Modern Chinese Drama

Modern Chinese Drama, or Huaju(spoken play), started to develop in the early part of this century in Shanghai. Different from traditional Chinese opera, it soon won fans for its realistic portrayals of the lives of common folks and for its wide rang of works by such Western playwrights as Shakespeare, Moliere and Chekhov.

Since then, a number of Chinese playwrights have created works that realistically reflect the changes in the lives of Chinese before and after the founding of New China. The most memorable include " Teahouse, " "The Peking Man, " " The Thunderstorm, " " The Family," "The Prairie" and "The Death of a Famous Opera Performer." Younger playwrights have tried to develop a more modern style, exploring the inner psyche of personalities with more modernist works and incorporating more modern theatrical techniques.

Unfortunately, modern Chinese playwrights and performers have to fight hard to attract viewers away from pop music concerts, variety shows and television programs.

  • Sunrise
  • Family
  • Teahouse
  • Qu Yuan
  • Longxu Slum
  • Guan Hanqing
  • Thunderstorm
  • Huaihai Campaign
  • Peach Blossom Fan
  • Heroes of the Bush
  • Catch the Wrong Train
  • Woman Who Is Left Behind
  • Rickshaw Boy, Camel Xiangzi,
  • Jesus, Confucius and John Lennon

  • Catch the Wrong Train(Da Cuo Che)---Adapted by the Shenyang Modern Drama Troupe from the novel of the same name by a Taiwanese writer, it features the special relationship between an orphaned little girl and a soldier who is stranded on Taiwan without hope of ever returning to his home village on the mainland. The play, which uses song and dance, appears more like a musical, and is been popular with younger members of the audience.

    Family, The(Jia, 1942)---The four-act play, based on the novel of the same name by great modern Chinese writer Ba Jin, is adapted by Cao Yu, one of the great playwrights of modern Chinese. It focuses on the marriage, hard work and finally the death of Ruijue, wife of the eldest son in a big feudal family, to expose the corruption of the big feudal families in old China and the cruelty of the old marriage system. The play has been staged in Beijing by the China Youth Theater and in Shanghai by the Shanghai People's Art Theater. It has been include in the two Theater's repertoires. Playwright: Cao Yu; Directors: Huang Zuolin, Yu Liude and Liu Tongbiao (Shanghai), and Cheng Yong.

    Guan Hanqing(Guan Hanqing)---Written by Tian Han, this full-length play tells of Guan Hanqing, the Yuan Dynasty's(1271-1368)best-known playwright. Guan, who once served as a doctor in an imperial clinic, decides to write a play about the wrongful execution of a young woman. With support from star performers, he is able to have his play staged. However , one of the powerful high-ranking imperial officials orders Guan to revise the play. Guan and performers refuse and after the play is restated, Guan and the leading actress are imprisoned until after the official is murdered. The play was premiered in Beijing in 1959 and re-staged in 1991 by the China Youth Theater. Playwright: Tian Han; Director: Chen Yong.

    Heroes of the Bush(Caomang Yingxiong, 1942)---Written by Yang Hansheng, the drama tells of the struggle against the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)staged by the members of the Baolu Society in southern Schuan Province. When the society wins an initial victory and the local Qing army proposes to surrender, the members believe their enemy*s words but are attacked and the leaders killed in the process of taking the enemy's arms. The play was first premiered during the War of Resistance Against Japan and has been re-staged in Beijing by the China Youth Art Theater. Playwright : Yang Hansheng; Director: Zhang Yisheng.

    Huaihai Campaign, The(Huaihai Zhanyi, 1987)---Premiered in 1987 by the Modern Drama Troupe affiliated with the General Political Department of the People's Liberation Army, the 17scene drama recounts the roles several major Communist leaders and generals played in the Huaihai Campaign, one of the crucial wars that finally led to the downfall of the Kuomintang and the defeat of its army. The play was the first stage creation in modern China to portray Deng Xiaoping as a leading protagonist. The play is said to have made good use of the modern stage techniques and combined realism with romanticism. Written by authors with the Modern Drama Troupe and directed by Wang Shouren, who also plays Deng Xiao Ping in the drama.

    Jesus, Confucius and John Lennon(Yesu, Kong zi, Pi-tou-shi Lienong, 1988)---Produced by the Shanghai People's Art Theater, the play tells of the absurdities Christ, Confucius and Lennon encounter during their travels together on the moon and in the world as representatives of God. This bizarre drama is noted for its attempts to criticize society's wrongs. Playwright: Sha Yexin; Director: Xiong Yuanwei.

    Longxu Slum (Longxugou, 1951)---Written by Lao She (1899-1966) in 1953, this modern drama was the first full-length play produced by the Beijing People's Art Theater. Known as a milestone in the development of realistic drama in modern China, it contrasts the lives of residents in a Beijing gully called Longxugou before and after the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. Before 1949, it was a slum where inhabitants suffered from bullying by local despots and from the increasingly stinking conditions . After liberation, the new government turned Longxugou into a thoroughfare, constructed a tap water system in the area and cleaned out the despots. Playwright: Laoshe; Director: Jiao Yunyin.

