Suffering and sacrifice Behind success

Kuo Hsiao-chuang is a successful woman. Her name has stood for a Peking opera reformer, a valiant one who dares to challenge tradition, and a personage who strives to invest in her professional field with outstanding achievements and who is regarded with importance by Chinese and overseas art and cultural circles and the media.

Her success came from her having a sensible mind since childhood. She entered drama school to learn opera at seven and a half. Children of this age should have been at home enjoying family warmth, nestling in the embrace of parents, and totally spoiled. But she had to live in the school dorm, living a communal life with classmates, and receiving strict training. Beautiful childhood days for her was a blank patch without a trace of color. Only in dreams would she have a game of hide and seek, innocent childish laughter and a child's wishes! And waking up at midnight, with a crowd of classmates of the same age sleeping together, under the dim lamp light, she would feel a sense of loneliness in the peaceful silence. The large room was surrounded by darkness. She felt frightened. She held tightly on the cotton quilt. All of a sudden, she missed home, Papa and Mama. She called softly, "Pa". She covered her mouth with the cotton quilt and stopped her tears from falling.

Every time her parents came for visits, they would bring her a pile of foodstuff, and would enquire after her health and well being. She deeply felt the intensive parental love. It warmed her heart. Besides that first time when she leaped from the vehicle, she had restrained her midnight homesickness, hiding such feelings deep within her heart. She would not tell her parents how much she missed them, lest the old couple should worry about her. She also seemed unperturbed in front of her parents. Everything was fine. Let them put their minds at ease. And she made use of concentration on studies and working hard in rehearsing and training to neutralize the melancholy in her child's mind. After graduating from the Ta Peng School and recalling and telling these past events to her parents, she made them praise her as "a sensible child". Every time old Mr Kuo Chin-ho's words of praise for his own girl were heard, one could also hear that feeling of pity and heartache inside.

In fact, in the opera school's life of learning, other people cried murder for the hard work in studying and vigorous training, getting up early and sleeping late, but she could cope with it easily. Kuo Hsiao-chuang had been able to adapt herself since childhood. Outside of the tense and tiring school work, she had a little wish to have a doll, to be able to say a whole lot of dream talk to the doll, to place her inside her bed sheets and hold it in sleep at night. But throughout her entire childhood, she had never owned the doll she wanted so much to have. Every time she saw others holding a doll in their embrace, she would take a couple more lingering looks. She never told anybody: she wanted to have a lovely doll. Because she did not want to add to other people's troubles. She would only hide her wish in her heart.

When she owned her first doll she was 18 already. She had graduated from the opera school and entered the Ta Peng Troupe. By then Kuo Hsiao-chuang had grown up into a fine lady. For the average young girl, it was well past doll hugging days. But Kuo Hsiao-chuang had kept her childish interest and her wish. When she went with the troupe to tour Tokyo, seeing all sorts of dolls in department stores, she excitedly bought a big white doll, lovely and cute. This made her very happy, for she had used money she herself made to buy her own very first doll in her life, and realized her childhood dream.

Kuo Hsiao-chuang's sensibility lay in her being considerate for others in every way. She restrained herself, making sacrifices, not allowing worldly desires to surface in her mind, lest they should become overweight burdens. What she was seeking were distant stars. The stars that hung high in the sky were ideals, burning ideals inside her heart.

Her success was also due to her having a heart for working hard to learn. Leaving the opera school did not mean the end of studies. Her career in the performing arts had started. She fully understood what sort of a path she would take. She had to ceaselessly learn, re-learn, and work hard to learn. Only thus could she walk her path solidly, fulfilling the hidden ideals in her heart. So she fought to become the first Chinese opera actress recommended by the Ministry of Education to enter the University of Chinese Culture. Later she had again fought for further studies at the Juilliard School of Music in America. She sought and called on renowned teachers, watched famous plays, diligently reading celebrated works on drama theory from various countries, learning hard the consummate skills of the 4 great schools Mei, Cheng, Shang and Hsun. Moreover, she set herself course schedules every day and followed the timetable to work, including martial art practice and voice training, body and limb slimming, reading and reflection. Today Kuo Hsiao-chuang is still training ceaselessly, regardless of whether there are shows, because she had long formed the habit.

In the days when she was under the guidance of Professor Yu Ta-kang, in retrospect, Kuo Hsiao-chuang had indeed gone through mental suffering. Every Sunday and holiday she would go to the Yu residence for lessons. She had also become a member of the Yu household. Kuo Hsiao-chuang was then in her prime, especially because she had made female lead with some reputation, and her interviews appeared often in the papers, there were inevitably gentlemen who dated her fervently. And all sorts of activities also took place on holidays. She was often receiving invitations to these. And at such a young age, it was inevitable that she had a mind for having fun. But she knew clearly that she could not take leave from Professor Yu Ta-kang. She could not malinger. It only took absence once or twice for Professor Yu to feel that she was unteachable.

How many times had she had inner struggles. How many times had she picked up the receiver, dialed the Yu residence number, intending to politely say she had other engagements, only to hang up at once on hearing his voice! Professor Yu Ta-kang's intimate words were full of profound meaning, of philosophical truth, of expectations for her. Picture after picture screened continuously in front of her eyes, making her feel ashamed and remorseful for her act of wanting to phone and take leave. She took a deep breath, cleared away all other thoughts, drove those pretty dates out of her heart, out of her body. She had to make sacrifices before she could acquire. And the sacrifices always wrung one's heart. But the distant stars, the stars hanging high in the sky, were drawing nearer and nearer and were brighter and brighter.

