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Ts’ao Yu: Dramatist in Communist China Walter J. & Ruth I. Meserve Called the “greatest playwright” of the modern theatre in China,1 Ts’ao Yu, pseudonym of Wan Chai-pao (1910- ), was most pro­ ductive during the 1930’s and early 1940’s when he wrote six major plays. Then, in 1949, Mao Tse-tung and the Communist Party came into power. As a student at Tsing Hua University, from which he graduated in 1934, Ts’ao Yu had been greatly impressed by Western literature. He knew the drama of the Greeks and that of Shakespeare, Chekhov, Ibsen, and O ’Neill; he even acted in two of Ibsen’s plays as well as in Chinese plays. In Ts’ao Yu the modern day struggle of Eastern Communism and Western Philosophy is dramatically personi­ fied. His first play, Thunderstorm (1934), also called Thunder and Rain, brought unbelievable success. Reprinted several times (the Communist press says thirty times and a Western source claims nine editions), Thunderstorm played before enthusiastic audiences as late as 1960. In the history of Chinese drama it is also significant for continuing the influence of Western drama upon Eastern drama which began with a performanec of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1907. Concerned with the downfall of a family because of its past sins, the play clearly reflects Aeschylus’ Orestia and Eugene O ’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra. But Thunderstorm still remains indigenous to China: the characters are Chinese in every way, while actions and customs reflect the culture of China. As originally written Thunderstorm included a prologue and an epilogue which take place in a Catholic Hospital ten years after the action of the play and dramatize the pathetic existence of those who first sinned, the old woman having lost contact with the real world and the old man trying to reach her. The main plot tells of the family of Chou Pu-yuan, owner of a coal mine, prosperous, strict, and a cold-hearted man. In the past he had had two sons by a household servant who turns out to be the mother of his present servant girl, Ssu-feng, and wife to her father, Lu Kuei. One son, Ping, was raised by Chou Pu-yuan, and when his father married, had an affair with this step-mother, Fan-yi, which he now regrets, having fallen in love with Ssu-feng. The drama is intensified when it is evident that Chung, the son of Chou Pu-yuan and Fan-yi, also loves Ssu-feng. Reminiscent of the ancient Greek drama, the evils of the past are cleverly revealed 115 116 Comparative Drama through two incidents: a strike at the coal mine which brings Lu Ta-hai (the second son of Chou Pu-yuan and half-brother of Ssu-feng) to the Chou household as the miners’ representative; and the jealous anger of Fan-yi who, discovering Ping’s love for Ssu-feng, requests a visit from Mrs. Lu. As a consequence, all concerned are brought together in the Chou household for one day. In good Aristotelian fashion Mrs. Lu discovers who Chou Pu-yuan really is as they see the results of their love turn into horror: brother fights brother with murderous intent, and Ssu-feng reveals she is going to have Chou Ping’s child. Then the thunderstorm which has been growing in intensity throughout the play becomes a device of the fates. There is no escape. A loose wire electrocutes Ssu-feng as she tries to run from her disaster, and Chung is killed when he tries to save her; Fan-yi loses her mind; and Ping shoots himself. The epilogue shows the continuing work of the furies. The influence of the Greek drama upon Thunderstorm is evident in various ways. Two Greek themes are dramatized: the sins of the past visited upon the present (the House of Atreus), and the deter­ mined love of a woman for her step-son (Phaedra-Hippolytus). Both themes are resolved as they were by the Greek dramatists. Revelations of the past bring horror and disaster to the present unknowing genera­ tion while those who started the action are relentlessly pursued. Chou Pu-yuan is a stern...


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