Swinging into the future

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

Zhang portrays the Monkey King in the hit 1986 TV series Journey to the West.[Photo by Jiang Dong/ China Daily]

As a fourth-generation monkey opera performer in his family, the man born in Shanghai felt it was natural for him to step onto the stage though he never really considered taking over his father's role as the Monkey King, especially as he is the youngest of 11 siblings.

Zhang's father, a veteran opera performer, was called Liu Ling Tong (meaning a 6-year-old child in Chinese). He was called that as he first had to memorize his lines as the Monkey King at that age.

"Xiao" in Zhang's stage name means "little" in Chinese.

His father won nationwide acclaim in a 1962 film adapted from Journey to the West.

"My great-grandfather also performed the monkey opera in the fields more than a century ago. My grandfather moved the performances to the opera stage, and my father took it to the big screen," Zhang says, turning emotional as he recalls his family's links with the Monkey King.

Liu Ling Tong's second son was once considered his "successor" as Monkey King, but he passed away at 16 due to leukemia.

"I once asked my sick brother: 'How can I see you again?' And his answer was: 'When you become the Monkey King, you can see me.' Sometimes, a simple sentence can change your life."

Zhang was greatly encouraged by his brother's words, and the iconic 1986 TV series was his chance.

There were once more than 20 monkeys being raised in Zhang's home.

"In a family with more monkeys than people, you can imagine how I was nurtured," he says half-jokingly.

Zhang, who suffered from myopia and had very little performance experience, started his training by living with a monkey to learn everything about it, especially to mimic its eye movements.

"Finally, I brought Sun Wukong to TV.

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