60s Film Star Committed to Carrying on Classic Ethnic Role

October 11, 2018
Editor: Xie Wen
Former 60s Film Star Committed to Carrying on Classic Ethnic Role


Famous performer Huang Wanqiu recently gave an interview on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the founding of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, south China, to share her stories of portraying legendary local singer Liu Sanjie.

Liu, a legendary woman, was renowned for her beautiful voice. Her story has found its way into numerous folk songs, operas, and Guiju, an indigenous form of Guangxi opera.

In 1960, Changchun Film Studio, in northeast China's Jilin province, decided to produce a film about Liu, and the main role was given to Huang.

Huang recalled that at that time China was suffering from the widespread famine. Due to insufficient food, many actors lost weight and looked emaciated on camera. And the actors' pay was only 20 yuan per month.

Still, actors were high-spirited and completed the film with a strong sense of mission to depict history.

"It would be difficult to ever remake the film beyond what we achieved, because the natural scenery was original, and there were no power lines at that time; these elements are rare," said Su Li, the director.

The release of the film, which combined the scenery of Guangxi with folk song culture, caused quite a sensation. It even received immense popular acclaim from Chinese people all over the world, thereby becoming a cultural symbol of the region.

Besides the integration of unique singing and dance art into folklore, the film also coupled the stunning effect of color film, winning praise among audiences and critics.

The film also won the Best Photography Award, Best Music Award and Best Art Award at the second Hundred Flowers Awards in 1962. Huang was also nominated for the Best Actress award.

"The success of the film helped me reach the peak of my career in a short time. I was fortunate to have been part of the film, and I shall inherit this culture as a mission for the rest of my life," said Huang.

After the shooting, Huang returned to the nearby city of Guilin and was reassigned to a local opera theater to continue performing on the stage. In recent years, she has taken on many classic roles in plays such as The White-haired Girl, Red Guards on Honghu Lake, and Yang Kaihui. Since she was busy with her work, Huang lived almost entirely in the theater.

In order to better inherit the culture, Huang voluntarily resigned as deputy director of the Guilin Cultural Bureau in 1999, and participated in the investment and construction of Liu Sanjie Landscape Park to display minority cultural elements of ethnic groups such as the Zhuang, Yao, Miao and Yi people.

In recent years, Huang has also devoted much effort to cultivating and training her successors. In 2001, she convinced her daughter to quit her job and participate in performances, along with her four-year-old granddaughter, who has already performed the role of Liu Sanjie in Singapore on behalf of their homeland Guanxi Autonomous Region.

As society continues to develop, the demand for cultural products is increasingly diversified, and the literary and artistic works based on the story of Liu Sanjie have been constantly innovated in recent years. These include the large-scale live performance of Impression Liu Sanjie launched by world-famous Chinese director Zhang Yimou.

However, at the same time, such works have also faced the difficulty of attracting young audiences.

Huang believes that the problem has to do with both the elements of time and the creation of literature and art. In the era when such works were released, opera was the mainstream literary form of society, but that is no longer the case for today's younger generation.

Huang said, "The younger generations have grown up  exposed to more international cultures and modern innovations. Thus in general, they prefer fast-paced literary works. However, opera is relatively slow in its creation, performance and rhythm."

She suggests that people reflect on and examine literary works and make efforts to recreate works including folk song culture, stories and others to revive opera.

Over the years, Huang and her colleagues have traveled to perform in nearly all the remote mountainous areas of Guangxi, as part of her continued efforts as well as lifelong artistic pursuits.

(Source: Xinhua/ Translated and edited by Women of China)

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