Mulian Opera Series 2

Centre for the Preservation of
Qi Opera of Hunan

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Mulian Opera Series 2

Centre for the Preservation of Qi Opera of Hunan

Since the dawn of history, the Qiyang region has had a strong tradition of worshipping deities and ghosts, which gave rise to acrobatic performances such as baixi.  At the turn of the Ming and Qing eras, Qi Opera, characterized by the gaoqiang, was all the rage across the Hunan area; with the advent of the tanqiang later in the days of the Qing Emperor Jiaqing, Qi Opera evolved into a hybrid of multiple singing styles.  Plays centering around Monk Mulian followed hot on gaoqiang’s heels, so they are widely considered as the forebears of Qi Opera and, subsequently, The Legend of Mulian the premier full-scale play in its repertoire.  In Chinese Opera Festival 2011, the Centre for the Preservation of Qi Opera of Hunan (Formerly: Qi Opera Theatre of Hunan) made its debut in Hong Kong, staging the full-length Monk Mulian Rescues His Mother to critical acclaim.  Since it was missed by many, the troupe is invited for a rerun in this year’s Mulian Opera Series, again by its most outstanding actors.  The programme lineup also features other Mulian excerpts, such as Arhat Guizhi Banished to the Mortal World, Leaving the Monastery and A Novice Monk and a Young Nun Revoking Their Vows.  Alongside Mulian plays, the troupe is bringing to us some of its signature works in several excerpts.  In Risking One’s Life at the Qin Residence, an all-acting hualian (painted face) vehicle, actors rely solely on dialogue and action to visualize the grief of bereavement; stunts like “desk-leaping” are employed as well to portray their characters.  The Drunken Lu Zhishen Wreaking Havoc at the Monastery parades acrobatic moves using different body parts such as eyes, face, legs, and stomach; the 18 Arhats who all stand on one leg literally make them stand out.  Lady Zhaojun Going Beyond the Great Wall used to be a nationwide success – a richly crafted, sumptuously wrought classic that is well worth revisiting.

Coordination of the Mulian Opera Series is assisted by the Ministry of Culture of China.

Programme Details

27/6 (Sat) 7:30pm

Theatre, Hong Kong City Hall


Leaving the Monastery (Gaoqiang)

This is an episode in the Monk Mulian Series in Qi Opera.The actor playing the novice monk would express the character’s internal turmoil through the stunt of turning the prayer beads.

A novice monk, Benwu, happens upon a bridal procession, and moved by the excitement and fun, he begins to yearn for secular life.  So he revokes his monastic vow, dashes out of the monastery, and escapes to the world at the foot of the mountain.

Cast Yuan Jie

A Novice Monk and a Young Nun Revoking Their Vows (Gaoqiang)

This is an episode in the Monk Mulian Series in Qi Opera.  The actors playing the novice monk and the young nun tell the story of how they meet, get to know each other, fall in love, and finally decide to fight the feudalistic social rules and elope.  The insightful details demonstrate their emotional changes lively.

A novice monk and a young nun have escaped from their respective places of practice.  They meet on the road and in the end, decide to revoke their vows, get married and start a new life together.

Cast Wang Wen, Kuang Yun, Li Meng Jiao

Lady Zhaojun Going Beyond the Great Wall (Gaoqiang)

This is from the traditional gaoqiang repertory of Qi Opera, and is considered a tour de force for any dan (female) actor.  The singing must contain all the nuances, changes and depths of feelings of the heroine.  One of the most famous interpretations was by Xie Meixian, a veteran virtuoso in Qi Opera of the 1950’s, which took the whole country by storm.

When the Huns invade Han, the weakling emperor only wants to appease them by sending Wang Zhaojun as the bride in a political marriage.  As Zhaojun takes the long journey, she expresses her sadness, her longing for home, and indignation for the country under the fatuous ruler.  When the two countries have signed a peace pact, she throws herself into the river in heroic defiance.

Cast Xiao Xiaobo, Dai Yilun

The Female Thief at the Bridal Chamber (Tanqiang)

This is from the traditional Tanqiang repertory of Qi Opera.  It is demonstrative of the martial art skills of an actor in wudan (military female) roles, including the acrobatic skill of bending backwards on a high platform.  In addition, the actor is also expected to deliver fine singing and acting.

