CAO YU, A.K.A. TSAO YU, PEN NAME OF WAN JIABAO (1910—1996)
CAO YU, A.K.A. TSAO YU, PEN NAME OF WAN JIABAO (1910—1996). Playwright. Born in Tianjin into an official family, Cao Yu was the most important playwright in 20th century China and the driving force behind the success of hua ju (spoken drama), a transplanted theatrical form introduced from the West to China during the first decade of the 20th century. Some of his plays, particularly those written in the 1930s, including Leiyu (Thunderstorm), a four-act tragedy about a family ripped apart by secret lives and opposing ideologies, and Richu (Sunrise) about the contrasting worlds of a society woman and a prostitute both driven to death by dark social forces, are Chinese classics and are still performed in China’s theaters. Beijing ren (Peking Man), which portrays an old declining family, is considered the best play he wrote during the 1940s. Cao Yu’s dramatic skills were influenced by Greek tragedies and works by Henrik Ibsen and Eugene O’Neill. However, the lyrical sensibility and the dramatic language as well as the social consciousness expressed are quintessentially Chinese.
After 1949, Cao Yu served as president of the Central Institute of Theater and Beijing People’s Art Theater and continued to write, but none of the plays he produced during this period reached the same level of success and popularity as his earlier works.