Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010
WEI MINGLUN (1941— )
WEI MINGLUN (1941— ). Playwright and essayist. Born and raised in small towns in Sichuan, Wei Minglun began making a living as a Sichuan opera actor when he was only nine years old. With virtually no formal education, he taught himself how to read and write and moved his way up to become a leading playwright in modern Chinese theater. He has won numerous prestigious awards and is widely known as a “wizard of the theater.” Wei rose to prominence in the 1980s when he wrote and directed several influential Sichuan operas, including Yi Dadan (The Fearless Yi), Pan Jinlian (Pan Jinjian: The History of a Fallen Woman), and Bashan xiucai (The Talented Scholar of Sichuan). He continued to bring out more box office successes in the 1990s with the productions of Xi zhao Qishan (Sunset at Mount Qi), Zhongguo gongzhu Dulanduo (Dulanduo: A Chinese Princess), and Bianlian (Masque Changing).
Wei divides his plays into “women’s plays” and “men’s plays.” The most important among the former is the controversial Pan Jinlian, generally characterized as the pinnacle of the absurd in Chinese theater. Pan Jinlian is Wei’s attempt to reexamine a despised woman from classical Chinese popular literature and give her a new interpretation. The play crosses boundaries of time and space and gathers, on the same stage, famous characters, both historical and fictional, including Empress Wu (624—705) of the Tang dynasty, author Shi Nai’an (1296?—1370?) of the Ming dynasty, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Cao Xueqin’s Jiao Baoyu, a county magistrate of ancient China, a present-day judge, and others. The interaction of these diverse characters results in “absurd” circumstances, such as 20th-century hooligans colluding with Ximen Qing, who is Pan’s nemesis in Shi’s novel, and Anna Karenina taking Pan Jinlian with her to commit a double suicide. Of the “men’s plays,” Xi zhao Qishan is the most representative of Wei’s art. It once again shines critical light on a well-known figure, Zhuge Liang, of the classical novel Sanguo Yanyi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms). Through this beloved character, the play reassesses the moral attributes of the traditional Chinese literati. See also SPOKEN DRAMA.