    Peach Blossom Fan, The (Taohua Shan, 1958)---Written by Ouyang Yuqian, one of modern China's greatest dramatists, the full-length play strikes a note of patriotism as it tells the tale of the romance between a high-class courtesan and an army general in the late Ming Dynasty. Premiered in Beijing in the 1950s by the Central Experimental Drama Theater, it was re-staged in 1992. Playwright: Ouyang Yuqian; Directors : Geng Zhen, He zhao and Yang Zongjing.

    Qu Yuan(Qu Yuan, 1942)---Written by Guo Moruo, this full- length tragedy recounts the life of Qu Yuan, a great statesman and poet in the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), who is stripped from his post a s prime minister because he refuses to follow the king's order to sign a treaty of compromise and to surrender to the prime minister from a powerful neighboring state. With help from the royal guards, he escapes from prison and goes into exile among the country people to encourage them to fight for the state. The play served as a unifying force during the War of Resistance Against Japan (1937-1945), and has been re-staged since the founding of the People*s Republic.

    Rickshaw Boy, Camel Xiangzi, The (Luotuo Xiangzi,1957) ---A tragedy, the full-length drama, is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by well- known playwright Lao She (1899-1966). The play recounts the life of a young man in old Beijing who makes a living by pulling a rickshaw. He works hard to earn enough money and realize his life-long dream of owning a rickshaw. He is so industrious that he is able to win love from the daughter of the owner of the rickshaw shop for whom he works , and marries her. However, his savings never meet the cost for a rickshaw and after his wife dies in childbirth, he spends all his savings for the funeral. When he grows old, he loses his strength and his job. He dies on a snowy night . The play was premiered in Beijing in 1957 by the Beijing People's Art Theater, and it is in the Theater's repertoire. The novel has also been adapted into a film. Playwright and director : Mei Qian.

    Sunrise(Ri Chu, 1935)---Written by Cao Yu, this full-length modern drama tells of the corruption and luxury of the rich and the suffering of the poor in old China. The plot revolves around Chen Balu, a high-class courtesan in old China in the 1930s. Chen enjoys a pleasure-seeking life in the city but in the end commits suicide in the face of her benefactor's bankruptcy , the death of a teenage girl she has tried to save from forced prostitution, and the departure of her childhood boyfriend . After the founding of New China, the play was first premiered in 1956 in Beijing by the Beijing People's Art Theater and in Shanghai by the Shanghai People's Art Theater. It is in the repertoire of both Theaters. It's been adapted into a film by the Beijing Film Studio and musical by the China Musical Centre. The scripts for the film and the musical were written by Wan Fang, Cao Yu's daughter, Playwright: Caoyu; Directors: Ouyang Shanzun and Bai Sen (Beijing ) and Ying Yunwei (Shanghai).

    Teahouse(Chaguan, 1957)---Written by Lao She (1899-1966), This three-act modern drama is set in a typical old Beijing teahouse where people from all walks of life gather. By portraying the rise and decline of the teahouse and the plights and successes of an array of characters, the play offers a cross-sectional view of Chinese society during the period between 1898 , at the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), to 1948, the eve of the fall of the Kuomintang. The play was premiered by the Beijing People's Art Theater in 1958. The Theater has since staged the play in a number of foreign countries in Europe, Asia and North America. It is one of the most representative works in the Theater's repertory. Playwright: Lao She; Director: Jiao Juyin and Xia Chun.

    Thunderstorm, The(Leiyu,1934)---Written by Cao Yu, this full-length modern drama features the complicated relationships among the members and servants of a large well-off family and the family disintegration as a result of the morbidity and corruption in old China. A son of a wealthy family, Zhou Puyuan, has an affair with the family maid, Shipping, and she bears two sons. After he marries a wealthy woman he keeps the eldest son and drives Shipping away with the youngest. Shipping marries a butler, Lu Gui, and they have a daughter , Sifeng. An entangled family history is played out in what turns out to be a tragic ending. The play was first premiered in the 1930s in Chongqing, but was later presented in Beijing in 1954 by the Beijing People's Art Theater and then staged in Shanghai in 1959 by the Shanghai People's Art Theater. It is in the repertoire of both Theaters. The play has been also adapted into a film with the same name twice, and performed as a ballet by the Shanghai Ballet Troupe in 1983. Playwright: Cao Yu; directors: Xia Chun (Beijing) and Wu Renzhi (Shanghai).

    Woman Who Is Left Behind (Liushou Nushi-1991)---Premiered in Shanghai in 1991 by the Shanghai People's Art Theater, this full-length experimental drama, staged in small drama Theater called the " Black Box, " recounts the lives and emotions of a young man and a young woman whose spouses have followed thousands of the Shanghai residents to seek adventure in Japan, Australia and the United States . The young man has just obtained visa to go to the United States to meet his wife when they fall in love and the woman becomes pregnant with his baby. A play that touches the hearts of many residents in Shanghai, it has become one of the most popular plays in recent year. Playwright: Le Meiqin; Director: Yu Luosheng.