A woman by the surname of Mei comes from a poor family.  She disguises herself as a man and a secret “runner” who steals from the rich to give to the poor.  One day, she sees that the young lady at the Bai Residence is forced into marriage by the corrupt mayor, she offers to take her place.  In the bridal chamber, she steals all the jewels and escapes.

Cast Li Meili, Chen Zhaoye

Sima Shi Purges the Court (Tanqiang)

This is a fine example of the expressiveness of actors in hualian (painted face) roles in Qi Opera.  The actor needs to demonstrate other specific techniques such as the use of the court robe, the beard, the eyes and the stylized movements to externalize emotions and reactions.

Cao Fang is the puppet emperor of Wei under the powerful regent, Sima Shi.  He attempts to take back state power by seeking the help of Zhang Ji, the father of his trusted consort, Lady Zhang.  He writes an edict in blood, gives it to Zhang Ji to pass on to the princes of the vassal states in seeking their assistance to rid the Sima brothers.  But Sima Shi gets suspicious.  He orders the squadron leaders to block the palace gate, finds the edict written in blood, and kills Zhang Ji with a swipe of his sword.

Cast Guan Guoxin, Wei Xiaoyong

Fan Zhongyu Beaten and Thrown into a Crate (Tanqiang)

This is an excerpt from Wreaking in Havoc at the Ge Residence.  The crate used in this excerpt is what the travelling troupes use for holding weapon props.  There is a tie string on the lid to keep it closed.  The actor playing Fan Zhongyu needs to curl up in the crate before the act.  This is followed by some fast acrobatic feats – “thrice opening the lid”, “thrice leaping out” and “thrice falling back”.  The demanding performance demonstrates the actor’s dexterity and body-and-limb control, which makes this playlet one of the unique features in Qi Opera.

The new National Top Scholar Fan Zhongyu has gone missing.  Judge Bao sends his men out to look for him.  Two officers find Fan in a crate, but he has suffered a lot under the cruel handling of the despot and gone out of his mind.  He pulls some tricks on them by rolling, turning and leaping in and out of the crate before he goes with the officers to see Judge Bao.

Cast Zhou Shijie, Yuan Jie, Yuan Dian

28/6 (Sun) 7:30pm

Theatre, Hong Kong City Hall


Arhat Guizhi Banished to the Mortal World (Gaoqiang)

This is an episode in the Monk Mulian series in Qi Opera.  It is rich in the gaoqiang features of Qi Opera, complete with the set tunes from the traditional sung repertoire.

In one of his discourse sessions, the Buddha notices that the Arhat Guizhi is not paying attention.  His spirit has left his body to go to admire the prettiness of the mortal world, and in the course of it, he makes some magical world-saving moves.  The Buddha warns him but to no avail, so he banishes him to the mortal world to suffer.  This excerpt is therefore a prequel to the Mulian story, by introducing the background story to the mortal, Fu Luobo, later Monk Mulian.

Cast Guan Guoxing, Dai Yilun

Liu Gang Lamenting by the Well (Tanqiang)

This is an excerpt from the Qi Opera, The Red Silk Coat, and is considered a tour de force for any sheng (male) actor.  The actor needs to portray the devastations of an old Confucian scholar, Liu Gang, when he feels compelled to make his daughter throw herself into the well in order not to tarnish the family name.  Through delivery of lines, singing and stylized movements, he externalizes the deep remorse, shame, dilemma and regret.

On a snowy winter day, Squire Liu Gang returns home after a family visit, only to discover that Xue Li, a hired hand at his residence, is wearing the red silk coat that belongs to his daughter, Yingchun.  He suspects them of having an affair, and thinks this would bring shame and loss of face to him and the family.  Without investigating the truth, he chides his daughter for losing her chastity and forces her to throw herself into the well.  After that, he feigns to be untouched and keeps a dignified front, while hiding his pain for the loss.

Cast Zhang Chaoguo

The Drunken Lu Zhishen Wreaking Havoc at the Monastery (Kunqiang)

Many special performing techniques in Qi Opera, such as the eyes, facial expressions, footwork, and belly-sucks, are fully demonstrated in this playlet.   The varied eye expressions include cross-eyed, darting glances, white-eye, wincing, glare and drunken eyes.  In depicting the Arhats, the performer has to stand on one leg for over ten minutes, while giving vividly discernible features of each of the Eighteen Arhats.

