Peking Opera-rarararararara

So I don’t know if you are entirely familiar with Opera of any kind, but I had heard about how important to Chinese culture the Beijing Opera. There’s been movies and documentaries about the Opera and what the people go through to be a part of it; to keep this crazy and interesting part of their culture alive.

It’s a pretty wild experience. If you clicked the video above, which I’m sure you have by now. You will have discovered the true meaning of the word caterwauling. The ol’ Peking Opera is something to really take in. Besides the elaborate costumes, they tell interesting folklore stories, use only a few very simple instruments to orchestrate the production. While half of the Opera is singing and dancing the other part includes some intense high-flying acrobatics and choreographed on-stage battles.

The plays are normally several acts long and take a few hours, we experienced a tourist-friendly version that included subtitles on big displays and was only 45 minutes long, showing two different plays. Act I was a play about a concubine and an emperor leading into battle and how the power of music motivated the soldiers to win. It was bonkers and the lady ends up killing herself because China. Act II is about this lady who needs to steal secret mushroom to revive her dead husband but in order to do that she must climb Kunlun mountain and defeat a crane god and a deer god because they were so the guardians of the mountain.

Another thing interesting unique to this style of story-telling are the masks used in the Opera They are color coordinated according to their personality, character type or role. (So much for subtle foreshadowing, y’all.)

  • White: sinister, evil, crafty, treacherous, and all around a suspicious fella. Anyone wearing a white mask is usually the villain.
  • Green: impulsive, violent, often makes rash decisions.
  • Red: brave or loyal type.
  • Black: rough, fierce, and a totally righteous dude.
  • Yellow: ambitious, fierce, cool-headed, but also kinda like cruel and calculating.
  • Blue: steadfast, someone who is loyal and sticks to one side no matter what.
  • Silver/Gold: Often used for gods or Buddha but sometimes for ghost bros too.

So basically if you’re in Beijing, you’ve got an open mind and you want to see something you won’t forget. (for several reasons) Do yourself a solid and see the the Beijing Opera.

This’ll be my last Beijing post. Katie has some great posts about the next few stops on our journey. I think she captures the spirit of our trip really well for leaving Beijing, and taking the trains to DaTong, and Pingyao. I’ll be making a picture portfolio page in the coming days that will feature the best pictures I’ve taken. I’ll probably post my best pictures instead of making a whole post on it.

Class just started back up today and I’m so excited. I missed teaching these guys!

Meng Jiang Nu Temple

I’ve become really interested in folklore after I had a great class at WVU taught by lovely woman named Rosemary Hathaway. I’m in love with American folklore and now that I’m traveling China, I figured why not try to capture some Chinese folklore and pass the best ones on to you. So here’s the first one.

During the first day in Shanhaiguan we visited a temple way on top of a hill dedicated to an incredible folklore story about a woman named Lady Meng Jiang. We poked all around this temple visiting statues, pagodas and learning the tragic story of love, loss and a woman scorned.

The story is set during the Qin Dynasty which is around 221 BC–206 BC. In an effort to defend the northern borders of China, Emperor Qin Shi Huang conscripted thousands upon thousands of men to work tirelessly to  build the Great Wall of China.

Meng Jiang was a woman exceptional beauty. One day she fell madly in love with a man named Wan Xi Liang who was shortly afterwards drafted by the Qin authorities and forced into the work gangs.

Inner Pagoda

Inner Pagoda

Days came and went and Meng Jiang had heard naught from her beloved. It had been months and the harsh northern winter was coming on. Meng Jiang made him nice warm gloves and boots.The northern roads were long and passed through many unknown regions and she could find no one to deliver her gifts. Sick with worry, She decided to brave the difficult landscape and brutal weather to find Wan Xi Liang.

She crossed mountain after mountain and forded great rivers. She finally discovered some construction sites of the Wall rising above the twisting hills. She walked for many days asking every site if they had seen her husband, but none of the groups had never heard of him.

One day, after enduring many torturous miles, a great hunger in her belly, and blisters on her feet, she came upon a group of men who had worked with Wan Xi Liang. They explained to her that he had died of exhaustion after working many hours and they had buried him beneath the Wall. She asked to be led to the spot where her love had been unceremoniously buried.IMGP0212

Meng Jiang fell to her knees and began weeping. She cried and cried for days. Grief had overwhelmed after her journey. Her sorrow was so deep that the Gods took pity on her. The earth began to shake, a storm storm began to blow. The winds howled and the section where Wan Xi Liang had been buried collapsed delivering her husband’s body unto her.

Qin Shi Huang had heard the news of the wall collapsing as it had spread far and wide. The emperor wanted to survey the damage and meet the woman who could tear down the Wall with just her tears.  When he saw Meng Jiang, he became enchanted by her beauty and demanded that she marry him. She said she would on three conditions.

1. She wanted her late husband’s body to be properly buried in a coffin.
2. She wanted him to be given a state funeral so that all the officials and emperor would be in mourning for him
3. She wanted bury him near the ocean.

The funeral was all set in place, all the ministers, officials and even Qin Shi Huang were present to see her husband laid to rest. They had picked a beautiful cliff overlooking the ocean for her husband’s final resting place. When the funeral service was over, the weeping widow’s tears stopped. She rose off her knees scolding the emperor.  Meng Jiang took one last look at her husband’s grave and threw herself off the cliff and into the ocean below.IMGP0234

 

Some people think the Wall is a monument to the many faceless men experienced hardships as well as those who perished during its construction. This story is passed down as a reminder of the kindness of women and the agonies of war.

Although, this story is a real bummer. The park was really cool. It featured a temple on hill, a giant bell which Gareth rang so nobly in honor of our home girl Meng Jiang.


Big ups to these sources for helping me with my own retelling.