The Orphan of Zhao (Zhaoshi guer)
Genre: huaju (modern spoken drama)
Produced by the National Theatre Company of China, 2003
Playwrights: Yao Yuan & Tian Qinxin
Director: Tian Qinxin
Performers: Ni Dahong, Han Tongsheng, Zhai Xiaoxing, Zhai Jia, Zhao Rui
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 directed by Tian Qinxin, who has been trained as a jingju [LINK jingju] female-warrior role type and then studied Directing at the Central Academy of Drama (external LINK CAD).
From a female director’s perspective, Tian in this National Theatre’s production explored issues of passion and hatred. She also uniquely referenced Zuo’s Commentary (Zuozhuan), a much earlier history narrative covering the period of 722 to 468 BC (including the story of the Zhao family) than Sima Qian’s famous Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji, 91 BC), on which the Yuan dynasty’s tragedy Wrongs Avenged by the Orphan of Zhao was based. In this 21st century’s production, the theme of revenge faded; making choice is more of an issue for all of us: modern people and the orphan who lived two thousand years ago actually facing the same predicament. The orphan cries: “I have to make a choice. I do not want to choose, but I must face the predicament.”
The clip is a trailer of the production that the National Theatre Company of China made for the Leeds international symposium Performing China on the Global Stage, held in March 2013.
Images and the video are courtesy of the National Theatre Company of China.
演员：倪大宏、韩童生、 翟小兴/、翟佳、 赵瑞