Lu Zhishen has escaped to Wutaishan and taken a monastic vow after he killed Zheng Tu.  But soon he is weary of the reclusive life.  One day, he goes out for a walk and runs into a wine-seller.  He eagerly grabs the wine and downs it heartily.  Totally drunk, he swaggers back to the monastery, wreaks havoc at the gate, then leaves with no turning back.

Cast Jiang Yun

Under the Umbrella (Gaoqiang)

This is an episode in the Qi Opera, Worshipping the Moon. Qi Opera dan (female) role and sheng (male) role demonstrate the dance techniques to show the subtle romantic love between the youngsters.  The interesting interaction is the source of comedic clashes.

Jiang Shilong, a scholar, and his sister, Ruilian, are fleeing from a military coup.  But the two lose each other on the road.  Wang Ruilan, the daughter of the Secretary of the Board of Military Affairs, is also fleeing with her mother but gets separated in the same way.  When Shilong calls out to his sister, Ruilan mistakes him for calling her and comes to him.  In such a dire situation, the two agree to accompany each other for the rest of their journey.  Love blooms, and they become a couple.

Cast Huang Wenjuan, Li Jun

Risking One’s Life at the Qin Residence (Tanqiang)

This is an excerpt from the full-length opera in the traditional repertory of Qi Opera, The Magic Lotus Lantern.  It features an actor in hualian (painted face) role as the corrupt court official, Qin Chan, who is devastated by his son’s death.  The unique feature of this playlet is that there is no singing throughout, only dialogues and dramatic action.

Liu Yanchang takes Wang Guiying, the daughter of the Prime Minister, as his second wife and they have a son, Chenxiang.  Liu and his first wife Guiying also have a son, Qiuge.  Chenxiang and his half-brother study in the same studio.  Qin Guanbao, the son of the retired Grand Tutor, Qin Chan, is a bully among the students.  One day, Chenxiang and Guanbao get into a fight because the latter insults him, and Guanbao is killed by accident.  Qin Chan demands Liu to bring his son to his residence to make him suffer his retribution.  Liu brings Qiuge instead.  In a lynching trial, Qin Chan has the boy beaten to death.  Liu and Guiying go to bring the body back, and engage in a fight with Qin Chan.

Cast Guan Guoxing

Huang Zhong Wounded by an Arrow (Tanqiang)

The singing in this playlet has its origin in the Tanqiang of the Northern School (Beilu).  The actor performing the loasheng (old man) role needs to demonstrate convincing riding actions and fine acting.  In addition, he needs to show the old general, Huang Zhong’s heroic flair through the use of the beard and the finely choreographed actions on horseback.  The latter act is unique to Qi Opera.

The story takes place during the Three Kingdoms period.  Liu Bei of Shu leads an expedition to Wu to avenge his sworn brother’s death.  Huang Zhong, one of his generals, is over eighty, but still fights with valiance.  He defeats two of the Wu generals, Shi Ji and Pan Zhang, and manages to seize back the broadsword that Guan Yu used. But when he tries to give chase to the retreating enemies, he is shot by an arrow from hiding.  Fortunately he is rescued by Guang Xing and Zhang Bao and taken back to camp.  

Cast Yue Zhihui, Hu Weiwei

29/6 (Mon) 7:30pm

Theatre, Hong Kong City Hall

Monk Mulian Rescues His Mother

The Monk Mulian Series of Qi Opera version gave birth to the gaoqiang repertory, and serves as a rich source to trace the development and evolution of this regional genre.  It embodies a plethora of theatrical material, form and plays, but Monk Mulian Rescues His Mother is at its core.  The staging is just as varied, as it embodies the acrobatics-oriented genre of “baiyi”, or “a hundred forms of performing arts”.  Aesthetically it melds different sources into one, and shows diverse ethnological facets of the region.  The story presents the Divine Rules (such as Heaven and Earth, Yin and Yang), allusions to supernatural beings, portrayals of human beings from all walks of life, and all kinds of strange happenings imaginable were enacted on the theatre stage.  The performers were more than actors, but versatile acrobats who could walk on stilts, play fan tricks, wield broadswords and spears, perform the “human pyramid” act, etc.  The production won an Award for Preserving an Intangible Cultural Heritage at the 2006 Hunan Arts Festival.

Mulian’s Family has been avowed Buddhists for three generations.  When his father died, Mulian’s mother, Liu Qingti, breaks her fast and eats meat and is sent to the most abysmal hell where she suffers perpetually for her sins.  Mulian goes through thick and thin and is willing to lay down himself in order to save his mother.

