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The Bard of Jiangxi celebrated

By David Blair | China Daily | Updated: 2017-09-08 09:53

The city of Fuzhou, Jiangxi province, is preparing furiously for the upcoming Tang Xianzu International Arts Exchange, which will be held from Sept 24 through the end of October. About 20 performing arts troupes from China and the United Kingdom will perform in Fuzhou, including TNT Theatre Britain, Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theater of Jiangsu province and the National Peking Opera Company, staging pieces adapted from the works of Tang and William Shakespeare.

Tang Xianzu was a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) official and writer who is best known as a playwright. Fuzhou was his hometown. Coincidentally, he died in the same year, 1616, as Shakespeare and Miguel Cervantes, the Spanish author of Don Quixote.

Tang is best known for a cycle of four related plays called The Four Dreams of Linchuan. Of these, the best known is The Peony Pavilion, which tells the story of a young girl who dies pining for the love of a scholar she saw in a dream. She is later restored to life by his love. Tang's work reflects the values and views of the Confucian scholarly class of the Ming Dynasty.

The Bard of Jiangxi celebrated

Last year, the city completed the Tang Xianzu Memorial Museum to commemorate Tang's life and work, along with that of Shakespeare and Cervantes. Also, on an island in the Fuhe River, a gorgeous new city park includes a tower like the one in The Peony Pavilion and a statue of Du Liniang and Liu Mengmei, the lovers in the play.

Archeologists are excavating the site of Tang's family tombs and the city is restoring the nearby magnificent Yulong Longevity Palace, which existed in Tang's time and includes a stage similar to the kind on which Tang's plays might have been performed.

President Xi Jinping described Tang as the "Shakespeare of the East" during a state visit to the UK in 2015. Subsequently, Fuzhou signed a memorandum of cooperation with Stratford-upon-Avon last September. Productions of the work of both playwrights are being performed in both countries. The Leeds University Tang-Shakespeare Project has even combined the two artists' work in a new play called A Midsummer Night's Dreaming Under the Southern Bough.

The cultural heritage left by Tang is playing a big part in improving the lives of Fuzhou's people today, and the local government sees the investment in the protection of the heritage as a key part of its green development strategy.

Cultural resources can draw highly educated people from around China and the world, plus tourists come to take advantage of the drama productions and to see the historical sites, officials said.

Lang Daoxian, deputy director of the Department of Culture in Jiangxi province, said that investments in tourism can have a multiplier effect to reduce poverty and to boost green growth. Tourism gives people business opportunities in accommodation, food and sightseeing. During the construction period, there are many job opportunities. Tourists who stay on nearby farms can boost farmers' incomes. Plus, cultural tourism is a key way to support the province's cultural heritage.

According to Zhang Wei, director of the Office of Ecology of Fuzhou, all development in the city is being shaped to be environmentally friendly and sustainable. A high-tech park focuses on attracting clean, high-value added industries with a skilled workforce. Zhang said that Fuzhou is called the "hometown of talent" because it has the best public primary and secondary schools in Jiangxi.

Agriculture, which has dominated the local economy, is becoming greener by reducing chemical usage and prohibiting pollution of water sources. Tourism forms the basis of a service economy, he added.

(China Daily 09/08/2017 page29)

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