Times change, regimes change and the reasons why a book, a play or an opera was once banned or considered taboo now seem quaint, if not ridiculous. Yet at one time or another, several popular Beijing operas have fallen afoul of the censors in China and Taiwan.
Thirteen years ago, National Guoguang Opera Company (國立國光劇團) staged a “Forbidden Show” that was such a success, artistic director Wang An-chi (王安祈) decided to create a mini-festival of once-banned works (or excerpts from them) as a way of celebrating the right to free speech and the vitality of art that survives despite censorship and oppression.
The See You Again, Banned Operas (再見禁戲) program features nine works. The idea behind the program title is twofold: one, that such banned operas can be seen again; two, that in today’s world, the rationale for banning these works, or making performances of them taboo, is “no longer seen.”
Photo courtesy of National Guoguang Opera Company
The program opens tonight with The Lucky Purse (鎖麟囊) at 7:30pm. The opera was banned in China in 1950 because it tells the story of a wealthy bride who gives away the lucky purse her mother bestowed on her to a poor bride, whom she encounters on her way to her groom’s home.
This raised issues about class and whether a poor person should accept gifts from the wealthy.
Tomorrow’s matinee will be two pieces from the popular Yang Family Generals (楊家將) collection of stories: Si Lang Seeks His Mother (四郎探母) and Women Generals of the Yang Family (楊門女將).
Photo courtesy of National Guoguang Opera Company
The first was banned both in China and by the authoritarian-era government in Taiwan — the former because the main character was deemed a traitor for surrendering and marrying an enemy princess, and the latter because the government feared homesick Mainlander soldiers might be upset.
The second opera was banned in China because women were considered unfit to be generals and could not be counted upon to save a nation.
Sunday’s matinee will be a performance of Li Huiniang (李慧娘), a kun (崑) opera derived from Red Plum Pavilion (紅梅閣), which Chinese Communist Party censors banned because it is a ghost story, which smacked of superstition.
Friday next week will see excerpts from the kun opera The Tale of the Wooden Hairpin (荊釵記) and The Western Chamber (西廂記). The first, one of the “four great southern operas” (四大南戲), was banned during the early Qing Dynasty.
On Saturday next week, Lin Chong’s Night Escape (林沖夜奔) and Wild Boar Forest (野豬林) will be performed. The Taiwanese government banned the first one during the Martial Law era.
The final show in the program will be on Sunday next week, featuring Zhao Jun Departs for Barbarian Lands (昭君出塞), Zhuangzi Tests His Wife (莊子試妻 — 大劈棺) Wu Han Kills His Wife (吳漢殺妻). These were banned in China because the first was seen as satirizing the government, the second as “obstructing good customs” and the third because killing one’s wife was a “violation of social education.”
The lengths of performances vary, but will run between 140 and 185 minutes, including an intermission.
■ Tonight at 7:30pm, tomorrow and Sunday at 2:30pm, Friday next week at 7:30pm, Saturday and Sunday next week at 2:30pm
■ Taiwan Traditional Theatre Center’s Main Theater (臺灣戲曲中心大表演廳), 751, Wenlin Rd, Taipei City (台北市文林路751號)
■ Tickets are NT$400 to NT$1,500, available at the National Theater Concert Hall’s box offices, online at www.artsticket.com and convenience store ticket kiosks
Scott Saulters wasn’t sure if his film had just taken one of the two top prizes at a recent film competition. Although Saulters has been in Taiwan for 15 years and is proficient in Mandarin, the award ceremony for the inaugural “Bi Tian Iann” (眯電影) short film contest was conducted entirely in Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese), a language he can’t speak. “I thought I heard it, but I didn’t want to look too excited,” he says. Despite his limited command of the tongue, Saulter’s entry, Wu Yu Tzu (烏魚子, mullet roe), took first place in the amateur category of the
Since its launch in 2014, the Taiwan Season has increasingly become a “must-see” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. So, when this year’s three-week Fringe became an early casualty of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Chen Pin-chuan (陳斌全) was determined that the Taiwan Season must continue in some form. Chen, director of the Cultural Division of the Taipei Representative Office in the UK, says that he and Taiwan Season curator and producer Yeh Jih-wen (葉紀紋) had been thinking of ways of growing and adding value to the season anyway. The crisis and the cancellation of the live performances brought those ideas forward as
In the regular drumbeat of arrests of alleged Chinese spies, one case last month stood out. It did not involve the US or another rival of China, but Russia, whose security services accused a prominent arctic scientist of selling classified data on technologies for detecting submarines. Meanwhile a court in Kazakhstan in October convicted the Central Asia nation’s preeminent China specialist of espionage, a move widely interpreted at the time as a warning against increased meddling by the superpower next door. Both men maintain their innocence and if China is spying on Russia, Moscow is surely doing the same. Even so, the fact
A walk down Orchard Road shows just how badly the coronavirus pandemic has hit Singapore’s famed shopping strip. Gone are popular restaurants like Modesto’s, which shut last month after 23 years. Also missing are the queues of Chinese tourists outside Chanel and Louis Vuitton. Malls along the 2.4km stretch, once one of Asia’s top shopping meccas, are dotted with empty stores. On a recent midweek afternoon, the number of shop staff idly dusting shelves or playing with their mobile phones rather than greeting customers is notable. “It’s the worst crisis for Singapore and Orchard Road,” said Kiran Assodani, who has run her