Swinging into the future

By Wang Kaihao ( China Daily ) Updated: 2016-01-28 08:55:03
Swinging into the future

Zhang Jinlai, 57, better known as Liu Xiao Ling Tong, mimics a monkey's facial expressions. Zhang is a fourth-generation monkey opera performer in his family.[Photo by Jiang Dong/ China Daily]

During an interview, he pauses to mimic a monkey's facial expressions.

For those few seconds, you'd believe that a real monkey is sitting across the table.

Most Chinese know him by his stage name, Liu Xiao Ling Tong, but his real name is Zhang Jinlai, 57.

He hit TV screens via his 25-episode Journey to the West in 1986 when he played Sun Wukong, or the Monkey King, in the series.

Now, with the Year of the Monkey just around the corner, Zhang is busy doing recordings for the Spring Festival galas of many TV stations.

"I appear on stage purely to bring people happiness," he says.

But perhaps, the happiness is tinged with some nostalgia.

It is estimated that the TV drama adapted from a 16th-century classic fantasy novel has been rebroadcast around 3,000 times.

In a child's mind in China, whenever its theme song plays on a TV channel, it means that the summer vacations have begun.

For generations of TV viewers in China, Zhang is "the" Monkey King.

"Several foreign friends have told me that they were astonished to find that every Chinese has the same answer when asked who Sun Wukong is," he says, despite not being the only one to play the role.

"This is because when asked who James Bond is, they give you different answers, ranging from Pierce Brosnan to Roger Moore."

Despite being so closely identified with Sun Wukong on screen, Zhang also has other reasons to be proud.

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