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ClassicsOnline Home » Red Lantern (Orchestral Highlights)
Revolutionary Operas and Ballets
In a letter of 9th January, 1944, to the pingju (Ping Opera) theatre at
Yan'an, the political capital of the Chinese Communist Party before the Revolution,
Mao Zedong mentioned the importance of reversing the trend of traditional Chinese
operas, where, for obvious reasons, there was little room for the lower ranks
of society. This attitude epitomized the philosophy of the Chinese Communist
Party towards stage art, manifested in particular during the period of the Cultural
Revolution between 1966 and 1976. During this period, Mao Zedong's wife Jiang
Qing, a former actress from Shanghai who had become heavily involved in politics,
chose six revolutionary Peking operas and two ballets to serve as yangban (models)
for the three thousand performing stage groups of the country. The six revolutionary
operas are: Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, The Red Lantern, Shajiabang,
Attacking the White Tiger Society, Harbour and The Cuckoo Mountain, while the
two revolutionary ballets are The White-haired Girl and The Red Detachment of
Women. These were considered models for the Chinese stage, proletarian revolution
and the three elements of the Cultural Revolution, struggle, criticism and rehabilitation.
Works in the same style soon appeared. These included In Praise of the Yimeng
and In Praise of the Longjiang. An additional motive in their creation was also
the possible elimination of political rivals connected with the Party Secretary
of Beijing city, including Zhou Vang, Qi Vanming, Xia Van, Lin Mohan, Tian Han
and Zhang Geng, who were labelled 'anti-revolutionary', because of their support
for traditional Peking opera.
It was the
desire of Jiang Qing to produce Peking operas that might have the desired
effect in as short a time as possible, and this inevitably involved large teams
of script-writers, musicians and artists. Jiang Qing's advice was to attempt
first works on a smaller scale and later expand them to larger forms. She also
saw the possibility of borrowing material from existing operas and pointed out
that singing and acting styles ought to be in accordance with those of
traditional Peking opera, with no concession to the individuality of the
performer, no matter how famous. One element she realised must be overcome,
namely the portrayal of the villain, who may often appeal to the public through
a display of martial arts and in exaggerated stage make-up. She praised in
particular the Shanghai Peking Opera Company in its revision of Taking Tiger
Mountain by Strategy, in which scenes involving the villain were cut in order
to stress the qualities of the good characters.
It has been
said that the Cultural Revolution began with the revolution in Peking opera.
The Red Lantern played a significant part in the opening phase of the movement,
praised officially by the authorities as 'a high quality modern Peking opera'
after its first performance in Beijing in 1964 and subsequent revised
performances in Shanghai and Guangdong in the following year, after which it
was taken as a model for all varieties of regional Chinese operas. It was the
most frequently performed of all these works between 1964 and 1966.
Lantern (arranged by Zhang Hongxiang and Yue Deshun)
Peking Opera on a Contemporary Revolutionary Theme
Lantern was arranged by Zhang Hongxiang and Yue Deshun from a Shanghai opera of
the same title, the latter in turn adapted from the film There are Newcomers to
the Revolution and the drama The Three Generations. The story was not directly
associated with the political and economic doctrines of Communism, but was rather
a historical drama concerned with the Japanese invasion of China. Nevertheless
the principal character Li Yuhe makes frequent use of words and phrases
redolent of Communist thought, such as 'revolution', 'class hatred' and 'the
Communist Party'. The fact that Li's family is artificially made up of members
of different generations from the families of Li, Zhang and Chen shows that
human relationships are not limited to ties of blood, reminding audiences of
the necessity of re-assessing the traditional relationships of Chinese society.
The red lantern itself can easily be perceived as a symbol of Maoist thought or
of guiding Communist cadres.
ways The Red Lantern differs from traditional Peking opera, apart from its
modern setting. Stage decor and setting are realist and modern and the part of
Li's daughter Tiemei includes folk-song as well as stylized operatic singing.
