Archive for the Classic Literature Category

“Erotica on stage” – Dance interpretation of perennially controversial ‘Golden Lotus’ novel hits wall on Chinese mainland (with video link) [China Daily]

Posted in China, Classic Literature, Hong Kong on November 27, 2011 by Zuo Shou / 左手

+ For video link, please scroll down a few short paragraphs. +

Nov. 20, 2011

by Chen Nan

* It is dance drawn from one of the most sensual books in Chinese history. The specially commissioned production for an arts festival was a sell-out success, but it may never be staged in the mainland. Chen Nan talks to Wang Yuanyuan, the choreographer of The Golden Lotus. *

For Wang Yuanyuan, her stage adaptation of the 16th-century Chinese novel, Jin Ping Mei, or The Golden Lotus, was her most frustrating, exhausting, but also most satisfying, work.

That’s saying a lot, considering her stable of works ranges from choreography for the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony to putting together China’s most avant-garde dance productions, including Raise the Red Lantern and Haze.

The Golden Lotus, a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) novel, has been considered one of China’s naughtiest erotic works and has been banned for its explicit portrayal of sex, adultery and corruption in a decadent society.

The book devotes itself to narrating the sexual exploits of Ximen Qing and his many lovers, especially his three most famous mistresses – Pan Jinlian, Li Ping’er and Pang Chunmei – for whom the book takes its title [Jin / Ping / Mei, a combination of the females’ names – Zuo Shou]. In her adaptation, Wang has focused on how the women feel, their fragility and delicacy. In a sense, she became their guardian angel.

For Wang, dance is the best way to capture the essence of the tale.

“Dance is abstract. It accurately captures sexual energy and leaves the audiences space for imagination,” the award-winning former prima ballerina says.

The attention to detail that Wang goes into can be seen from a 5-minute video widely posted on the Internet.

[The video is here:
I do not like the video’s editing style, for which there seems to be no alternative clip; but at least it gives one a sample of the work in question – Zuo Shou]

A traditional Chinese swing-bed rocks on a specially made beam. An ancient Chinese melody laced with electronic percussion sets the tone for passionate lovemaking between the corrupt Ximen and the equally infamous Pan Jinlian.

The dancers, in transparent gauze and nude bodysuits, unravel the tale of long-forbidden taboos under dim red lights.

Wang created the piece specially for the Hong Kong Arts Festival. It premiered in March this year and ran for four days. Wang and the dancers from the Beijing Contemporary Dance Theater won instant acclaim.

Tickets were sold out before the dance company even landed in Hong Kong. According to Wang, the praises were many and unexpected, and viewers described the performance as a “living oil painting”.

When Wang brought the work back into the Chinese mainland in September, she encountered her first roadblock in Chengdu, her first stop. Eight months after the work’s premiere, Wang has yet to succeed in staging it again, and she is resigned to the fact that its controversial content may have stopped its progress for good here.

“I don’t think the work will be seen by audiences in the mainland soon,” says Wang in her office at the Beijing Contemporary Dance Theater, a company she founded in 2008 after her successful adaptation of the kunqu opera, Peony Pavilion.

“It’s like telling a child not to touch something dangerous. Kids are hugely curious. The more you tell him not to do something, the more eager he is to try,” says Wang, who says she is in her late 30s, although her delicate features and taut body belie the facts.

“That’s the case, too, with sex education in China. It’s still a subject cloaked in mystery.”

She had actually said as much when she expressed her doubts during the Hong Kong Arts Festival early this year. She had said then: “I don’t know if this show can open in the mainland”.

Wang understands that it is not a matter of the dancers being dressed or undressed that has roused the censors’ attention. It is the subject of sex, which is still a taboo subject in China.

For the 20 dancers on stage, performing The Golden Lotus was also a challenge at the beginning. They are all mainly aged between 17 to 28, and nearly all knew nothing about the book apart from the fact that it was part of the classic erotica repertoire.

For Yan Xiaoqiang, who takes the lead role of Ximen Qing, it was a different set of challenges.

