Mei Lan-fang

Mei Lan-fang: The Life and Times of a Peking Actor

A. C. SCOTT
Copyright Date: 1971
Pages: 150
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2jc37z
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  • Book Info
    Mei Lan-fang
    Book Description:

    Mei Lan-fang came from a famous actor family -the profession is often hereditary in China-and this story of his life is drawn mainly from his own reminiscences and from conversations with the author. He was a national figure whose name was a household word for more than forty years; even in Europe, Japan, Russia and America he was widely known and admired. He was instrumental in opening the eyes of men like Stanislavsky, Eisenstein and Brecht to new dimensions of theatrical expression. No other Chinese actor attained and retained the unique position held by Mei Lan-fang. In foreign eyes it is unique in another sense for Mei made his reputation playing the women's roles of the Chinese classical repertoire, somewhat in the tradition of the Elizabethan theatre in the West. This biographical sketch remains the solitary account in English of China's most famous actor.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-223-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[ix])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [x]-[xi])
  3. CHAPTER I A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO THE CHINESE THEATRE
    (pp. 1-8)

    MEI LAN-FANG has been the idol of the Chinese stage for so long that playgoers cannot imagine the theatre, or China, without him. He is a national figure whose name has been a household word for more than forty years; even in Europe his reputation is widely known, an unusual thing for a Chinese actor; while Japan, Russia and America have all showered their admiration upon him during the visits he has made to those countries. In his own land it has always been the great ambition of every theatre manager to sign a contract with Mei Lan-fang. Officials and...

  4. CHAPTER II THE MEI FAMILY
    (pp. 9-20)

    THERE had been great gales and heavy snowfalls in Peking during the days preceding the Chinese New Year of 1907. In a house in a narrow street behind the high city gate called Ch’ien Men, a boy of thirteen looked out at the wild weather, his thoughts pleasantly occupied with the festivities ahead. There were fire-crackers in crimson bundles waiting to be set off to welcome in the New Year and following that everyone would put on new shoes and clothes, play games and eat tsa-pan, a toffee in which nuts and other dainties were mixed together.

    The boy was...

  5. CHAPTER III THE EARLY YEARS OF MEI LAN-FANG
    (pp. 21-38)

    THERE was never any question of the career to be followed by the child born to Mei Chu-fen and his wife in 1894. It was taken for granted that any son of the Mei family would have to seek his living in the theatre. The death of Chu-fen when his child was only three years old was a tragedy both from a family and professional point of view. The father and son relationship which formed the pivot of Chinese society had a special significance in the world of the theatre. In all branches of the arts and crafts it was...

  6. CHAPTER IV PEKING, THE BACKGROUND OF YOUTH
    (pp. 39-50)

    THE Peking where Mei Lan-fang spent his youth was a proud city which still stood aloof from the Western innovations rapidly changing the tempo of life in the great commercial port of Shanghai far to the south. Peking was the capital of the Chinese empire, the seat of the Imperial court and the centre of the old learning and culture; until the death of the Empress Dowager in 1908 and the virtual collapse of the Manchu dynasty, Peking remained secure in all the traditions and ceremonials of a glorious past. The past was visible in other ways in the daily...

  7. CHAPTER V SHANGHAI
    (pp. 51-57)

    THE year 1913 found Mei Lan-fang well established as an actor in Peking. Although he was only nineteen and had never travelled beyond the neighbourhood of his native city, the critical audiences of the capital were already beginning to accord him their favours and recognize him as an artist of merit. He still ranked as an erh-p’ai or second grade actor within the profession, he had not reached the coveted distinction of t’ou-p’ai or first grade player although his services were much in demand both for private and public performances. His long and thorough training had quickly enabled him to...

  8. CHAPTER VI THE YEARS OF RISING FAME
    (pp. 58-85)

    THE old year was dying as the train from Shanghai carried back a weary, happy and thoughtful young actor to Peking. After a run of forty-five days without a break, Mei had scored a tremendous success with the Shanghai audiences and played to full houses the whole time. As one seasoned theatre goer remarked, he had seen many actors come from Peking but Mei was the first to achieve fame in a single visit. The Shanghai manager had already increased his salary before the end of the run, largely at the suggestion of Mei’s aunt who was there to look...

  9. Plates
    (pp. None)
  10. CHAPTER VII HONG KONG
    (pp. 86-97)

    PEKING in May 1919 echoed with the cries of students protesting at the submissiveness of their leaders to the West over the Versailles Treaty. The city was seething with violent cross currents of thought and political machinations; but remained outwardly much as it had always been and its inhabitants continued to enjoy themselves in their inimitable fashion. The twenty-two theatres of the city were frequented every day by thousands who regarded their traditional entertainments with a first affection. At eleven of these playhouses actresses were to be found although they were as yet forbidden to appear in the company of...

  11. CHAPTER VIII CHINESE DRAMA GOES TO AMERICA
    (pp. 98-113)

    THE Republic of China was first proclaimed by Imperial decree after which the abdication of the child Emperor, P’u-yi, was announced. No other country in the world would have devised a similar compromise. The Emperor was allowed to retain his title and granted an annual subsidy for the upkeep of his Court in the Imperial Palace. In November 1932, P’u-yi, then a youth of sixteen, was married in accordance with the requirements of his clan. The wedding was conducted with all the elaborate ritual and ceremony necessary for the Son of Heaven. Manchu weddings took place at night and the...

  12. CHAPTER IX IN THE SHADOWS OF WAR
    (pp. 114-122)

    ON the night of September 18th, 1931, Japanese troops stationed in Mukden carried out a coup enabling them to occupy Manchuria and set the stage for the great attack which they launched against the whole of China five years later. The incident marked a black day in history which has never been forgotten. The Chinese refer to it simply as chiu-i-pa, September 18.

    The writing was on the wall of Japanese militarism for all to see and Mei needed no second warning. On August 8th, 1931 he appeared at the Equable Hall of Drama, Chung-ho hsi-yüan; it was his last...

  13. CHAPTER X THE POST-WAR YEARS
    (pp. 123-134)

    THE defeat of Japan in the summer of 1945 brought relief and gladness to the Chinese people. After the long years of hardship they prepared to enter the Utopia of reconstruction and rehabilitation about which they had dreamed for so long. They were doomed to bitter disappointment. The country was plunged into civil war and consequent economic disaster. Morale was at a low ebb.

    The Chinese theatrical world was in a divided state. Its actors were scattered, some in unoccupied China and others like Mei in the seclusion of their homes while others again had contrived to carry on under...

  14. INDEX
    (pp. 135-139)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 140-140)