basely on Ming fashion, are the same feast for eye.

When talking about Xiju, one can not avoid mentioning an awesome stage couple (not in real life though): Mei Lanzhen (梅兰珍)and Wang Binbin (王彬彬), the best woman and man singers in Xiju, who customarily played the leading female and male roles in many Xiju repertoires that now all become classics.

While Wang's Binbin Tune (彬彬腔) has become the standard male singing style in Xiju with excellent new generation of Binbin Tune singers emerged, Mei's singing is so unique that few can really imitate it. Cheng Yanqiu (程艳秋), one of the four classic leading Beijing Opera singers for female role, once described Mei's audio expression as being so rich that he could actually hear trumpet and flute in her voice (又有喇叭又有箫).

And we sure her voice will be sorely missed ......

The following is a classic Xiju Opera with the leading role played by Mei Lanzhen, one of the best Chinese opera singers.

The Song of Red Flower depicts how the lives of weaving factory workers dramatically changed due to Mao Zedong's socialist reform. Through nationalisation and collective ownership of private sectors, the ordinary workers were encouraged to participate in managing their workplace, which not only helped to release the creative energy from individuals, but (on a more fundamental level) is a way towards achieving genuine social democracy. Mao's reform is, of course, by no means perfect, but it is a progress in the right direction, and the progress that was made is enormous, especially when the positive change of the country's collective mentality is concerned.

The Opera was made into movie in 1965.

If you dismiss the story told in the drama as just a fable, here is a Chinese railway worker's diary, in which you may sense a similar state of mind:

A Chinese Railway Worker's Diary

 
 
RELATED:

Mei Lanzhen (梅兰珍)
11 January 1927 - 2 March 2012
One of the best female opera singers not only in Xiju but in all Chinese opera forms.

人间痛失珍珠塔
天堂盛演拔兰花

This is one of the best arias in the the Song of Red Follower sung by Mei Lanzhen, in which she reflects how weaving workers were treated as mere disposable tools in a capitalist old China while under Mao's socialist new system they were encouraged to help running the factory.

一件衣裳推又让,
一段往事涌心上。
想起那旧社会万般苦,
你与我同在车间扫弄堂。
扫弄堂,苦难忘,
吃糠菜充饥肠。
想学技术把车挡,
好比水底捞月亮。
班上学,工头看见就毒打,
被打得浑身旧伤加新伤。
为躲避工头偷偷学,
每天提早到工厂。
当时厂里无工房,
我与你同住在苦水浜边小草房。
苦水浜离厂远,
上工下工急慌忙。
头顶多少三更月
脚踏多少五更霜
有一夜北风呼呼雪花飘
只见窗外明晃晃。
我们错当天已亮,
急急忙忙跑到厂。
谁知跑到厂门口,
铁门紧闭象牢房。
寒风似刀刺骨冷,
姐妹倆冻得浑身僵。
你脱下衣裳给我披,
你咬紧牙齿说不冷。
你推来我推去,
推来推去互相让。
到后来二人同坡一件衣,
索索抖抖等天亮。

在那万恶的旧社会,
为了活命学技术,
象我们一样命运的
何止千千万万。

亿往事,恨难消,
多少辛酸在胸膛。
盼星星盼月亮,
盼到了东方红出太阳。
先烈们抛头颅来洒热血,
才换得工人翻身把家当。
旧社会学技术学也难来教也难,
新社会学技术有人教来有人帮。
有人教来有人帮,
技术步步来向上。
我们的成绩哪里来,
桂英啊,还需要思一思来想一想。
若不是千万人的智慧大发扬,
怎会有先进经验大推广。
比学赶帮气势壮,
生产一浪高一浪。
这都是社会主义制度好,
这都是共产党的领导力量强。

桂英,你来看啊,
你看那锡山惠山紧相靠,
一峰低来一峰高。
登上锡山低头看,
高楼大厦在脚跟梢,
抬头再把惠山看,
谁低谁高见分晓。
一座惠山三个峰,
一峰更比一峰高,
抬头看,自己低,
低头看,自己高。
莫道惠山高又高,
那及泰山半截腰。


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