“The role is all about desire, money, sex and power,” he says. The Shanxi native, who has danced classical ballet since childhood, joined Wang’s company in 2008 attracted by the theater’s freedom.

“Frankly, I am not too curious about the book, especially the sex scenes,” Yan says. “For me, the difficult thing was how to coordinate with the female dancers. We have a lot of body contact, sexual moves. Trust is important.”

Wu Shanshan, who played the role of Li Ping’er, says she was worried when she read the script. “It’s more challenging for female dancers. I was so nervous at the beginning.”

The heavy breathing and the body contact with the male lead made her uncomfortable. Although choreographer Wang told her to relax and enjoy the dance, it took Wu six months before she could do that.

To make her dancers understand their roles better, Wang hired literature teachers to coach the dancers on their roles and tell them the stories in the background.

She also invited Oscar award-winning designer Tim Yip to create the costumes for the dance. Han Jiang, the producer and stage designer, used a palette of red, white, gold and black for each scene to reflect the emotions of each role.

“I like the last scene most, the death of Ximen Qing,” says Han. “His life was full of greed and he loved women. I made the stage totally black and left a beam of light which followed him. Before he dies, he makes love to Pan Jinlian, and the whole dance ends with her solo.

“Our aim was to present a thought-provoking dance with good music, costumes and dancers. Sex is not the focus of the show,” Han says.

When Wang started planning the production one and a half years ago, she was fully aware of the perception of the book as a gallery of explicit sexual chapters. In her extensive research, she found out much more about what attracted her in the first place: The social landscape of the time, which bears similarity to current society.

“It’s true that a large part of The Golden Lotus has to do with sex, but it also focuses on other aspects such as lust, desire and jealousy. It’s art and it connects with the audience,” Wang says.

Wang’s choreography in the 90-minute dance is intended to rouse the imagination of the audience and awaken its inner desires.

Jin Ping Mei was written against a background of a decaying society and Wang says that phenomenon is very similar to what is happening now.

“Maybe society today is even worse than what was depicted in the book. People these days are lured by money, and they will do anything to get what they want, without a moral bottom-line,” she says.

Wang began dancing when she was nine. After winning the first of many international dance competitions in Paris in 1994, she decided to create her own body language.

She was resident choreographer for the National Ballet of China before she went on to study at the California Institute of Arts School of Dance. After her graduation in 2003, she was invited as guest choreographer at the New York City Ballet.

She became known internationally after collaborating with film director Zhang Yimou on the ballet adaptation of his film, Raise the Red Lantern. She was also one of the choreographers for the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, directed by Zhang.

Wang is about to push the boundaries of modern dance in China further. Her company is already in rehearsal for their next year at the 2012 Arts Festival in Hong Kong, with two new works in collaboration with theater artist, Lin Zhaohua.

“I know I have been dancing on the edge, but it doesn’t matter. It is definitely a lonely art in China now because modern dance is so young here. It takes time for people to understand and enjoy the art.”

For Wang, it is a long, hard but happy road less traveled.

Article link:


New end of ‘Mansions’ to meet the readers – Chinese pre-eminent literary classic “Dream of Red Mansions” to be published with brand new concluding chapters [People’s Daily]

Posted in China, Classic Literature on March 2, 2011 by Zuo Shou / 左手

I don’t know about the quality of the new version, but anyone wishing to understand Chinese culture cannot avoid experiencing this extra-ordinary and truly epic novel. – Zuo Shou 左手

February 28, 2011

Chinese writer Liu Xinwu’s new edition of Qing (1644-1911) author Cao Xueqin’s classic A Dream of Red Mansions will be on shelves March, according to publisher Zhang Xiaobo, president of Beijing Fonghong Media Co, Ltd at a press conference held Saturday.

The world-known novel is regarded as the pinnacle of Chinese literature, but in fact, only the first 80 chapters were written by Cao.  There had been many different editions of ending over the years, but Gao E’s 40-chapter edition is generally accepted as the best for the novel.