Dialogue is delivered in a style akin to ordinary Beijing speech rather than in
traditional recitative style. These changes occur, of course, in the other revolutionary
The plot of The Red Lantern is set in 1939 during the War of Resistance
against Japan. The action takes place in a region controlled by the enemy.
worker Li Yuhe is working secretly for the Communist Party. Three generations
of his family have formed a revolutionary fighting group in the February 7
strike movement. Li Yuhe has been given the task of carrying the secret code to
the guerillas in the north hills. Unfortunately he is betrayed and arrested.
The chief of the Japanese military police, Hatoyama, tries every trick to make
Li Yuhe hand over the code, but Li never gives way, even on the execution-ground,
and renders Hatoyama powerless. Eventually the cruel enemy murders Li and
grandmother, but Tiemei carries out the unfinished task, taking the secret code
with great difficulty, yet with the help of the people, to the north hills.
1. Introduction: A poor man's child soon learns to cope (Li Yuhe)
Li Yuhe sings of his daughter Li Tiemei: She can peddle goods, collect cinders,
carry water and chop wood. A poor man's child soon learns how to cope with all
tasks, at home and outside.
2. Men with fine, loyal hearts (Tiemei)
Though young, Tiemei understands that her grandmother and father are good
people, with fine, loyal hearts.
3. Nothing in the world will give Communists difficulty (Li Yuhe)
Li Yuhe expresses his feelings to the liaison man, who reminds him to be
careful on his journey. He is resolved not to disappoint the Party. Nothing
in the world will give Communists difficulty.
4. Our people are fuming with discontent (Li Yuhe and the Knife-grinder)
Li Yuhe expresses his rage when he thinks of people trampled under the iron
hoofs of the Japanese bandits. He hopes that the guerillas will soon come from
the north hills, with red lanterns hung high as spring returns to the earth.
5. I must be like this (Tiemei)
After listening to her grandmother's story of The Red Lantern, Tiemei understands
that she must carryon the task undertaken by her father, as dauntless as the
pine, in order to save China, rescue the poor and defeat the Japanese invaders:
I, Tiemei, must do things like these and be like them.
6. It fills me with courage and strength (Li Yuhe)
Before Li Yuhe parts from grandmother and Tiemei, he drains the bowl in
one breath and sings: I drink wine at parting and it fills me with courage and
strength. The Japanese offer me a feast and I can manage to drain a thousand
bowls of wine. This is stormy, treacherous weather. Be ready for squalls.
7. Follow your father's brave heart and firm will (Grandmother)
After the arrest of Li Yuhe, grandmother reveals to Tiemei the true identities
of herself and Li Yuhe. She reminds Tiemei not to cry if one day her grandmother
is arrested and not to be sad: You must be resolute and follow your father's
brave heart and firm will in the task of revolution.
8. A debt of blood must be paid with enemy blood (Grandmother)
Tiemei's real father and mother had been killed when the girl was still
a baby. Now that Li Yuhe has been arrested, grandmother teaches Tiemei to be
brave and make up her mind to settle old scores, since a debt of blood must
be paid with enemy blood.
9. Facing the enemy easily, as lofty as a mountain (Li Yuhe)
Li Yuhe receives an invitation from Hatoyama, chief of the Japanese military
police, to attend a birthday feast, but understands well enough what is intended.
The feast is one of knives and axes, yet Li Yuhe has the spirit of revolution
in his heart and proudly faces the enemy, lofty as a mountain.
10. Communist Chairman Mao leads the People's Revolution (Li Yuhe)
Before Hatoyama at the feast, Li Yuhe accuses the Japanese bandits of the
monstrous crimes they have committed against China.
11. They cannot chain my soaring spirit (Li Yuhe)
The music shows the heroism of Li Yuhe as he is taken to execution: Though
my hands and feet are manacled and fettered, they cannot chain my soaring spirit.
Walking boldly to the execution-ground I look up and see the red flag of revolution.
12. Farewell on the Execution Ground
Before the execution, Li Yuhe bids Tiemei farewell: Listen, child, your
father is a poor man, with no money at all to leave you: alII have is a red
lantern and I entrust it to your safe-keeping. Tiemei tells him that he has
left her a priceless treasure and that she will always be led by its bright
light: she promises to keep the lantern safe, close to her.
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Red Lantern (Orchestral Highlights)