[This unsigned article is reprinted from Peking Review, #14, April 2, 1976, pp. 10-11.]
CHINA’S socialist theatrical art is flourishing as never before. This is demonstrated by the more than 500 items of drama, music, dancing, chuyi (ballad-singing, story-telling and cross-talk) and puppet shows staged in Peking by troupes from different parts of the country for nearly two years running.
The theatrical festivals at which these items were presented began in January 1974. All the items were selected from among those performed at theatrical festivals in the various provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions as well as from the repertoire of local theatrical troupes.
Among them are 48 local operas adapted from model revolutionary theatrical works and 96 new modern plays and local operas. There were altogether 1,440 performances.
These festivals, participated by 29 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions (with the exception of Taiwan Province), are the biggest of their kind since the founding of New China, with the greatest number of performers and new programmes. Workers, peasants and soldiers in the capital saw the performances with great interest and spoke highly of them, many of which reflected the spirit and essence of our times. They have vividly demonstrated that the revolution in literature and art exemplified by the model revolutionary theatrical works has achieved fruitful results.
Adaptations from model revolutionary theatrical works presented by the various troupes reflect the new look of local operas. Every province, municipality or autonomous region in China has its own local operas which are performed in local dialects or languages of the different nationalities and are very popular among the masses. By adapting model revolutionary theatrical works, local operas not only have contributed to the popularization of these works, but by learning from the model theatrical works in implementing the policies of “making the past serve the present and foreign things serve China” and “weeding through the old to bring forth the new,” they themselves have made fresh progress.
In order to portray the heroic images of workers, peasants and soldiers, many local operas, while retaining their own melodies and vocal music, have created new tunes of singing to increase the power of expression. In using its own traditional folk music in adapting the model revolutionary Peking opera The Red Lantern, the literary and art workers of the Sinkiang Uighur Autonomous Region in northwest China have created a new-type opera in Uighur, which has won the acclaim of the Uighur people and the audience in Peking as well. This new Uighur opera has now been made into a film.
One noticeable feature at the festivals is the new look assumed by modern play. All the 35 new plays reflect the real life of struggle of our era. Battle in the Shipyard depicts shipbuilders with lofty aspirations determined to build a 10,000-ton-class ship in a small berth through self-reliance. By the Liehma River tells of the life and struggle in the countryside where people, learning from Tachai in agriculture, are going all out to transform mountains and tame rivers. Both New People in a Mountain Village and The Main Lesson are about school graduates who have settled in the countryside to temper themselves in class struggle and the two-line struggle. The War Is On reflects the two-line struggle on the educational front. Imbued with the revolutionary spirit of the contemporary epoch, they are of deep significance in educating the people.
From what has been staged at the festivals, one sees that the main themes today are class struggle and the two-line struggle in the period of socialism and the heroic deeds of the masses in socialist revolution and construction. Many items warmly praise the socialist new things such as the revolution in education, workers, peasants and soldiers going to colleges, school graduates settling in the countryside, the revolution in health work and barefoot doctors.
Prior to the Great Cultural Revolution, the stage was dominated by emperors and kings, generals and ministers, scholars and beauties. Since the start of the Great Cultural Revolution, all theatrical works have drawn on the experiences gained in creating the model revolutionary theatrical works and succeeded in portraying the heroic images of workers, peasants and soldiers who, as typical representatives of the tens of thousands of advanced elements in our country, consistently uphold the Party’s basic line, criticize the bourgeoisie, repudiate revisionism and courageously fight for the consolidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
All the programmes at the festivals, colourful and rich in vaxiety, are the fruits of labour of literary and art workers who have consciously integrated themselves with the workers, peasants and soldiers. Some have moved their homes to the countryside or factories, some have taken up leading posts and worked at the grass-roots units for a long period of time, and some have gone to live and take part in manual labour for two or three years in factories, mines, oilfields, villages, pastoral areas or army units where they also engage in creative writing. In the fiery struggles, they remould their world outlook and heighten their urge and sense of responsibility to extol the workers, peasants and soldiers and depict their heroic images. In this way they have gathered rich materials for creative writing.
Most of the performers at the festivals are young people who play the leading roles in most items. Many soloists in both vocal and instrumental music and in dancing are below 20. Tempered in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, the older artists have undergone marked changes in their mental outlook. They have either given performances on the stage or helped train the young, thus contributing their share to the development of socialist literature and art.
During the festivals, the artists have adhered to the principle of performing for the workers, peasants and soldiers whose opinions and criticisms were solicited at over 100 forums. These comments, given with a clear-cut stand regarding what to love and what to hate, are lucid and to the point and are of great help to the advancement of literature and art.
To enable a greater number of workers, peasants and soldiers to see the revolutionary theatrical performances, the literary and art workers have since the start of the Great Cultural Revolution often gone to perform in the factories, mines, villages and army units. Performances by the various groups of the model revolutionary theatrical works at the grass-roots level account for over 60 per cent of their total performances in a year. Very often, one such performance draws an audience of more than 10,000. During the national festivals, the troupes from different parts of the country, apart from giving performances in the theatres, have also gone to perform in the villages. To facilitate such performances, many troupes have made changes in their stage properties. A theatrical troupe from Shantung Province has designed a movable stage, and its scenery, costumes and properties can be moved from place to place in one truck. At a festival, this troupe went to the people’s communes in the Peking suburbs to perform for the peasants and was warmly welcomed.
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