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Beijing Opera

Famous Beijing Opera Character-Monkey King

Mention must be made of the Monkey King who has a special place in the hearts of all who are interested in Chinese opera. Played by an exceptionally talented Wu Sheng actor, the Monkey King holds every minute of the audience's attention with the quick, agile movements of his lithe body, and his blinking eyes. He is traditionally supposed to have accompanied a Buddhist monk who went on a long journey across the mountains from China to India in search of the Buddhist scriptures and bring them back to China. The Monk's legendary companions on this journey are a pig (to provide the humor), a not so learned monk, supposed to represent a shark spirit, to mediate in quarrels, and the Monkey King, who possesses special supernatural powers to combat evil spirits encountered on the way. The Monkey King's costume is bright yellow in color and consists of a voluminous jacket and baggy trousers to enable him to perform his movements with ease and grace. He mimics a monkey the whole time, with his knees always bent and his hands held dangling in front of him, occasionally even scratching himself. His eyes have a mischievous twinkle in them as they blink at the audience.

Famous Players in the History of Beijing Opera

Mei Lan-Fang (1894 - 1961)

Mei Lan Fang is the best-known master of Beijing Opera in the history of China. He was born October 22, 1894 in Tai Zhao of China's Jiangsu province. His grandfather and father were both famous opera actors. Mei began studying Beijing Opera at eight and played his debut role at 12. His performance in "Shattering Flowers" won him a special fame. He joined Xi-Lian-Cheng Theatrical Company at 14 and performed in Shanghai and elsewhere thereafter. He acquired a national reputation and was regarded as the leader of the Pear Garden (A name refers the opera community circle). He toured Japan twice (1919 and 1924), the United States once (1930), and the Soviet Union twice in 1932 and 1935. Western world began to know Beijing Opera through his performances.

After the outbreak of Resistance War against Japanese in 1937 he settled in Hong Kong. He then returned to Shanghai but stopped his performance for five years. He then maintained his beard and mustache, and refused to perform for the occupying Japanese army. He resumed his stage career after the end of the war in 1946. Thereafter he did both stage and film work. There is a film Mei Lan-Fang's Stage Arts featuring his stage performances including several play sections. His last masterpiece "Recommending the Army" was shot into a colored film. He served as director or member of several cultural organizations.

Mei Lan-Fang rediscovered many long-neglected theatrical masterpieces and brought them back on stage with his enforcements. He was credited with having revived the traditional Chinese arts of dancing and pantomime. He also enriched the stage performance by learning from Chinese Kungfu, like the swordplay in his Farewell My concubine. He attached special attention on the ladyship of his performance. He was said that once he even pretended to assault his wife to observe her frightened reaction and then apologize to her because he did not satisfy with one of his actions in a play.

Tan Xin-Pei (1847 - 1917)

Tan Xin Pei is a male role- Lao Sheng player and the founder of Tan Style of Beijing Opera. He had a sounding reputation. It is said the all Lao Sheng players at his time were following his styles. The imitation of his arias could be heard across the street everywhere. He was a best known, superb to any other names like warlord or famous political figures. His famous plays include “A Fisher's Rebelling", etc. His descendants follow his style, including his son, TAN Xiao-Pei, grandson, TAN Fu-Ying, great grandson, TAN Yuan-Shou, and great great grandson. The most successful was Tan Fu-Ying.

Chen Yan-Qiu (1904 - 1958)

Chen Yan Qiu was a female role- Qing Yi player. He was born in 1904 and died in 1958. He was regarded the number one of the Four Junior Great Female Role Players. His style is recognized as Zhang Style in Beijing Opera. His voice became narrow and muffled when he was in his teen. So his success attributed to his talent and consistent efforts. Most of his plays were about tragedies and the roles he took were sorrow some. His famous plays include “Unicorn-trapping Purse", "Tear on Depress" etc. He toured Europe in 1932. The countries he visited include France, United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland.

Ma Lian-Liang (1901 - 1966)

Ma Lian Liang was a male role-Lao Sheng player and the founder of the Ma Style in Beijing Opera. He was a graduate of the famous Beijing Opera training school Xi Lian Cheng. He apprenticed Jia Hong-Ling, and then followed Yu Shu-Yan. Later he formed his own style with characters of sweet, fluent and natural, which is best known as Ma style. His preserved plays include “Orphan of Zhao Family", "Borrowing Eastern Wind", "Gan-LuTemple", "Meeting of the Heroes", etc.

Shang Xiao-Yun (1899 - 1976)
Born in Nan-Gong of Hebei Province, Shang Xiao Yun was a female role-Qing Yi player. He entered the "Triple Happiness Opera School" and was trained first to be a "Wu Sheng" and later "Qing Yi". He had a very good skill of acrobat and dance. His performing style was highly regarded and famed as Shang Style in Beijing Opera. His famous plays include "Mad after Lost Her Son", "Liang Hongyu" etc. Shang was also dedicated in training new players. He founded the "Rong Chun Opera School".

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