Hainan Island, Part Four, Opera

All Beauty had no electricity, but when the Hainan Opera came to the village for two nights, they brought a generator. The stage in the village (most villages had stages built for propaganda speeches and plays during Mao) was lit, decorated, transformed. Everyone brought chairs and stools from home. For five fen (cents) we bought funnel shaped paper filled with tiny, salted mussels (popcorn?).

As we settled down to watch, an older man with a crew cut, pulled his chair near ours and greeted our friends. He was an English teacher at the local school. Mr. Shi.

The Chinese audience for Chinese opera (or any concert) never gives the artists their full attention, and following this tradition, Zhu, Fu and Mr. Shi were soon engaged in a very animated conversation. The ex and I hopelessly tried to follow the story on the stage. I couldn’t begin to read the “captions” projected on the side of the stage, Chinese characters. I wasn’t fluent enough to keep up. (One of the wonderful aspects of Chinese is that though there are hundreds if not thousands of different languages spoken in China, everyone writes the same way.)

When I asked my friends what was going on in the opera, Zhu said, “It doesn’t matter. It’s just an old culture thing.” Blessings on the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution for that. My friends knew as little as I did about the vivid cacophony on stage

Strangely, maybe, I really liked the opera. The beautiful costumes, the stylized movements punctuated by banging gongs and drums, the makeup, the masks — wondrous. When I came back to the United States I saw several as they traveled the country. My favorite — and the favorite of most Chinese children — is the Monkey King.

Painting of the Monkey King on a ceiling in Beijing



Next — A new angle the Vietnam War

10 thoughts on “Hainan Island, Part Four, Opera

  1. The Monkey King is so popular that new movies and TV serials keep getting made. I saw street performers in Monkey King suits attracting a fairly large crowd. It’s a nice story framework.

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