- Befriending Eisenstein on My First Trip to the Soviet Union
At the end of March 1934, I received a letter from Mr. Ge Gongzhen1 in Moscow, the gist of which said: the All Union Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries (VOKS)2 has heard that you will go to Europe to survey different types of drama and hopes that you will first come to Moscow to perform. If you agree, they will send you a formal invitation. I immediately replied by telegram: "I have long admired the culture and arts of the Soviet Union. If the tour of Europe goes through as planned, I will certainly come there first. Please convey my gratitude to the All Union Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries for their kind offer. I eagerly await your instructions." At the end of December, after various negotiations by letter and telegram, Oshanin,3 the Chinese cultural attaché of the embassy of the Soviet Union in Nanjing, delivered to me a letter of invitation from VOKS. I immediately replied with a telegram of acceptance. After a whole year of preparations, on March 21, 1935, we set out from Shanghai.
The Mei Lanfang Opera Troupe's visit to the Soviet Union was of a different nature from our previous tours in Japan and America. The people and government of the Soviet Union received us with the enthusiasm due to an official cultural delegation. At that time, their entire population was economizing on food and clothing, struggling to expedite the fulfillment of the second Five-Year Plan. In spite of this, their hospitality to us, a group of guests from afar, was of the utmost abundance.
The Soviet government specially commissioned the vessel North to pick us up in Shanghai. On the same ship were the then ambassador to the Soviet Union, Mr. Yan Huiqing, and the movie star Ms. Hudie, who was going there to attend an international film festival. After we reached Vladivostok, we received the governor's solemn and warm welcome. While we were resting in the hotel, I incidentally caught sight of the February 25 edition of Shanghai's China Times. On the front page were published conversations with various personalities from the Soviet literary and artistic world on my tour of the Soviet Union. Among these were two excerpts from an interview with the famous Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein.
"In the past four hundred years," Eisenstein said, "the realism of Chinese opera has remained comparatively purer than that of Japanese Kabuki, so it has a [End Page 426] great potential to influence Soviet Russian modern theater. However, we certainly do not expect to imitate the style of Mei Lanfang." The reporter asked, "Although Soviet Russian theater specialists have paid earnest attention to Mei Lanfang, what is the opinion of the average theatergoer? Will they appreciate Mei-style creations?" Eisenstein answered, "Language differences won't diminish the interest that Soviet audiences have for Mei Lanfang. The Georgian National Drama Troupe was well received by audiences in Moscow and Leningrad. Other kinds of drama, like the Jewish, Armenian, or Belarusian, didn't meet with linguistic difficulties in these two big cities either." From this brief conversation, it was evident that, although Eisenstein had not personally watched Chinese opera, he highly esteemed our nation's long history of classical operatic art.
We stayed in Vladivostok for half a day, relaxing and resting, and on the afternoon of March 2, we got on the Trans-Siberian train and set out for Moscow. On the way, we saw that on every car was hung the chart for the second Five-Year Plan. In the train stations stood harvesters, plows, seeders, and other farm machines along with a large quantity of lumber, steel, and heavy transport trucks. These scenes of peaceful construction made a deep impression on me. As for the workers, peasants, and Red Army troops that we saw on the road, we could feel how they struggled on in the midst of this harsh environment, brimming with optimism and the confidence of victory. In the stations and streets, we also saw posters advertising six days of performances in Moscow...