Peking Opera and other tales through the eyes of clueless onlookers
written by Eileen Chang, originally published in 1943
If we examine affairs of all things Chinese as if we were foreigners watching Peking Opera, it could be fun and meaningful again. With bamboo cloth line and baby diapers hanging over viewers' heads; Glasses over the counter top filled with "longevity spirit from Ginshen"; Radio playing famed Mei Lanfang operatic voices over the wavelength from one corner; and from another, advertisement of miracle ointment to cure and sooth contagious scabies or itching ... that's all what it means to be living in Chinese atmosphere, their multiplicity, poignancy, mysterious or too funny for words.
Many young generation worldly men loved China but had no idea what attracted them to its culture. Unconditional love is quite admirable -- the only danger is that sooner or later, when reality bites, they are unprepared for its deadly touch, inhaling into their chests its full blown coldness and their hearts gradually turned into icicles. We are unfortunately to live among local Chinese populace, unlike other expatriates, safely worshiped their motherland afar with awe and affectionate undying love. So come and take a much closer look! Re-examine Chinese life through clueless foreigner's glasses while they listen to our Peking opera, with big surprises and intrigues, we might gain loving insights that otherwise we don't know it is always there.
Whenever I had a conversation longer than three sentences, I couldn't continue without mentioning Peking opera. And why is that, you may wonder. That's because I don't make a living to sing Peking opera yet I am full of curiosity towards it. As far as living a life, who wouldn't admit that they only have half of the clues? I am particularly fond of using Peking opera to set a proper attitude towards life as how Chinese live in it.
Those fair ladies from Peking opera troops who've played big roles on stage, when they learned that you like watching Peking opera, they would smile and say: " You know Peking opera, that is a sophisticated showbiz all in itself. Directing each stage and scene setting with proper costumes, that involves much subtleties and minute details, you could probably spend your whole life to understand what it might entail. " Of course, I wouldn't have any clue if they were put on wrong costumes for a historical period of time; and if their tunes were a bit off the scores, I wouldn't notice anything either. I only love to sit in front rows, totally immerse myself into actors' actions on stages; let myself being blown away by those colorful blue and golden painted face under bulky armories, long capes flowing up and showing its red inlines, jade green trousers flipping out purple underlines.
Opinions by outside observers are sometime invaluable, or else whenever American journalists interview some big shots, why they always like to pick topics that is totally unrelated to their professed expertise? For example, when they interview a female murder suspect, they want to know if she was optimistic on how our world might end; interviewing a boxing champion, they ask him if he approves adaptation of Shakespearian play into modern fashion show. Of course, they need to attract viewers, to make them laugh and feel good about themselves, thinking: "I know even more than these social celebrities. Famed people can be dumber than me!" On the other hand, outsiders might have a fresher and simpler outlook, that is worth uncovering.
In order not to take myself too serious, let's talk about 话剧里的平剧罢。《秋海棠》一剧风魔了全上海，不能不归功于故事里京戏气氛的浓。紧跟着《秋海棠》空前的成功，同时有五六出话剧以平剧的穿插为号召。中国的写实派新戏剧自从它的产生到如今，始终是站在平剧的对面的，可是第一出深入民间的话剧之所以得人心，却是借重了平剧——这现象委实使人吃惊。