The 28-chapter new endings by Liu, which took 7 years to finish, was written strictly based on Cao’s plot in the previous 80 chapters, and would be largely different from Gao’s edition, said Liu at the press conference.

Liu said that Gao’s ending should be respected, in terms of its ideological content and artistic achievement, which basically follows Cao’s integral plan and makes the novel whole.

Nevertheless, he felt that it does not "perfectly echo what the author indicated in previous chapters", and that’s pretty much why he decided to add his own take on the great novel.

More than 1 million copies are scheduled to print for the first publication, according to Zhang, who anticipates a vast audience for his version of the magnum opus.

A Dream of Red Mansions was written in the latter half of the 18th century, and is regarded as a vernacular masterpiece of Chinese novel writing.

Source: Global Times(By Wu Ziru)

Article link here

Confucius, TCM best represent Chinese culture – Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping also make Top 10 of college survey [People’s Daily]

Posted in China, Classic Literature, Deng Xiaoping, Mao Zedong on February 23, 2011 by Zuo Shou / 左手

January 5, 2011

Portrait of Confucius. (File Photo)

What are your first thoughts about symbols of Chinese culture?  The Great Wall, the Bird’s Nest or Peking opera?

A survey among 2,000 college students shows that Confucius, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and former chairman Mao Zedong broke into the top 10 Chinese cultural icons among the 270 candidates.

The survey is a result of research on the development strategy of the soft power of Chinese culture, which is a major project of the national social science foundation.  Other items on the top 10 list are Chinese characters, calligraphy, the Great Wall, the five-star national flag, the Imperial Palace, statesman Deng Xiaoping and the Terracotta Warriors.

The investigation found that icons of contemporary culture lag behind those of traditional culture.  For example, representative contemporary figures like Jay Chou, a 32-year-old pop singer, and Han Han, a best-selling author rank behind 200 on the list.  Other low-ranking icons are literary characters, such as Sun Wukong, also known as Monkey King in the classical novel Journey to the West and Lin Daiyu, principal character of the romantic novel Dream of the Red Chamber.  The top 50 icons mainly contain historical celebrities like Confucius and Mencius, modern politicians like Sun Yat-sen and Mao Zedong, and influential writers like Lu Xun. Continue reading

“Justice will prevail” – using Tang dynasty poetry to repudiate Nobel Peace Prize travesty [People’s Daily]

Posted in Anti-China media bias, Anti-China propaganda exposure, Anti-communism, China, China-bashing, Classic Literature, Hong Kong, Liu Xiaobo, Nobel Peace Prize, Norway, Sinophobia, USA 21st Century Cold War, Western nations' human rights distortions on December 18, 2010 by Zuo Shou / 左手

Before presenting the People’s Daily commentary, a cultural backgrounder:

Anyone who knows Chinese literature knows of Tang poet Li Bai [李白], one of the most pre-eminent and quoted writers in the nation’s history.

The closing couplet of his poem known by its first line –朝辞白帝彩云间‹- “River Journey from the White Emperor’s City” — is part of the Chinese vernacular:


“Monkeys on both banks keep calling / but my boat has smoothly passed ranges upon ranges of mountains”

In this People’s Daily commentary, the lines are deployed to display China’s resilient and proud attitude towards the latest spasm of Western mud-slinging, arrogance and fundamental incivility.  Full poem and full translation may be found below the article. – Zuo Shou 左手‹


December 11, 2010

On Dec. 10, the Norwegian Nobel Committee held a “recipient-absent” ceremony in Oslo to award the so-called “peace prize” to Liu Xiaobo, a convicted criminal serving prison sentence for instigating subversion of state power.  The whole event has become an out-and-out political farce.

Liu Xiaobo, the choice of the Nobel Committee, claimed more than 20 years ago that the Chinese people were totally impotent, both physically and spiritually.  He said that “it took 100 years of colonial rule for Hong Kong to become what it is today.  And it will surely take 300 years of colonial rule for China, which is so big, to be like today’s Hong Kong.  I even doubt whether 300 years would be enough.”  Over the years, he has been instigating subversion of China’s state power and social system by writing and openly posting online subversive articles and organizing and coaxing signatures of others.  In 2009, he was sentenced to prison for violation of Article 105 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China.

