When Mei Lan-fang died in 1961, China mourned his passing. s the passing of Mei Lan-fang. Even Premier Chou En-lai and other Party and government leaders were among those who visited him during his last illness and a 61-member funeral committee was setup. Memorial meetings were held on August 10 1961 for the great opera nanfan.
Mei Lan-fang was naturally a member of the Chinese Communist Party joining the party formally in 1959. He had devoted his whole life to the development of the traditional arts of the people.¹ His ninth child and son, Mei Baojiu, followed in his footsteps but he died at 82 in 2016.
Mr. Lan-fang was the son and grandson of noted opera singers, and under that influence, Mei began studying jingxi at the Peking Opera at age 8 and made his stage debut at 11, playing a weaving girl. Thereafter he played mostly female roles, becoming especially known for his portrayal of the “Flower-Shattering Diva”; his style of dance won such acclaim over the years that it came to be known as the “Mei Lanfang school.”
At age 13 he joined the Xiliancheng Theatrical Company and, through performances in Shanghai and elsewhere, acquired a national reputation. He toured Japan in 1919 and 1924, the United States in 1930, and the Soviet Union in 1932 and 1935.²
Some of his most famous roles are Bai Niangzi in Duanqiao (“Broken Bridge”), Lin Daiyu in Daiyu zanghua (“Daiyu Buries Flowers”), Yuji in Bawang bieji (“Farewell My Concubine”), and Yang Yuhuan in Guifei zuijiu (“Concubine Gets Drunk”).
Jingxi is highly formalized as the characters are encoded in traditional steps, postures, and arm movements. Traditionally it was an all-male cast with female impersonators. The actors wear elaborate face paint to show the characters they play and acrobatics are used to suggest violent action. Wooden clappers, a small drum, stringed instruments are the musical accompaniment with narration interspersed for the actors to rest and change costume.
Marc Edmund Jones set Mr. Lan-fang’s time at 6 am giving the above chart in Koch, a modern variant of Placidus, format. We rectified 26 Libra to 27 Pisces and got the following. Mr. Lan-fang is a lipped bowl.
- From the Peking Review, August 8 1961.
- Encyclopedia Britannica entry.