New dance drama pays tribute to Qinghai-Tibet Railway
Published: Nov 13, 2018 07:08 PM

Promotional material for The Heavenly Road Photo: Xu Liuliu/GT


With its mysterious exotic landscapes and atmosphere, the Tibet Autonomous Region is a dream destination for many people traveling in China. Experienced travelers often choose to take a train from Xining in Qinghai Province to Tibet's capital city of Lhasa, as it not only gives them more time to adjust to the higher altitude and minimize altitude sickness, but also allows them to appreciate the natural views along the 1,956-kilometer route.

To pay tribute to the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the world's highest train route, and those who sacrificed to see it built, the China Ethnic Song and Dance Ensemble will be bringing its new dance drama The Heavenly Road to the stage of the Minzu Theater in Beijing on November 24.

"It is not an overstatement to hail the railway as the heaven's road," Huang Yaoping, the dance drama's producer, said at a media event held in Beijing on Monday.

"We are so proud of this engineering marvel and know it was an extremely difficult to finish such a project. However, you can't truly understand how hard it was unless you've traveled there."

In search of inspiration while developing the drama, the directors and dancers visited both Qinghai and Tibet to get a better understanding of local culture and learn more about the hardships of building the railway across the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

A touching story

The dance drama is centered around the character of Zhang Gong, a young railway engineer who devotes his life to the construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, a project that took decades to complete. The movement to build a railway to Tibet started gaining momentum in 1956, but it wasn't until 1958 that construction actually began. Construction on the giant project was put on hold on two separate occasions for a variety of reasons, but through the efforts of thousands of railway workers a 815 kilometer-long section connecting Xining to Golmud was finally completed in 1984. More than two decades later, in 2006, the final 1,142-kilometer line from Xining to Lhasa was finished.

"Zhang's destiny in the dance drama follows the destiny and development of the railway. We hope to present a comprehensive picture of the decades of effort engineers and construction workers put in to complete the railway," Jiang Dong, the drama's scriptwriter, told the Global Times at the event.

Constructing a railway across a region widely known for earthquakes, freezing low temperatures and thin air required that those involved in the project overcome a number of challenges.

"Based on real stories, Zhang represents all the Chinese designers and engineers who came up with solutions to three world-class challenges during construction - the fragile ecosystem, the lack of oxygen and permafrost," Jiang added.

Spirit of devotion

The 90-minute dance drama will be staged by a diverse cast that includes performers from China's Tibetan, Mongolian and Miao ethnic minorities.

"Most of the dancers, who were born after 1990, know little about that era, a time when devoting one's life to the construction of our country was a source of pride," said Jiang.

"They had to do a lot of homework to prepare themselves for this period drama."

Li Yuanxinxin, the 24-year-old dancer who plays Zhang, said that as a young actor himself he can understand the younger Zhang's willingness to sacrifice everything for the construction, but that "it is still difficult to play the older Zhang, especially since he lived decades ago. But I did a lot of research to learn about that age."

Covering an entire lifetime, the six-part dance drama aims to portray and celebrate the devotion of thousands of Chinese workers.

"That is something that we still need today, that spirit of devotion. Back when the country was going through such hard times, we barely believed that they, those thousands of Zhangs, could complete such a project. I think they clung to their belief that they could make our country great," added Jiang.