One can certainly imagine the reaction of the Chinese people to the decision of giving this year’s peace prize to such a person.  According to the opinion poll conducted by China’s Global Times on Oct. 18, 77.1 percent of the respondents did not know who Liu Xiaobo was; nearly 75 percent of the respondents believed that the Nobel Committee “was pressurizing China and trying to make China accept the Western political system.”   The result of the poll must come as a surprise to some people in the West.

What must also come as a surprise to them is that despite the claim that this year’s decision to give the prize to Liu Xiaobo was made on the basis of their standard of “universal values”, those so-called “universal values” they preach are in fact not universally recognized.  People with vision and insight in the international community have criticized the Committee’s decision.  Over 100 media organizations from more than 50 countries, including some from Norway, have published articles to express different opinions.  This shows that deception and lies cannot blind people’s eyes.

It must come as an even bigger surprise to them that, despite their attempts of deception, blackmail and threat, over 100 countries and major international organizations have supported China’s position.  This constitutes a large majority of countries and international organizations in the world.   Over 20 countries that have permanent missions in Norway have refused to attend the ceremony.  Of the countries and organizations that attended the ceremony, some were only represented by low-ranking officials.  This is unprecedented.  It fully proves that the Nobel Committee is biased and its claim for “universal values” is false.

How come there are so many surprises?   Shouldn’t the few people on the Nobel Committee and their supporters behind the scene think it over?

More than a hundred years ago, Alfred Nobel made his will to grant his wealth to those who “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, or the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” However, the Nobel Committee today has time and again betrayed Nobel’s principles. It has completely tarnished the Peace Prize and the very word of “peace”.

Some people also claimed that this year’s choice is a “political decision” and that the “China issue” must be dealt with.  They have indeed spoken out their mind.  As early as 21 years ago, the Nobel Committee gave the Peace Prize to the Dalai Lama, a separatist bent on splitting China.  Their dream was that China would fall apart and take to the Western path.  We are already in 2010, and the Nobel Committee is still day-dreaming.  The world cannot but wonder how the Committee can have a dream for as long as over 20 years.

The world today is undergoing profound and tremendous changes.  The vast number of developing countries, historically bullied and humiliated, are now growing stronger.  The days when world affairs were monopolized by a handful of countries are getting farther and farther away from us.  The call for peace, development and cooperation of the billions of people in developing countries is the truly universal call of the times.  Against the backdrop of this historic trend, the 1.3 billion Chinese people are working hard to maintain stability and development at home and promote the building of a harmonious world.  Hundreds of millions of Chinese have been lifted out of poverty in one generation’s time, and profound changes have taken place in the country and people’s lives.  China is a staunch force for world peace and stability.  The contribution it has made to world peace and development is significant.  If some people want to discuss “universal values”, why wouldn’t they listen to the voice of the people of developing countries?  Why wouldn’t they recognize the real changes taking place in China and go with the trend of development in the world?

There are always some who cling to the Cold-War or even colonial mentality, even in this 21st century.   They regard themselves as the judge, the teacher, even though they have never been selected by the people of developing countries.  They have never experienced the real life in developing countries, but they tend to act like the Savior wherever they go.  They assume that they can forever distort the fact and block the truth by using political maneuvers.  This is a downright mistake against the trend of the time.   It is wrong in nature no matter how pretty its outfit may be.

For the just cause, support is abundant; for the unjust, little.  Those who support justice know for themselves what is right and what is wrong.  This year’s Nobel Peace Prize has become a rigged political tool and is destined to fail.  And those who have clamored support for this year’s award will certainly end up in disappointment and frustration.  “Despite apes’ screak [sic] on both riverbanks, the boat has swiftly sailed past ten thousand mountains.”  The step forward of the Chinese people will not be held back.  Nor will the trend of progress in the world.  Any prejudice, arrogance or hypocrisy will be cleared with the advance of time.

