WU ZUGUANG (1917—2003) - The Dictionary

Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

WU ZUGUANG (1917—2003)
The Dictionary

WU ZUGUANG (1917—2003). Playwright, and fiction and prose writer. A legendary figure in Chinese art and literary circles, Wu Zuguang was one of the last generation of Chinese men of letters who distinguished themselves in more than one area of Chinese cultural life. His career stretched across several disciplines: theater, film, poetry, calligraphy, and scholarly pursuits. Born in Beijing to a well-established family that prided itself for learning and literary accomplishments, Wu earned a reputation as a dramatist in the 1930s and 1940s with several critically acclaimed plays, including Fengxue ye gui ren (Returning at a Snowy Night), generally regarded as a masterpiece. Influenced by the May Fourth New Culture Movement, the play accentuates the conflicts between the pursuit of personal happiness and traditional values that choke individualism. The main characters, a Peking opera star and a concubine of a judge, fall in love with each other despite social pressures. When they muster enough courage to elope, they are dealt a fatal blow and their dreams for a happy life together end tragically.

Wu also adapted stories from classical Chinese literature and history into stage plays. Zhengqi ge (Song of Righteousness), about the 13th-century patriot Wen Tianxiang who fought the Mongols, the mythical love story Niulang Zhinii (The Cowherd and the Weaving Maid), and Lin Chong ye ben (Lin Chong Leaving at Night), based on the classical novel Shui hu (Water Margin), are all taken from existing sources. He also wrote opera scripts such as San da Tao Sanchun (Tao Sanchun Receives Three Beatings), San guan yan (Banquet at Three Passes), and Hua wei mei (Match-Making Flowers). After the Cultural Revolution, Wu wrote Chuang jianghu (Crossing Rivers and Lakes), a play based on the eventful life of his wife, a famous opera star.

Although disinterested in politics, Wu got embroiled in a variety of political events. As early as the 1940s while working as an editor for Xin min wanbao (New Citizen Evening Post) in the war capital Chongqing, he published Mao Zedong’s poem “Qin yuanchun: Xue” (Snow: To the Tune of Garden in Full Spring), an act that irritated the Nationalist government. Wu was forced to flee to Hong Kong to evade capture by secret agents and found a job working as a screenplay writer and director of film production companies. He made Hong Kong’s first color film, Guo hun (The Soul of the Nation), which is based on his play Zhengqi ge. He turned another play of his, Fengxue ye gui ren, into a film as well. In 1949, Wu returned to Beijing to work as a screenplay writer and director at the Central Film Bureau.

Throughout the Mao era, Wu, an outspoken critic of bureaucracy and tyranny, became a target at every political campaign, starting with the Anti-Rightist Campaign in 1957 to the aftermath of the Tian’anmen Prodemocracy Movement in 1989. He was publicly insulted, beaten, exiled, and imprisoned; his house was ransacked and his wife reduced to life in a wheelchair. Through these ordeals, Wu refused to succumb to political expediency, as many others did, insisting on a life of moral conviction, which earned him much admiration. See also SPOKEN DRAMA.