Walk One's Own Path
Unforgettable Teacher Yu Ta-kang

It is not easy in life for one to find a friend who appreciates one. But it is even harder to encounter a good teacher, especially the kind of good teacher who "even if a teacher for a single day only, was to be respected for life as if he were the father". Every time Kuo Hsiao-chuang talked about Professor Yu Ta-kang, she invariably felt that it was her good fortune in this life to have been a student of Yu's. Having been taught by him, she had since been reborn, having scaled new heights in her knowledge of the dramatic art, Chinese culture and even social etiquette, making her horizons more far-reaching and broader.

Having gained the appreciation of Yu Ta-kang, Kuo Hsiao-chuang had all the time been filled with trepidation. She behaved as a respectful student, and Professor Yu also intimately regarded her as his "beloved disciple". Every Wednesday and Sunday, Hsiao-chuang would go to the Yu residence for "lessons". But what she was having were "living" lessons. She arrived at 3 p.m. The Yu couple were dressed and waiting. Then they went out together, going to Jung Hsing Gardens, or the New Park, or the Botanical Garden. The three of them walking together amid the luxuriant flowers and woods or green lawns, strolling to their heartsˇ¦ delight. They were relaxed and at ease. Kuo Hsiao-chuang would talk about her recent performing work. Then they would perhaps sit on stone benches for a rest, and Yu Ta-kang would teach the reading of "300 Tang Poems". He felt that artistic conception of poetry could most enhance the self-cultivation of a dramatic practitioner.

In this refreshing, natural outdoor environment, Yu Ta-kang's informal teaching ranged from Tang poems, Sung lyrics, Yuan Chu, all the way to Western drama philosophy. Kuo Hsiao-chuang would be reading the books, Yu Ta-kang would explain in detail, and Mrs Yu was keeping them company by their side. Teacher's relationship was also mixed with parental feelings. They had a good time, and she also made great progress and learned a lot.

When the sun set, the Yu couple would take Hsiao-chuang to a restaurant for dinner. Sometimes they had Chinese dinners, sometimes Western. Yu Ta-kang was still garrulous and enthusiastic, going from social etiquette to an artist's refinement. Hsiao-chuang would listen and remember it by heart. As a Chinese intellectual and artist, the most important thing was to have that air, the refined, uncommon and gentle air. To cultivate such an air, one must work very hard, starting from the little things in oneself.

Kuo Hsiao-chuang learned diligently from Yu Ta-kang's teaching by words and by example. In particular, the traditional Chinese Confucian scholar's air of Professor Yu's made her admire most. She also went to the Yu residence in those days to listen to his lectures and talks, and often went to his spacious office, sitting quietly at one side, listening to his talks about culture and arts to young friends from the artistic circles. Professor Yu was erudite and a great talker, and he was sincere to people, with a full house of friends most of the time. Chu Ko, Lin Huai-min and Kuo Hsiao-chuang were the most regular ones present. When everybody was speaking ardently, she was the only one sitting in silence, listening attentively to every discourse. She memorized Yu Ta-kang's teachings by heart especially. Her willingness to learn, cleverness and beauty never failed to impress people.

Sometimes, Yu Ta-kang would encourage her alone to raise questions, not to be afraid of asking the wrong question but to ask about anything puzzling and whenever there was doubt in the mind. For Hsiao-chuang who had been educated at an army school of drama, receiving all the time an education of "obedience", even if she had questions on her mind, she invariably felt that she should just follow the mentor and learn what was good for her. Under such traditional Peking opera education, Kuo Hsiao-chuang had gradually developed the habit of "not asking questions, just listening without speaking". Now at Professor Yu's encouragement, her mental dam of not speaking and not asking questions was very soon burst by a courage of being eager to express! Henceforth she would often raise questions to consult Yu. Sometimes the questions were very shallow; sometimes the questions baffled people. But whether it was a silly or preposterous question, Yu Ta-kang could always answer in detail at leisure. Kuo Hsiao-chuang obtained two inspirations from this, which had quite considerable effect on her future operatic career.

