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ClassicsOnline Home » GONG: Cuckoo Mountains - Beijing Opera Symphonic Suite
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.
immense influence of the Autumn Harvest Uprising in 1927, the Peasants'
Self-Defence Corps raised the standard of revolt on the Cuckoo Mountains, on
the borders of Hunan and Jiangxi Provinces. After three futile spontaneous
endeavours, the Corps was on the brink of extinction and was eagerly seeking
for the leadership of the Communist Party of China. The Party showed great
concern for the Corps. In the spring of 1928, Ke Xiang, a woman Communist, was
dispatched from the Jinggang Mountains, the central military base of the
Communist Party of China, to make contact with the Peasants' Self-Defence
Corps. On her way she was captured by the civil corps of the despotic
landlords, but the Peasants' Self-Defence Corps successfully rescued her from
the execution ground and she became Party representative to the Corps.
implemented Mao Zedong's line of army building and did her best to reform the
Peasants' Self-Defence Corps with proletarian ideology. One day, Lei Gang,
commander of the Corps, mistook Tian Dajiang for a local despot, only because
he made a living by working for a landlord as a carter. Ke stopped Lei from
torturing Tian. With great patience, she educated Lei in class ideology and the
Party's policy. Lei showed repentance for his error. Deeply moved, Tian joined
the Corps. Under Ke's leadership, the Corps fought the local despots and
distributed their hoarded grain to the poor peasants. The Corps also mobilised
the masses to expand the force. Through training and consolidation, the Corps
took on a vigorous aspect.
command of Dushe Dan (Viper Gallbladder), the civil corps launched an attack on
the Peasants' Self-Defence Corps. They laid an ambush and captured Aunt Du,
Lei's adoptive mother. With Aunt Du as the bait, and with Wen Qijiu, assistant
commander of the Peasants' Self -Defence Corps, as the planted agent, the civil
corps attempted to lure Lei down the Cuckoo Mountains and destroy the Peasants'
Self-Defence Corps. Ke saw through the enemy's fraud. She resolutely
implemented the Party's instruction for Peasants' Self-Defence Corps to
transfer out of the Cuckoo Mountains so as to join up with the main force of
the Communist Army and shatter the enemy's attack, but Lei was eager to rescue
his adoptive mother and take revenge. At the instigation of Wen Qijiu, he
rashly descended the mountain for Aunt Du's rescue, in spite of Ke's dissuasion.
He fell into the enemy's ambush and was put into prison.
the crisis, Ke remained calm and stood as firm as a rock. With the support of
the officers and soldiers, she made the prompt decision for Li Shijian, one of
the key members of the Corps, to lead the defence. She herself commanded a
hand-picked squad for Lei's rescue. During a stormy night, the squad dashed
across the Eagle-Worrying Ravine and rescued Lei and Aunt Du from prison, but
on their way back, Tian heroically died in the battle against the pursuing
occasion of Ke's absence, Wen, with the excuse of moving the Corps, attempted
to pull down the red flag and lead the troops over to the enemy camp. Li firmly
stopped him. Ke returned in time with the hand-picked squad and led the
soldiers in ridding themselves of Wen, the traitor. She told Lei that it was
his desire for revenge that led to his mistake, and that only under the leadership
of the Communist Party of China and by following Mao Zedong's revolutionary line,
could the peasant's armed forces secure the final victory.
Just like a
trickling brooklet joining the vast seas, the Peasants' Self-Defence Corps joined
up with the main force of the Communist army and wiped out Dushe Dan's civil corps.
They were reorganised into the Workers' and Peasants' Revolutionary Army and marched
up the Jinggang Mountains to see their leader, Mao Zedong.
of Cuckoo Mountains
1) "Countless debts and tears"
Aunt Du, Lei Gang
escapes from the enemy's prison to a steep cliff where he comes across an old
lady chopping firewood. She helps to break the chains on his legs. When the old
lady tells him that her son, Du Shan is in Lei Gang's corps, Lei sadly
identifies himself and tells her that her son has died in a battle. Lei
promises to treat her as his adoptive mother. They then determine to seek
2) "We have undergone ups and downs"
Aunt Du, Lei Gang
founding, the Peasants' Self-Defence Corps has met with three disastrous
defeats. Lei traces the cause of their failure to the lack of leadership from
the Communist Party. He now longs even more for leadership from the Party.
Ke Xiang is
dispatched by the Communist Party to make contact with the Peasants'
Self-Defence Corps. On her way, she is captured by Dushe Dan's civil corps. On
the execution ground she faces death unflinchingly, demonstrating the
unyielding integrity of a revolutionary.
