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ClassicsOnline Home » GONG: On the Docks (Orchestral Highlights)
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 epitomised 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, Sha Family Riverside, Raid on the White Tiger Regiment, On the Docks
and Cuckoo Mountains, while the two revolutionary ballets are The White-haired
Girl and the Red Detachment of Women. These were considered models for Peking
opera, proletarian revolution and the three elements of the Cultural
Revolution; struggle, criticism and rehabilitation. An additional motive in
their creation was also the possible elimination of political rivals connected
with the Party Secretary of Beijing city, including Zhou Yang, Qi Yanming, Xia
Yan, 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 villian, 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 villian 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.
ON THE DOCKS
It is the
early summer of 1963. At a loading bay in the Shanghai docks, Fang Haizhen, the
Communist Party Branch Secretary, and Gao Zhiyang, a Communist Party member and
foreman, together with the dockers, are rushing the loading of a batch of export
rice seed onto a barge. The shipment is to aid the struggle of the Asian,
African and Latin-American peoples against Imperialism. The barge will transfer
the rice seed to a foreign ship, whose date for sailing has been moved up to
keep clear of the coming typhoon. In the meantime, they are transferring into
the warehouse the export wheat which Qian Shouwei had piled in the open. He
once served the old regime before liberation and has continued to be employed
as a dock controller since liberation.
docker, Han Xiaoqiang, who despises his job as a stevedore and is in low
spirits owing to Qian's behaviour, drops and spills open a sack of wheat. Qian
seizes the opportunity to pour glass fibre into the torn sack, together with the
spilt wheat. Then, for the purpose of creating havoc and shattering China's
international prestige, he makes Han Xiaoqiang carry a sack of the rice seed
from a flatbed into the warehouse used to store wheat.
discovers the accident on the spot and immediately looks again at the Communique
of the Tenth Plenary Session of the Eighth Central Committee of the Communist Party
of China. Mao Zedong's instructions to be always aware of the class struggle
made her sharp-eyed and clearheaded. She arouses the class-awareness of Zhao
Zhenshan, head of the loading team, with the gist of the Communique, and makes
up her mind to mobilise the masses to investigate the accident. A search of the
warehouse is conducted that very night. Fang shrewdly lures Qian into giving
himself away. To find out even more, she speaks to Han and reminds him that
things have changed for the better since the Communists took power. Awakened to
the situation, Han exposes Qian's wicked act. The hidden enemy is thus
discovered and the task to aid foreign countries successfully accomplished.
ships set sail simultaneously, their red flags fluttering. Facing the rising
sun and filled with revolutionary pride, the Shanghai dockers are advancing
courageously for the attainment of the lofty ideals of Communism.
The overture expresses the lofty sentiments of the Chinese working class
and high aspiration of "having the whole country in mind and the whole
world in view", and depicts the dynamic labour scene on the dock.
2) "We are determined to convey our profound friendship to all peoples"
The dock by
the Huangpu River, Shanghai is bustling with activity. Under the direction of
Gao Zhiyang, the foreman, the dockers are busy loading the export rice seed by
barge to a foreign ship. It will then transport the rice seed to an African
country. Filled with boundless pride, Gao looks at the harbour and sings,
"Regardless of the high mountains and the vast seas, we are determined to
convey our profound friendship to all peoples."
3) "I come to the riverside to help in the loading"
Communist Party Branch Secretary of the loading team, receives the information
that the typhoon is fast approaching. In order to help the African country realise
self-reliance in grain, the loading of the rice seed has to be finished that
very day. The ship can then set sail the next day, one day ahead of schedule,
and, keeping clear of the typhoon, transport the rice seed to the African
country before her Independence Day.
4) "Since I left Shanghai after my retirement"
Hongliang, a retired worker, has spent six years in his native place since
leaving Shanghai after retirement. However, he still feels a strong attachment
to the docks. He makes a special trip to Shanghai to visit the dock where he
once worked. He is glad to see the teeming production scene on the dock, where
there are great numbers of cargo-handling machines working.
5) "In sailing, we have to keep close watch"
that the control office has dispatched the rice seed, the glass fibre and whole
sets of loading equipment to the same transport line, thus causing congestion
and hindering the loading of the rice seed. This arouses Fang's suspicions.