Source:  Xinhua

People’s Daily article link here




English translation:

The River Journey from White King City

Li Bai

At dawn I left the walled city of White King,
Towering among the many-coloured clouds;
And came down stream in a day
One thousand li to Jiangling.
The screams of monkeys on either bank
Had scarcely ceased echoing in my ear
When my skiff had left behind it
Ten thousand ranges of hills.

(Translator: Shigeyoushi Obata)

Li Bai poem and translation link here

Chinese nation cracks down on exploitative cultural tourism [People’s Daily]

Posted in China, Classic Literature, Tourism on July 20, 2010 by Zuo Shou / 左手

   To people who know what these mythological or literary characters represent, the idea of Chinese cities fighting over which is each’s “hometown” is a laugh.  The notion of developing a theme park based on Ximen Qing, a debauched character of Chinese literature who surpasses Don Juan in the West in notoriety, is this tendency’s nadir.  –  左手


July 14, 2010
Nezha, a famous figure in Chinese mythology, and his enemy-turned-friend the Monkey King, together with the almighty bodhisattva Guan Yin, or Goddess of Mercy, will no longer have to endure the undignified scramble of people trying to profit from their fame.

The Ministry of Culture (MOC) and the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) have called time on the controversial, and sometimes vulgar, competition of some local authorities claiming to be the hometowns of mythological and historical heroes, and even sometimes villains.

The measure came after a host of news reports highlighting the disputes over the birthplaces of almost every renowned name in the country.

According to a circular jointly released by the MOC and the SACH, local tourism and cultural heritage authorities are urged to restrain their appetite for exploiting the fame of well-known figures.  What’s more, the commercial development of evildoers, no matter whether they are real, fictional or mythological, will be banned.

The circular also criticized some local governments for competing to name their places as the hometowns of an eminent person in an effort to profit from tourism.

The contest for hometown titles may appear to be about cultural heritage, but in fact it is really about economic interests, the circular said, adding some sensational commemorative campaigns launched by local governments actually harm cultural heritage.

China’s economic development represents a huge potential tourism industry, and more and more tourists are interested in culture and not just natural scenery on their tours, so historical figures are now a hot tourism ticket, said Zhang Dahua, tourism bureau chief in Central China’s Hubei province.

Just weeks prior to the announcement, Loufan county in North China’s Shanxi province declared itself the hometown of Sun Wukong – many years after Lianyugang city in Jiangsu province claimed the same distinction.  Loufan county now plans to build a 470-hectare tourist site.

Critics say it is ridiculous that a nonexistent figure is being used in such a way, adding that a profits-before-everything mentality is at the root of the problem.

In addition, Yanggu county in Shandong province has also been under fire for planning to build an adultery-themed tourist site utilizing Ximen Qing, a fictional character from the novel Golden Lotus who is usually regarded as a notorious libertine.

An attempt to profit from association with the ancient Lothario is also being made by Linqing county in the same province and Huizhou district of Huangshan city in East China’s Anhui province.  Both of them have proclaimed themselves the hometown of Ximen and each announced an ambitious investment plan to build sites celebrating his exploits.

“It is improper for local authorities to use real or fictional figures to attract attention,” said Li Xiaocong, a history professor with Peking University.

“Some of the mythical figures with a positive image like Monkey King or Nezha can be culturally promoted in an appropriate manner, and some controllable commercial development is also feasible.

“However, the local governments should take their hands off the commercial promotion or sensation-making campaigns,” he added.

A spokesman of the MOC said on Tuesday that the ministry would explain how the rules will be implemented in the near future.