4) "I am from An yuan"
rescued from the execution ground, Ke becomes Party representative to the
Peasants' Self-Defence Corps. Ke tells the soldiers how her father and elder
brother were killed in an An yuan coal mine and how the wicked mine-owner burnt
her mother, younger sisters and younger brothers to death and how she began her
revolutionary career, inspired by the Autumn Harvest Uprising.
5) "Huanglian and gall taste equally bitter"
Ke Xiang, Lei Gang, Soldiers
mistakes Tian Dajiang, who makes a living by working for a landlord as a
carter, for a wicked despot. Ke stops Lei from torturing Tian. She tells Lei
and the soldiers that the hardworking people all over the world share the same
hatred, just as huanglian and gall taste equally bitter. .After her persuasion
and education, Lei makes a sincere apology to Tian for his error. (Huanglian is
a Chinese medicinal herb which has a bitter taste.)
6) "Green bamboos flourish on the Cuckoo Mountains"
leadership, the Peasants' Self-Defence Corps is busy training and consolidating
the troops. The despotic landlords are publicly denounced and their hoarded
grain distributed to the poor peasants. The soldiers and peasants are in high
7) "Our victory depends on our strong will and solidarity"
reports to Ke that Dushe Dan is busy preparing for an attack on the Peasants'
Self-Defence Corps. Ke immediately sends Li Shijian to the Jinggang Mountains
for instructions and discusses with Lei Gang the countermeasures.
8) "The troops have been moving out of the mountains"
resolutely executes the Party's order for the Corps to move out of Cuckoo
Mountain and join up with the main force of the Communist Army. Lei, however,
is eager to take revenge on Dushe Dan and does not comprehend the Party's
intentions and is in low spirits.
9) "The Party representative is just a coal miner from
Wen Qijiu, the
assistant commander, who has secretly turned traitor, seizes the opportunity to
sow dissent between Lei and Ke. He says to Lei that Ke, being a coal miner from
An yuan, has no hatred for Dushe Dan. Thus, it is understandable that she shows
no sympathy for the local people and their suffering. Lei, however, being a
native, should not have forgotten the incidents on Cuckoo Mountain.
10) "The flames are raging"
instigation upsets Lei further. He does not believe, however, that Ke is a
coward as he has seen how she faced the firing squad.
11) "The riotous clouds sweep past"
captures Aunt Du and attempts to trap Lei using her as bait. Lei is so anxious
to rescue Aunt Du that he rashly descends the mountain in spite of Ke's
protests. Wen Qijiu then seizes the opportunity to make the soldiers go down
the mountain and also stirs up their resentment for Ke. Faced with the grim
situation, Ke's heart is in turmoil. She feels certain, however, that with the
leadership of the Communist Party and the support of the masses the Corps will
surely salvage the situation and defeat the enemy.
12) "The sinister bandits have laid an ambush"
Aunt Du, Lei Gang
Just as Ke
has expected, Lei is caught in the enemy's ambush. He meets Aunt Du in the
enemy's prison. They are both filled with grief.
13) "The standard of revolt has risen and fallen three
times on Cuckoo Mountains"
Aunt Du, Lei Gang
tells Lei that the standard of revolt has risen and fallen three times. It is
only after Ke's arrival at the Mountains that the Peasants' Self-Defence Corps
is able to stand on its feet. She reproaches Lei for not learning from his past
14) "The storm plunges the whole world into darkness"
Ke leads a
squad of hand-picked soldiers down the Cuckoo Mountains to rescue Aunt Du and
Lei. They succeed in their mission. During their retreat, however, Tian Dajiang
dies in his effort to protect the wounded Lei.
15) "Flames are raging in my chest"
Lei Gang, Zheng Laowan, Li Shijian, Aunt Du
to the Mountains and leads the soldiers in ridding themselves of Wen. When Lei
is told that Tian has died in the battle to cover his retreat, he is greatly
grieved and remorseful. Zhen, Li and Aunt Du criticise him for his rashness
which led to Tian's death.
16) "The lesson paid for with blood"
Lei to keep in mind the lesson which has been heavily paid for in blood. She
tells Lei that it was his desire for revenge that led to his error. The able
leadership of the Communist Party of China and Mao Zedong's revolutionary line
however helps secure the victory of the peasants' Self-Defence Corps.
17) "At last, our wishes are fulfilled"
Ke Xiang, Soldiers
is received from the higher authorities that the Peasants' Self-Defence Corps
is to be organised into the Workers' and Peasants' Revolutionary Army. The
soldiers celebrate the news that they have long awaited. They are determined to
wipe out Dushe Dan's civil corps and ascend Jinggang Mountain to see their
leader, Mao Zedong.
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
Strategy 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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