- On the Revolution in Peking Opera (Tan Jingju geming)
A Speech from the Plenary Discussion with Performers after the Modern Peking Opera Trial Performance Convention in Beijing, July 1964
Let me congratulate you on this performance. You have all made a great effort. This is the first battle of the revolution in Peking opera, and we have already reaped an impressive harvest, the influence of which will be far reaching.
Modern revolutionary Peking opera has begun to be performed. But have we all achieved a common understanding? I don't think we can say so as yet.
We must have unquestioning confidence in using Peking opera for modern revolutionary dramas. It would be unthinkable to claim that those who hold the positions of prominence on the national Socialist stage under the leadership of the Communist Party are not the workers, peasants, and soldiers—the real creators of history and the real masters of our country. We must create art that safeguards our Socialist economic base. In times when the way is unclear, we need to carefully define our direction.
Let me offer two numbers for your reference. To me, these two numbers are astonishing.
The first number: According to a rough estimate, the number of drama troupes in our country is three thousand, not including amateur groups, much less underground troupes. About ninety of them are professional spoken-drama companies; more than eighty are song and dance ensembles; and the remaining 2,800-plus are traditional opera troupes. On the opera stage, it is all emperors, kings, generals and ministers, scholars and beauties, ox-ghosts and snake-demons. Even those ninety or so spoken-drama companies do not necessarily portray workers, peasants, and soldiers. Rather, they depict "the great first, the foreign second, and the ancients third," so that it can be observed that the spoken-drama stage has also been taken over by foreigners and ancients. The theater is fundamentally a place to educate the people. But today's stage—filled with emperors, kings, generals and ministers, scholars and beauties—follows the way of [End Page 455] feudalism, the way of the bourgeoisie. These conditions cannot safeguard our economic base, but will threaten to destroy it instead.
The second number: There are more than six hundred million workers, peasants, and soldiers in our country, followed by a small handful of landlords, the rich, the reactionary, the bad, and the bourgeoisie. Should we serve this small group of people or should we serve the six hundred million people? This question must be considered not just by Party members, but by all artists and cultural workers who think about patriotism. Artists eat food grown by the peasants, wear clothes made by the workers, live in houses built by the workers—all while the People's Liberation Army guards the frontlines of national defense for us—and yet do not make an effort to portray them. We must ask: What kind of class position do artists occupy? Where is the "conscience" of the artist that is so often talked about?
Performing modern revolutionary dramas using Peking opera may yet involve regression. But if we keep in mind the two numbers that I have mentioned above, it is possible to avoid regression, or at least to regress less. Even if we do regress, it does not matter, for history always moves forward by a winding path. But the wheels of history cannot ultimately be held back. We advocate modern revolutionary dramas. We seek to reflect the real life of these fifteen years of nation building, and to model the image of the contemporary revolutionary hero on our opera stage. This is our chief mission. Historical plays are not all unwanted; revolutionary historical plays have constituted a significant portion of these rehearsals. We continue to desire historical plays that depict the lives and struggles of the people before our Party was established. Moreover, we need to institute models and create historical plays that are truly written in the historical materialist perspective and can make the past serve the present. Of course, we should generate historical plays on the basis that they do not hinder the...