Is it just me or does it seem like the spirit of Madame Mao is alive and kicking in China these days?
In the excitement of the 100th anniversary of Double Ten, the Beijing debut of an opera titled Dr. Sun Yat-sen was suddenly cancelled last month. Instead it premiered in Hong Kong last week and will likely not be performed much outside the former colony.
Written by Chinese-American Huang Ruo, Dr. Sun Yat-sen portrayed the sweeping romance between Sun–the father of modern China–and Soong Ching-ling, 26 years his junior. Sun was married when he met Soong Ching-ling and didn’t divorce his first wife after he married Soong.
Some wonder if the leadership in Beijing frowned upon this relationship and canceled the production because of it. No matter the reason, the very idea that the Chinese government would abort an opera celebrating the birth of modern China makes me think about Madame Mao, the champion of arts censorship and control during the Cultural Revolution.
Madame Mao was born Li Shumeng. In elementary school she changed her name to Li Yunhe. Later as an actress in Shanghai in the decadent 1930s, she went by Lan Ping.
By the time she met and married Mao, she was called Jiang Qing and had had a couple marriages, even more affairs, and was also significantly younger than Mao (she was in her 20s, he in his mid-40s). Sound familiar?
Jiang Qing won’t be remembered for her relationships, but rather her tight control over the arts in China during the Cultural Revolution. Film, opera, theater, and ballet all adhered to Jiang Qing’s revolutionary zeal.
China has transformed since the dark days of Madame Mao, so when it exerts this kind of censorship I can’t help but wonder if Jiang Qing has had the last laugh.