She realized that the raising of any question had to start with careful deliberation, then pinpointed at points of doubt and bravely asked. Once a question was asked it had to be followed through. Up to now she had already formed the habit of asking questions anytime and anywhere, stopping only when all puzzlement at heart had been solved. Compared with her student days she seemed to have turned into another person. When she asked her questions she often impressed people too. And she also felt that asking questions was another opportunity for learning.

It tempered her character, making her patient: listening quietly, memorizing quietly, thinking quietly.

Yu Ta-kang's lecturing mode, from outdoor to indoor, had to take over half a day each time, and was often on a Sunday or holiday. She who was young and energetic would have to curb her impatience and control her active heart. With the spirit of a devoted pilgrim and allowing no distractions, she was training hard like a Japanese Ninja, concentrating her whole mind on seeking the way of dramatic culture.

Gradually she could make her own mind calm and serene, comprehending the principles of "quietness". Only when one was quiet could one be relaxed, at ease and elegant. Kuo Hsiao-chuang was stepping over the threshold of changing one's aura and cultivating the heart and mind. This was an important juncture in her whole person's renewal.

Yu Ta-kang gave her an invaluable piece of advice that influenced her entire career in performing arts:

"Walk your own path!"

Maybe this path was tough and difficult, bogged down with mud. But all roads lead to Rome. A person with vision ought to walk one's own path, especially someone engaged in creative art should be determined to go through all hardship and endeavored to tread out one's own path.

Yu Ta-kang was moved by Kuo Hsiao-chuang's industry and willingness to learn. He also saw that the Chinese opera art had faced a bottleneck, and therefore placed high hopes on her and often encouraged her to walk her own path. Hsiao-chuang took this to heart. Later the Ya Yin Ensemble she founded made unprecedented reforms to Chinese opera, winning the support of the young people at large, injecting new strength into Chinese opera, attracting new audiences, and thus truly realized Yu Ta-kang's expectations of 'walking her own path', or in other words fulfilling Yu's wish where Chinese opera art was concerned.

The Kuo Hsiao-chuang of those days had only nurtured a seed at the bottom of her heart. She wanted to cultivate her inner and outer self. Equipped with substantial external qualities for performing and good inner character cultivation, then her performance on stage would give people a new experience. Later on, if the seed could germinate, blossom and bear fruit, that would prove her personal success on stage. It was then the opportunity for her to give her all to reforming Chinese opera and finding a new life for Chinese opera.

And so, with the Ninja's spirit of enduring all hardship, she learned, cultivated herself, practiced diligently, and worked hard day and night. Kuo Chin-ho was most perceptive of his daughter's obvious metamorphosis, seeing that after following Teacher Yu her whole person had become stable, mellow, tender and at ease. The considerate treatment of other people, and the air of one restrained in the inner self, made people have a feeling of "an eye opener". And Father Kuo and Teacher Yu also often talked on the phone about Hsiao-chuang, sometimes making the record of a 7-hour long telephone conversation. The two eldersˇ¦ love and care for Hsiao-chuang made her even more determined to give her all and not let them down.

Two years later, Yu Ta-kang at last wrote the first script "Wang Kuei Jilting Kuei-ying" for Kuo Hsiao-chuang. This was a great event in the Chines opera circle of those days.

"Wang Kuei Jilting Kuei-ying" was an adaptation based on anecdotes from southern operas, Wang Yu-feng's "The Tale of Burning Incense" and the Szechwan opera "Sentimental Visit". The story told how Wang Kuei was destitute and taken in by Kuei-ying who married him and supported him to go to the imperial capital to take the civil service examinations. He was made Champion Scholar and divorced Kuei-ying to marry the Prime Minister's daughter. Kuei-ying received the divorce papers and hanged herself. Her ghost appeared in Wang Kuei's study, asking him to revive their love. Wang Kuei drew his sword to kill the spectre but turned out killing himself by mistake. This was a new rendition of the old plot. The opera comprised only 6 scenes, with a close knit plot and one climax after another. It started with Wang already appointed Champion Scholar. The structure was well organized and the theme was highly humanized with strong human emotions. This was a masterpiece of Yu's operas.

