Patriotic theater works gain popularity among young Chinese
Taking center stage
Published: Aug 07, 2022 08:14 PM
The National Centre for the Performing Arts Photo: VCG

The National Centre for the Performing Arts Photo: VCG

Just two hours after sales began online on Friday, tickets for six out of the 10 scheduled performances of stage play The Awakening Age, an adaptation of the hit TV series of the same name, had sold out.

The play, about the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC), is set to debut in Shanghai in September. Many fans of the show have expressed their eagerness in having to wait to see the red patriotic work showing the spirit of China's revolutionary pioneers on stage.

Another stage performance scheduled for September is the musical Jiang Jie (Sister Jiang), named after the revolutionary figure from China's best-selling 1961 novel Red Rock. The work has captured the attention of young people, sparking their interest in live theater. 

According to industry insiders, no matter if it the soon to be staged The Awakening Age and Jiang Jie, or the original Chinese play Teacher Guimei, which gained massive attention in 2021 by telling the well-known true story of a teacher who insists on bringing education opportunities to girls in poor areas, are good examples of the high quality patriotic stage performances that have been gaining positive remarks from young audiences recently, reflecting how the market for these works has grown. 

The secret of these works' ability to attract the attention of young people lies in stories that resonant with audiences and vivid characters that come across as real people. 

Besides being meaningful in a social context, they also remain entertaining and commercially profitable as well as praiseworthy in terms of their innovative artistic style.

Wang Yunting (TaimeiPKGIRL), a vlogger from the island of Taiwan who is currently living in Shanghai, told the Global Times that she, as a fan of the revolutionary spirit on display in the TV series, was so excited for the hit drama The Awakening Age that she made a short video about the show on video sharing platform Bilibili.

Adapting popular stories from books and TV series gives these stage performances some major advantages as they generate interest among loyal fans of the original works, Luo Luo, a Beijing-based drama critic, told the Global Times on Sunday.

The cast of Chinese play <em>Teacher Guimei</em> perform at the Yunnan Drama Theater in June, 2021. Photo: IC

The cast of Chinese play Teacher Guimei perform at the Yunnan Drama Theater in June 2021. Photo: IC

Positive energy

Patriotic works, be they debuting on stage or on screen, bring positive energy that captures the hearts of Chinese people.

A report published by China Central Television about the development of Chinese TV series in 2021 shows that seven of the top 10 most popular works among young Chinese viewers were patriotic series about red stories, poverty relief and ordinary heroes.

The stage version of The Awakening Age focuses on the awakening thoughts of young people during the early age of the revolution in China. The production team said that they have made some creative changes to the story as they want the stage drama to feel new instead of a retread of the series.

Creativity is also the name of the game for Jiang Jie. The character Jiang Jie (known as Sister Jiang for her lovely character and warm heart) will appear on stage through different artistic performances such as Peking Opera and modern dance drama.

The musical will add new elements such as rock and pop to try a brand new way to tell the story of a CPC Party member who acts as an underground agent with modern aesthetics in order to be in line with the times.

Directed by young director Wang Yixun, the new musical version of Jiang Jie brings on a fresher production team and a main cast made up of teachers and students from the Beijing Film Academy. 

The stage design, choreography and characters will also be more in line with modern aesthetics. Different from previous opera versions of the story, the musical will alter certain details of the original novel, adding more suspense and espionage elements to the storyline.

Touching people's hearts

This is not the first time that Jiang Jie has leapt from the page to the stage. 

The first stage adaptation of the novel debuted in 1964. This version was been performed numerous times over the past more than half a century, touching generations of audiences in China. 

"I read the novel when I was in middle school, having taken it from my mom's bookshelf, but I was still shocked when it was shown on stage," Beijing-based musical lover Wu Yuchen told the Global Times.

"I think it's more than a good idea to do it as a musical, after all it is exciting to use modern elements to reimagine the most famous stories from 50 years ago. Just as Les Misérables can continue to inspire audiences with its constant performances, I hope that China's great revolutionary stories can also go further as well," she added.

Besides creators of stage performances, other industry insiders are also seeking other means to get closer to young audiences and try to touch their hearts with patriotic works.

For instance, Chinese director Liu Jiang recently attempted to move audiences through the portrayal of stories filled with rich feelings in his TV drama Glory and Dream, which covers significant historical moments in modern Chinese history from the First National Congress of the CPC in 1921 to the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea in 1950-53.