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Humble roots form Nobel ideas

By Gong Ziming | China Daily | Updated: 2019-04-04 09:56

Q: Some people say you have "the ambition of a dramatist", and that you have brought the nostalgia, life experience and stories of common people into drama, thus developing an experimental field for the integration of Chinese opera, tradition and folk culture. Do you enjoy working in this "experimental field", which features sharp conflicts, more than writing novels?

A: Folk operas have had a significant influence on me. It's known that there are four treasures in Gaomi: Paper-cuts, clay sculptures, Lunar New Year's pictures and the local opera form, Maoqiang. When I was little, we didn't have a television, and it was also difficult to see films, so my main source of visual entertainment were the performances of Maoqiang on stages in countryside squares and at fairs.

Therefore, I'm familiar with - and have an emotional bond to - folk operas and stages in villages. Also, I had always thought I should make use of the folk operas that I know so well about in my novels, so from that came the Sandalwood Death. In a sense, it's actually a traditional Chinese opera in the form of a novel - or a novel with a great number of operatic elements. The characters in Sandalwood Death are highly formulaic, just like those in traditional Chinese operas, and the relationships among the characters are full of drama.

Chinese farmers usually begin to enjoy dramas before they start to read novels, so dramas have a far more profound influence on them than books. Back in the early 20th century, most people in rural areas of China couldn't read due to illiteracy. The cultural education that they got at the time came from dramas.

That's why, back then, political activists like Chen Duxiu and Liang Qichao made considerable efforts to study how to reform dramas.

They wanted to use drama as an effective tool to enlighten people and develop their intelligence. Dramas were the teaching materials of the Chinese, while the stage was an open classroom. Basically, the rural people of China got all their knowledge of history, morality and values from watching dramas. That's why I've always paid great attention to them.

Jin Yi was a literary work of traditional Chinese opera that I created independently. I call it a literary work of traditional Chinese opera because it was not a standard script for performance. It was my way of showing respect to the folk arts, and I hoped that it would help me broaden the domain of my artistic creation.

As a novelist, I think I ought to know more about other forms of arts, especially things like traditional Chinese opera and folk arts like quyi, which is typically about language. The performances of various artistic forms of quyi are usually attractive because they are vivid, humorous, mischievous and pleasant to the ear. I think good novels should also be readable with a rhythm. To that end, I think a novelist learns from such forms of art as quyi and traditional Chinese opera.

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