The Orphan of Zhao (Beijing People's Art Theatre);赵氏孤儿(北京人民艺术剧院)

The Orphan of Zhao (Zhaoshi guer)

Genre: huaju (modern spoken drama)

Produced by Beijing People’s Art Theatre, 2003

Playwright: Jin Haishu

Director: Lin Zhaohua

Stage and Lighting Designer: Yi Liming

Costume Designer: Cheng Shuyi

Music and Sound Designer: Zhang Jian

Performers: Pu Cunxin, He Bing, Li Shilong, Xu Fan


The Orphan of Zhao is a play based on historical records. [Link to the Exhibition] The orphan was born circa 583 BC during the Spring-Autumn Period – a time when imperial power was being eroded by the growth of numerous aristocratic-family-states. Appalled by the chaos and bloodshed, philosophers such as Confucius (551-479 BC) acted as advisors to rulers on how to control their states and people.

Historical records present contradictory accounts of the story. Most versions of different theatrical genres and films we see now are based on the extant full-length tragedy Wrongs Avenged by the Orphan of Zhao by Ji Junxiang, written in the Yuan dynasty when China was ruled by the Mongols (1279-1368 AD).

The basic story is as follows: schemed by the evil courtier Tu’an Gu, the Zhao clan were all killed except for the Princess who was the Jin Ruler’s sister and was pregnant. After the baby was born, he was smuggled out by a doctor called Cheng Ying. Having realized that the baby boy had escaped, Tu’an Gu gave the order to kill all the newly born boys in the country. Finally, Cheng Ying decided to give up his own child for the Zhao orphan. Meanwhile Cheng Ying and his friend, a retired minister Gongsun Chujiu made a plan. Cheng would report to Tu’an about Gongsun who had the Zhao orphan in his house. Actually the real Zhao orphan was hidden in the deep mountain while Cheng’s own baby son was with Gongsun. Tu’an killed both Gongsun and the child. In order to reward Cheng Ying as a loyal reporter, Tu’an took both Cheng Ying and his son (but actually Zhao’s offspring) to his house and Tu’an made himself the foster father of the boy.16 years later, Cheng Ying revealed the true story to the young man. The orphan of Zhao took the revenge on Tu’an, for his parents, grandparents, his clan and for Cheng Ying. In order to rescue this orphan many people died.

This is an archetypal Chinese story of loyalty, honesty, sacrifice, friendship, evil, revenge, bravery, and justice.

This clip is taken from the production by Beijing People’s Art Theatre, which is the Chinese equivalent of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Britain. [LINK] Established by the leading dramatist Cao Yu and his colleagues, in 1952, the theatre has produced over 300 plays over the past 60 years and established BPAT’s own style.

The director of this huaju production is Lin Zhaohua (1936- ), [LINK: Staging China Book chapter 2] one of the most controversial contemporary directors in the Chinese theatre. His experimental theatre work in the 1980s (see huaju), with Nobel Literature Prize winner Gao Xingjian [external LINK Gao Xingjian] has been regarded as the most important “revolution” in the modern spoken drama realm, because their series of productions overthrew the orthodoxy about “what is theatre and what theatre should look like”.

Again, among differing productions of The Orphan of Zhao, his was the most controversial because the work turned archetypal heroism ironically into a critique on “loyalty”. In this production, the orphan refuses Cheng Ying’s request for taking revenge on Tu’an Gu. He cannot understand why Cheng Ying has given up his own son for him; he is also grateful to his foster father Tu’an. Furthermore, the young man feels no responsibility towards his family or those who have rescued him. “No matter how many people died, they are nothing to do with me,” he cries out. The clip clearly shows the gaps between two generations over life, values and morality. Viewers can also see the beautiful set made of 40,000 orange-red bricks.

Images and the video are courtesy of Beijing People’s Art Theatre.











《赵氏孤儿》是一个春秋时代的故事。〔LINK 展览〕。据史书记载,孤儿出生于公元前583年左右。当时受到“分封制”诸侯日益强大势力的侵蚀,周王权日益衰微,诸侯争霸称雄,战争与血腥屠杀连年不断。同时,诸子百家学说开始出现,并试图就如何管理国家和人民等等给予统治者以哲学性的思考。





该剧的导演为林兆华(1936- ),是中国戏剧舞台上最具争议的导演之一。他在80年代与诺贝尔文学奖获得者高行健一起创作的一系列实验戏剧是中国话剧界最为重要的“革命”,他们的作品彻底颠覆了“什么是戏剧?”以及“话剧应该是什么样子的?”这类非常重要的观念。

同样,在众多《赵氏孤儿》的作品中,林兆华的版本争议最大,因为他改变了原剧中英雄主义的原型,作品是对于 “忠义”这类中国传统美德的质问。在这部演出中,孤儿拒绝了程婴所提出的向屠岸贾复仇的要求,他完全不能理解为什么当年程婴会牺牲自己亲生的儿子去救他。而他对于养父屠岸贾也具有相当的感激之情。更为重要的是他对于家庭以及为拯救他的生命而牺牲的所有的人丝毫没有责任感,他对着也是自己的养父程婴大喊:“不管有多少条人命,它跟我也没有关系。”这一片断显示了两代人之间关于生命、价值与道德观念的差距。观者也可以看到该剧著名的使用了四万块红砖的舞台布景。



Audience Type
The Orphan of Zhao (Beijing People's Art Theatre);赵氏孤儿(北京人民艺术剧院): , 2003



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