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Cultural icon Ma Lianliang

By Wang Kaihao | China Daily | Updated: 2021-01-05 07:33
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An ongoing exhibition at the Capital Museum in Beijing retraces the legendary life of Peking Opera master Ma Lianliang. Exhibits include his costumes, personal belongings and posters for shows. [Photo by Zou Hong/China Daily]

In 1927, he launched his own troupe and became one of the most popular Peking Opera performers within the next few years, together with Mei Lanfang and Zhou Xinfang.

As a reformer, Ma Lianliang tried to get rid of some out-of-date rituals, which were irrelevant to the performance of Peking Opera in modern times, and focused on how to adapt traditional shows to make their format suitable for theaters.

He was demanding on details. For example, all actors were required to have a haircut before stepping on to the stage to keep a clean appearance. Fine clothing was chosen for costumes. Referring to ancient Chinese officials' clothes, he brought abundant variations of colors to costumes.

"The costumes feature one of the most recognized characters in Ma-style Peking Opera," says Zhang Jie, a curator of the exhibition, from the Capital Museum.

Nevertheless, his honed voice was probably the major reason behind his reputation among fans.

Ma Lianliang once said speaking should be like singing and vice versa. He emphasized different tones and cadences in the speaking parts of Peking Opera based on the roles, just like vocalizing the lines with melody.

"The reason why he is honored is not only because of the outstanding achievements onstage," says Ma Wen, an official with the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture and Tourism.

"He made great contribution to theories and the systematic study of Peking Opera. He pushed the art form to a peak."

In spite of his creation of many new works, Ma Lianliang absorbed traditional elements well. Among his repertoires, many pieces were adapted from ancient classics like Su Wu As Shepherd while adding his own expressions.

Su Wu, a Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) diplomat, was detained by Xiongnu people for 19 years, but he endured the tough years as a shepherd by Lake Baikal and remained loyal to his country. He finally went back to his homeland and completed the mission.

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