Cast Xiao Xiaobo, Liu Dengxiong, Li Jun, Li Heping, Shen Guitao, Huang Honghua








27–29/6 Sat–Mon 7:30pm

Theatre, Hong Kong City Hall

Prices price01$260 price02$180 price03$120
  • With Chinese and English surtitles
  • Please refer to the Extension Activities page for details of extension activities
  • Each performance lasts approx. 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission


Xiao Xiaobo

Xiao Xiaobo is a National Class Two Performer specialized in qingyi (virtuous female) roles, having trained under the famous artist in Qi Opera, Hua Zhongmei.  She was winner of the “Leading Cast Performer” title in the Hunan Opera Excerpts Competition for Young Performers, the Gold Award at the “Star of the Yangtze” All China Competition of Opera Excerpts for Young Performers, and won the Performance Award at the 25th Plum Blossom Awards for Chinese Theatre.

Liu Dengxiong

Liu Dengxiong is a National Class One Performer and is a recognized Bearer of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Qi Opera at National Level.  Awards he has won include the Bronze Award in the Television Grand Prix for Young Actors in Traditional Theatre in Hunan, the Hibiscus Award for Theatre of Hunan Province, the Tian Han Award for Main Supporting Actor at the Hunan Arts Festival, and two Tian Han Gold Awards for Performance.

Guan Guoxing

Guan Guoxing is a National Class Two Performer specialized in hualian (painted face) roles.  He was winner of the Gold Award to Middle-aged Performers in the Hunan Opera Excerpts Competition and “Ten Outstanding Young Performers” in Hunan province.

Li Heping

Li Heping is a National Class One Performer specialized in wuchou (military comic) roles.  He is a graduate of the Hunan Arts School, and is a recognized exponent of Intangible Cultural Heritage at Provincial Level.  Li was winner of the Hibiscus Award for Theatre of Hunan Province and the Tian Han Performance Award.  His stock repertoire includes Waylaying the Horse, Yang Bajie Launches an Attack on the Land of Youchou and Vengeance at the Lion’s Pavilion.

Shen Guitao

Shen Guitao is a National Class Two Performer.  She graduated from the Hunan Arts School specializing in wudan (military female) roles in Qi opera.  Awards she has won include a Performer’s Award at the Hibiscus Awards for Theatre of Hunan Province and a Tian Han Performance Award.  She is acclaimed for her portrayals in The Female Burglar, Wu Song Checking in at an Inn and Jiepai Pass.

Performing Group

Centre for the Preservation of Qi Opera of Hunan

The Centre for the Preservation of Qi Opera of Hunan (formerly the Qi Opera Theatre of Hunan) was founded in 1960 in Changsha.  During the early years, the Theatre had already brought together a brilliant cast of virtuosi in the genre, such as Xie Meixian, Li Wenfang, He Shaolian, Luo Wentong and Li Yuanjun, who performed in traditional opera classics like Lady Zhaojun Going Beyond the Great Wall, Huang Gonglue, Wreaking Havoc at the Yan Residence, The Case of the Beheading of Pan Hong, The Drunken Lu Zhishen Wreaking Havoc at the Monastery, Waylaying the Horse, Second Blossoming of the Plum and Jin Long Pays a Visit to the Prison.  The Theatre also has in its repertory of original opera productions, such as Gun Shots in Jiayi, A Visit to the Sage, The Toads Well, Tragedy at the Cock’s Crow Temple Sending Food Supply, which have won awards at provincial showcases.  The Theatre’s production of Monk Mulian Rescues His Mother was presented an Award for Preserving an Intangible Cultural Heritage at the 1st Hunan Arts Festival in 2006.  The lead actor, Xiao Xiaobo won the Plum Blossom Award for Chinese Theatre in the same year.  In 2009, the Theatre’s production Becoming a Butterfly in a Dream won a Tian Han Gold Award – First Prize at the 3rd Festival and was selected by the Ministry of Culture of China as one of the National Fine Stage Arts Projects under government funding.  In 2012, the group’s production of Yue Fei again came first in the Tian Han Grand Awards at the Hunan Arts Festival.  In 2014, the group made two films on traditional theatre with the Radio, Film & TV Bureau of Hunan Province, Li Sanniang and A Visit to the Sage.

Information provided by the Centre for the Preservation of Qi Opera of Hunan


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