Cheng Ying Rescues the Orphan (Cheng Ying jiu gu)
Produced by Henan Yuju Theatre, Company No. 2, 2003
Playwright: Chen Yongquan
Director: Zhang Ping
Performers: Li Shujian, Tian Min, Bo Qing, Qi Qiuer, Wang Kewei
About the genre
Yuju, also called henan bangzi, is a local genre in the xiqu form, popular in Henan, Anhui, Shaanxi, Gansu, Shanxi, Hebei, Shandong and Jiangsu provinces. Yuju is also popular in Taiwan. According to the statistics, yuju is one of the leading genres in the traditional song-dance theatre in terms of the number of performers and theatre companies.
As a member of the bangzi musical system, yuju shares the characteristically high-pitched and loud music and most importantly the percussion of clappers. There are different ideas about the genre’s origin. Some scholars believe that the genre generated from the older bangzi music of qinqiang [LINK qinqiang] and puzhou bangzi [LINK puzhou bangzi] when these two theatrical forms entered the area with the travelling acting troupes in the 16th-17th centuries. Practitioners created the new genre by adding Henan local folk songs and melodies into the combined two old bangzi music and created yuju.
Yuju’s role types are similar to jingju [LINK jingju] but conventionally called “four types of sheng”, “four types of dan” and “four types of painted face” including the comic role. It is famous for aria singing; the pronunciation of the words in lyrics is clear and easy to follow. The lyric structure of yuju aria is in couplets. Due to its strong earthy tendency, yuju is good at presenting contemporary countryside lives as well as historical stories.
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.
The title of the yuju production Cheng Ying Rescues the Orphan shows that the focus of the play is not the orphan, but Cheng Ying. The script pays more attention to Cheng Ying’s suffering, not only from losing his own son (and witnessing how the baby being killed), but also from people’s misunderstanding of his behaviour. For 16 years, he is regarded as an evil traitor since he has reported to Tu’an that Gongsun Chujiu hid the orphan and as a result, he has been rewarded by the villain. People all over the country hate him and make jokes and even children’s rhymes to mock and curse him. At the end of the play he dies to protect the grow-up orphan, because when Tu’an has realized that his fostered son is actually the orphan of Zhao, he lunges at the young man with his sword but Cheng Ying jumps and uses his body to protect the orphan again.
There are two clips. One shows how Gongsun Chujiu and Cheng Ying’s baby are killed; the other is a trailer of the production that the Henan Yuju Theatre made for the Leeds international symposium Performing China on the Global Stage, held in March 2013.
Images and the video are courtesy of Henan Yuju Theatre, Company No. 2.