Kuo Hsiao-chuang fully understood the path she had to take. She was an intelligent, tenacious and self-controlled girl. For the love of Chinese opera, for the fulfillment of ideals, she had to sacrifice, to put aside. For an ordinary person, for an average Chinese opera actress, she should have a little romance, get married, raise children and have a sweet family. Such a normal pathway of life, and she sidled and dodged it. This baffled many people who cared about her, and made many people who cared about her even more concerned about her. And with feelings, flesh and blood, would Kuo Hsiao-chuang not rather love, marry and raise a family? All these had surfaced one by one in her mind, but disappeared in no time. It was because she had seen many classmates unable to be committed fully to performing after marriage. It was only because there was still one distant star, still hanging high in the sky. She still has a spring for reforming Chinese opera welling in her heart.

To tell the truth, an artiste's life was always colorful, it dazzled many fans, made them intoxicated. It would of course also give rise to negative criticism in the community, making it unable for artistes' status to be positively elevated. Now that Ya Yin Ensemble wanted to reform Chinese opera, it had to reform and renovate the living of Chinese opera artists. After much deliberation, Kuo Hsiao-chuang decided she would start with herself. She set the "Principles of 5 Noes" as doctrines for her own life, thus establishing the image of a spokesperson for innovative Chinese opera. After so many years, she had adhered to these 5 doctrines unchangingly. Her tenacity was really admirable. This also manifested how solid as a rock was her idealistic ardent love for the Peking opera art. It was untarnished and unshaken.

Kuo Hsiao-chuang's Principles of 5 Noes were no smoking, no alcohol, no mahjong, no social partying, no singing without makeup and acting. These seemed very ordinary matters. But for an actress, an operatic artist, these were also difficult things. Especially in the 1980s, when it was still a society of the gentry with a traditional sense of values, smoking, drinking and social partying were a popular culture. Performing artists being invited to accompany the rich and powerful at parties denoted being regarded with importance and accorded courteous reception. One could, in such social intercourse, at the same time build up interpersonal relations for oneself. At least this would help selling tickets in future performances. At most when one faced difficulties one could seek help from the big shots. The rich and powerful in those days were especially enthusiastic about Chinese opera shows, and famous actors were often talked about with admiration. From normal reasoning, if Kuo Hsiao-chuang could accept invitations and join parties and banquets, it would offer excellent opportunities of benefit for herself or for her troupe. But she set prohibitions for herself, the 5 Noes thus sacrificing many opportunities and in a way offending many people.

She worked hard in her studies, and was strict in regulating her own behavior, being determined to establish a new image for Chinese opera workers. Since she concentrated on her work, after observing the 5 Noes, her living became simple, enabling her to concentrate even more on research and practice in Chinese opera without distraction. Perhaps it should be said that another important factor for her success was in having a simple heart. Everything was for the sake of Chinese opera. Chinese opera was her life. Every moment, day and night, was all Chinese opera. Could such a Kuo Hsiao-chuang not achieve a lot for Chinese opera? So she went to give talks at various institutions of higher learning, publicizing Ya Yin Ensemble's ideals for innovation of Chinese opera. Through face to face communication and question and answer sessions with crowds of ardent young people, from "Chinese opera is dead" to "Chinese opera is reborn", from audience dwindling to the extent I would not believe audience could not be called back, from conventional stage to modern theater, group after group of university students surrounded Kuo Hsiao-chuang in classrooms, playgrounds and campuses, ceaselessly discussing, raising questions, querying whither would Chinese opera go? Would it be like Japan's "Noh Drama" in future? Or opera in the West? The innocent faces of young people and their innocent questions were patiently answered by her and discussed together. At Ya Yin's shows, all those who lined up for tickets and packed the theaters were these same young people. Ya Yin had cultivated a new population for Chinese opera!

Kuo Hsiao-chuang was full of energy. She could not settle down for even a minute. She was eternally busy, busy for Chinese opera. So she set up "Ya Yin Operatic Art Research Center" and "Kuo Hsiao-chuang Cultural Enterprise Inc.". In the names of these two organizations, she organized activities of everybody singing Chinese opera together, hoping to arouse the entire population's concern about Chinese opera. She also published tapes and videos of Ya Yin Ensemble's shows, pushing the momentum of reforming Chinese opera to its summit.

Kuo Hsiao-chuang on stage displayed a classical beauty: agile and brilliantly shining, making it impossible for people not to focus their looks on her. But off the stage, in real life, she displayed a contemporary beauty. Light rouge highlighted her elegant beauty. Perfect fit clothes with refined color matching, fashionable style and simple cutting went well with her gallant bearing. Noble and refined airs shone through her polished behavior. Though endlessly busy, she nevertheless seemed at ease, showing a youthful vitality.

Japanese entrepreneur Sachiosuke Matsushita had written the motto "keeping forever young" to give to colleagues in his corporation. He also defined in detail the word "young":

"To be young is to spiritually possess forever the fighting spirit of youth, forever full of hope, forever full of unyielding courage, marching bravely forward in order to attain one's mission!"

Kuo Hsiao-chuang verified Matsushita's motto. She had indeed kept forever young, single-mindedly and innocently marching bravely forward for the mission of innovation in Chinese opera, full of courage, full of fighting spirit, and full of hope.

Looking at her brilliantly beautiful image, so spirited, so brimming with youth, everybody would be fully confident of her devotion and full of good wishes for her!

However, seeing the sacrifices and dedication behind her success, one could not help arousing boundless pity, and becoming more respectful and full of good wishes for her!