The opera was performed by the Ta Peng Chinese Opera Troupe, with Kuo Hsiao-chuang playing Kuei-ying. Yu Ta-kang had specially invited Chao Chung-an the famous amateur performer to be in charge of singing style design, Lu Pao-feng was responsible for character creation and body movement choreography for Kuo Hsiao-chuang, musician Chu Shao-lung was to rehearse Hsiao-chuang's voice training. Under the guidance of these three maestri, she threw in all her efforts. And Yu was present every day at rehearsals and kept explaining the play to Hsiao-chuang. In this rehearsal period, she kept imaging herself to be Kuei-ying. The lingering love of the past, how would she feel inside when she was jilted for fame and fortune? What thoughts would arise in pain? She sought the psychological performance mode. For Hsiao-chuang this was a new exploration. She entered deeply into the character's inner world, then she used her own facial expressions, movements and singing style to perform a full expression.

"Wang Kuei Jilting Kuei-ying" was a new change in the process of Kuo Hsiao-chuang's performing career. In the past she had excelled in playing Hua Tan and Tao Ma Tan. All agreed that she was best in comical, light and bustling plays. Now the role of Kuei-ying was mainly Ching I, a composite role with heavy doses of both singing and acting. Hsiao-chuang played the part most brilliantly with great sorrow and tragic feelings. In the scene when she received the 'divorce papers', her expressions changed from shock to agitation, from anger to sorrow, and from broken-heartedness to despair. She displayed vividly the change of emotions. Her singing style was sweet and moving. In the "Tragic Accusations" scene she sang the long passage of Counter Er Huang with heartrending great sorrow. She successfully played the tragedy exquisitely, controlling the rhythm and atmosphere of the entire tragedy. Not only did she win people's acclaim, but her own scope of performing was also broadened and she really became an all round Chinese opera actress.

The most admired scene was the final scene "Sentimental Visit": after her death, Kuei-ying's ghost assumed human form and sneaked into Wang Kuei's study. She treated him with tender love, telling her love lorn emotions and, knowing his changed feelings, was willing to be a maid to serve him just for the sake of following him for life. But Wang Kuei cursed her and insulted her. Kuei-ying could take it no more and finally revealed her ghostly form, seeking retribution for Wang Kuei's infidelity. On the one hand, this scene was a manifestation of Yu Ta-kang the dramatistˇ¦s glorification of the virtue of the traditional Chinese female, hence its difference from previous subject matters of "capturing Wang Kuei alive". The coming of Kuei-ying's ghost was not for revenge but for love. It was not until Wang Kuei gave her a heartless blow and waved his sword at her that broke her heart and drove her to take his life. On the other hand it was a brilliant performance by Kuo Hsiao-chuang. The ghost she played was a phantom that went front and back, left and right in great rapidity. Dressed in white and flitting around, she was light-footed and piteous, arousing sympathy and winning warm applause.

After the success of "Wang Kuei Jilting Kuei-ying", Yu Ta-kang had continued to write new plays for Kuo Hsiao-chuang: "8th Sister Yang", "Young Boy And Girl Heroes", "Princess Hundred Blossoms" etc. Every role had a different image and character, some following traditional forms in development, others were new creations. Yu Ta-kang explained in great detail every character to Kuo Hsiao-chuang, so as to enable her not only to understand in depth her role but also to grasp the whole meaning of the entire opera.

Besides, Yu Ta-kang also revised or edited certain Kuo Hsiao-chuang's old plays specifically, such as "Human Face and Peach Blossoms", "Chin-yu-nu", "White Snake and Hsu Hsien" etc. Under the painstaking guidance of Yu Ta-kang in this manner, Kuo Hsiao-chuang was finally able to tread out her own path in the realm of the art of Chinese opera.