Beijing Opera performing artistes history story
LetĄŻs take Mr. Cheng Yanqiu as an example to show how courageous and noble these great female character types of Beijing opera were in real life. Mr. Cheng was fond of drinking. In spite of his heavy drinking his voice was always sweet and melodious. His capacity for liquor was especially amazing at banquets, to which he was frequently invited. In July, 1926, he gave performances in Hong Kong. Thousand of people listened to his singing with admiration. The then British governor, having heard of his love for wine, presented him with two bottles of brandy which was 120 years old.
Mr. Cheng was an expert at Chinese shadowboxing. He was able to use his boxing skill for fighting with enemies in self-defense. In September, 1942, when he was returning from Shanghai to Beijing, he was molested by a Japanese gendarme and several Chinese puppet-regime policemen, who demanded to make a body search. Mr. Cheng considered this to be a great insult and refused. He knew that there would be a fight. So, he stood with his back against a pillar to prevent being attacked from behind. The puppet-regime policemen came on in a group but were defeated by him in the ensuing fistfight. The Japanese gendarme, for some reason, didnĄŻt fire his gun. Mr. Cheng picked up his hat from the ground and left.
When back home, Mr. Cheng made an inspection of himself. He found that his left ear had been injured and his gold watch had been wrung off his wrist. This story was soon circulated around the city of Beijing, and Mr. Cheng was praised for his excellent mastery of the skill of shadowboxing and his extraordinary bravery. His successful open confrontation with the Japanese gendarmerie was really a feat unheard of in the year of 1942.
So far as martial arts are concerned, the best among the four great female character types was Mr. Shang Xiaoyun, who was proficient not only in wielding different weapons and turning somersaults forward and backward high in the air on the stage but also in playing the roles of beautiful young girls. In the 40s and 50s of the 20th century there was no air conditioning in theaters. It was difficult in summer to cope with the problem of sweating, which would spoil in no time the actorĄŻs or actressĄŻs elaborate facial makeup. Mr. Shang, however, was able to confine his perspiration to the chest and armpits. Only when he had finished his performance, came backstage, and removed his makeup, did he allow sweat to pour out all over his body. People who knew him well said that this skill of controlling perspiration was the result of long training. It was a skill required especially of an actor who made strenuous exertions on the stage without the advantage of air conditioning, playing the role of a valiant heroine singing and fighting simultaneously for a long duration.Related Article:
Mr. Shang was well-known for his generosity. When any casual acquaintance came to him for financial help, he would be sure to receive from him at least the equivalent of five silver dollars in banknotes.
Mr. Shang showed great enthusiasm for training the younger generation of Beijing opera performing artists. He established a school for giving regular professional training. For the successful running of that school he sold even part of his own residence.