Source: China Daily

Article link here

“Nightmare of Red Mansions” – Chilly reception to new TV version of Chinese classic “Dream of the Red Chamber” 《红楼梦》[People’s Daily]

Posted in China, Chinese TV program, Classic Literature on July 14, 2010 by Zuo Shou / 左手
UPDATE, 2010/9/25:  I’ve been following this 50-episode TV play and I find it good.  I don’t agree at all with the scathing reviews documented here, many of which I consider pettily ignorant and wrong.  I suspect people have lost objectivity in their perceptions of this show due to highly-publicized pre-production controversies and an exaggerated fear of the new.  I haven’t seen the 1987 version so I can only judge the 2010 production on its own merits.  I will just say of the variety of Chinese TV plays I’ve seen from the ’80s to the present, the new version is certainly the best as far as overall quality of production.  I appreciate the expert and unique music, lighting, costumes, makeup, and so on.  The only drawbacks I really see are those inherent to the source material, that is a tendency to staticness as a consequence of dramatizing a highly literary and cultured novel of manners which is mostly actionless  —  containing primarily dialogue and soap opera plot devices  —  albeit high quality soap opera.  – Zuo Shou 左手
July 5, 2010
A new TV series based on the classic A Dream of Red Mansions has received poor reviews, but the director stands by her treatment of the book, Liu Wei reports

Qin Keqing aka Qin-shi, played by Tang Yifei in the new TV adaptation of A Dream of Red Mansions. Original caption misidentifies the character portrayed as Lin Daiyu. (Source: China Daily)


Director Li Shaohong described her anxiety about adapting the classic novel A Dream of Red Mansions into a TV series as “walking on ice”.  She now faces even more pressure, since comments about the show’s premiere last weekend on TV channels and websites were mostly negative.    

“It is like a horror film.  It’s always so dark in the room every character seems to float rather than walk and the music is just frightening,” says a 29-year-old woman surnamed Ma, who works for an accountancy firm in Beijing.    

The original novel, written in the mid-18th century by Cao Xueqin, compares life to a dream, not a nightmare.    

It depicts the ups and downs of four prestigious families, with a focus on the tragic love between Jia Baoyu and Lin Daiyu.    

The main setting of Daguanyuan Garden, in the book’s first half, is a wonderland of scenic beauty and refined lifestyle.    

But in the TV series, the mood is depressing and melancholy.  The background music is a Kunqu Opera actress’ ghostly moaning.    

“The tone and mood is not appropriate, at least not when the family is still in its heyday,” writes Jiang Xiaoyi, a fan of the book, in the Beijing News.    

Li’s interpretation is that the book is about a dream, and dreams are surreal.    

To Chen Sihe, professor of Fudan University, the show is too cautious.    

To be faithful to the book, the show features a middle-aged man’s voiceover throughout, reading verbatim excerpts from the novel.  Sometime it is even louder than the dialogue.    

“Too much voiceover kills the viewers’ imagination,” Chen was quoted as saying.    

Li, however, insists the voiceover is necessary.    

“Well-educated audiences do not need it but for those who have not read the book, it is quite necessary.”    

A netizen on responded:  “Maybe actors believe they don’t need to act, since what they think is spoken.”    

The actresses wearing similar makeup have also angered some fans of the book.    

“One reason the Red Mansions is great is because every character has his or her own vivid personality,” says Ginger Jiang, a fan of the novel.  “Isn’t the director’s job to highlight that in the show?  The make up should have been a helpful method of doing this, but now they look all the same.”    

The new version has been unfavorably compared to the beloved 1987 TV adaptation.    

“In the old show you could see the cast and crew’s devotion to the book in every detail, in terms of the production design, music, make up and especially acting,” Jiang says.  “I can’t find this in the new version.”    

Supporters of Li, however, believe the show has given the old book a new look.    

“At least we understand what the story is about, thanks to the voice over,” the South Metropolis Daily quoted a young viewer as saying.  “The visual effects and music are quite original, too.”    

Li cites senior director Wang Fulin, who made the 1987 version, to encourage herself.  Wang told her that there was harsh criticism when his show was broadcast, too, but time has proved it a masterpiece.    

“Wang moved me by encouraging me to do it my way,” she says.  “A Dream of Red Mansions is such an important book for Chinese, so everything about it raises controversy.  I have made the show, and that is a breakthrough already.”    

Source: China Daily    

Article link here