6) "A single stone has stirred up innumerable waves"
Xiaoqiang, Ma Hongliang's nephew, who has been dreaming of becoming a sailor,
is reluctant to work as a docker. The malicious Qian Shouwei seizes the
opportunity to ferment discord. He says to Han that a docker is a
"disgraceful coolie" who "is treated as an inferior", and
that the dock will not be managed well by these people. Qian's incitement depresses
Han and causes Han to drop a sack of wheat, which then breaks open. Qian
quickly sweeps the spilt wheat into a dustpan which contains some glass fibre,
and pours it into the torn sack. Then, in order to create confusion and shatter
China's international prestige, he makes Han carry a sack of rice seed from a
flatbed into the warehouse used to store wheat. The incident of the torn sack
of wheat is discovered, but the whereabouts of the sack is unknown. Gao gets
angry and determines to make a thorough investigation of the matter.
7) "The land is picturesque"
discovered the accident, Fang immediately reads again the Communique of the
Tenth Plenary Session of the Eighth Central Committee of the Communist Party of
China. Mao Zedong's instructions to remember the class struggle, arouses Fang's
suspicion that there may be a complicated class struggle behind the seemingly
8) "The tempest"
of the accident has yet to be found. Han, at Qian's instigation, submits an
application for his transfer from the dock. The sharp Fang is determined to
uncover the evil manipulator.
9) "On thinking of the Communist Party, I become sharp-eyed and clearheaded"
stevedore section receives a notice that, owing to the approaching typhoon, the
sailing date of the freighter, Chang Feng, will be moved one day earlier. Thus,
all the wheat has to be loaded into the freighter before dawn. The loading team
conducts a thorough check of the warehouse in order to locate the torn sack of
wheat before loading the rest of the wheat onto the freighter. The sack is still
not found at 2 o'clock in the morning. Though anxious to get to the bottom of
the matter, Fang felt that, under the capable leadership of the Communist Party
and with the co-operation of the dockers, the truth of the accident will
certainly be found out.
10) "Myriad hardships and hazards"
It has been
discovered through investigations that the torn sack of wheat mixed with glass fibre
has been mistakenly loaded onto the barge of rice seed. The barge is already on
the way to the foreign ship moored outside the harbour. Unable to contact the
barge, Gao decides to run after the barge in the violent storm. He is willing
to sacrifice personal safety in order to maintain the international prestige of
11) "You should make a comparison between life before and after the
In order to
clear up the mystery of the accident, Ma Hongliang takes Han Xiaoqiang to the
Class Struggle Exhibition, so as to arouse his class awareness with the story
of how terribly the dockers suffered under the old regime.
12) "The kindness is higher than the sky"
Class Struggle Exhibition, Ma Hongliang bitterly tells Han Xiaoqiang how Han's
father, though seriously ill, was whipped by the foreman and forced to carry
coal in a snowstorm and finally died by a coal heap. He earnestly instructs Han
that it was only after the liberation when dockers finally stood up and became
masters of their own fates. This was possible through the kindness of the
Communist Party and Chairman Mao Zedong.
13) "The carrying pole"
At the same
time, Fang also visits the exhibition. Stroking the carrying pole which the dockers
used to carry the goods before liberation, she tells Han how the dockers, under
the leadership of the Communist Party, held high their carrying poles and
fought bravely against the imperialists and the feudal labour contractors.
14) "Be loyal to the people and the Communist Party"
Fang and Ma
sincerely and earnestly advise Han never to be unworthy of the nurturing of the
Communist Party and persuade him to "rein in at the edge of the cliff' and
be loyal to the people and the Communist Party.
15) "Spreading like the East Wind"
Ma's enlightening talk heightens Han's class awareness and Han is emboldened to
expose Qian's plot. Fang enthusiastically calls on the workers to devote their
lives to the world revolution.
16) "Returning to the harbour with boundless pride"
Gao successfully catches up with the barge and recovers the broken sack, thus
foiling Qian's wicked scheme.
Gong Guotai, Arranger
was born in the Chinese city of Henan in 1946 and studied at the Intermediate
School of the Shanghai Conservatory before joining the Shanghai Peking Opera
Company in 1966. He is a member of the Shanghai Drama Association, the Shanghai
Opera Music Association and the Shanghai Musicians Association. His major
compositions in the field of Peking Opera include Taking Tiger Mountain by
Strateg}o; On The Docks, In Praise of Longjiang, Glittering Fruits, and Wedding
on the Execution Ground, the last two honoured by official awards in China.
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GONG: On the Docks (Orchestral Highlights)