Starting Trend of Innovation
Intrepid of Thunder Storms

In the gala performances after Ya Yin Ensemble was founded, the main attraction was the newly written "The White Snake and Hsu Hsien" staged on the first day. On the second day they performed the traditional Chinese opera "Lin Chung's Flight by Night", inviting the famous martial actor Li Huan-chun to play the lead. The other was the celebrated Kun opera "Nun's Worldly Thoughts", "Descending the Mountain", starring Kuo Hsiao-chuang and Professor Tien Shih-lin, under the guidance of Hsu Yen-chih the Piper King. The show on these two days caused a sensation with full houses. The 2000 seats in the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall were packed, with viewers who failed to get tickets standing, crouching or sitting on steps in the aisles, mostly enthusiastic young people. This was a rare sight. And in Ya Yin's shows every year afterwards, such spectacles were repeated, making one feel most excited about the future of Chinese operas.

The public at large were very concerned about Ya Yin's gala show. Everybody felt that this was what Ya Yin's future success or failure hinged upon. In particular, Ya Yin was hoisting the flag of reforming Chinese opera, which made people focus their concern on the newly composed "The White Snake and Hsu Hsien". When it was performed, most newspapers and radio stations reported warmly. After the show, the papers even used large columns or whole pages to review Ya Yin. The majority gave ardent support, affirmation and encouragement. But a minority took a stand of having reservations, saying "all classical arts were not suitable for changes", "insist on the principle of Chinese opera staying unchanged" (by Professor Chang Ta-hsia, see Min Sheng Daily News, May 21, 1979). At that time, many more academics, specialists and people in culture and art circles were of the opinion that reform of Chinese opera was the trend of the time. They were for Chinese opera reforming besides preserving tradition: "Absorb and assimilate, so as to discard the old and create the new" (by opera expert Peking Taoist in same paper on the same day). Then came a whole series of articles debating this issue in various newspapers, and 3 TV stations were busy holding seminars on the question of Chinese opera development, and made special reports on Ya Yin. Since "The White Snake and Hsu Hsien", Ya Yin Ensemble had started a heat wave of how to reform Chinese opera. This heat wave was powerfully storming the conservative old Pear Garden (Chinese opera theater) protective of old things.

Taiwan's society in the 1970s was shouting demands for political reforms. Opposition movements gradually grew from the first seeds. The public were demanding opening up of the party taboo and newspaper censorship, calling for respect for human rights and creative freedom. Media of the world were reporting these voices in Taiwan crying for opening and reform, attracting wide concern in the international arena. With such a social backdrop of those years, Ya Yin Ensemble's founding and professed aims of reforming Chinese opera, created a sensation in the general public through the "White Snake" opera. Kuo Hsiao-chuang's spirit of reform and concrete actions of trying bravely had won applause of the young. Ya Yin・s "innovation and reform" had unconsciously echoed the movement of the time in the 1970s, taking reform actions in an era of reform. However, under the complicated political atmosphere, the success of her innovation and reform shows had also brought her vexing troubles.

The Pear Garden was old-fashioned. The Pear Garden was antiquated! When the Kuomintang Government retreated to Taiwan, it spared no efforts in the maintenance and development of Chinese opera. In particular, it set up 4 Chinese opera troupes in the military according to army, navy, marine and airforce divisions, all of grand scales. Later, the government also set up schools of drama. It really spared no efforts in the revitalization and development of the Chinese opera art, and in the training and nurturing of Chinese opera talents. Chinese opera became the main form of performing art in the Taiwan community. In those years of the greatest popularity of Chinese opera, the government spent money and efforts, but unfortunately did not have a whole set of complete and effective development plans. Chinese opera now faced a fate of decline in Taiwan. Looking back at the good old days made one sigh. If the senior people in the Chinese opera field could work together in those days, abandoning their personal prejudices, overlooking the sectarian bias, gave up the conservative holding on to the outmoded, and joined forces to work on the nurturing of talents, arrangements of plays, research on reforms, and promotion of Chinese opera, it was believed that Chinese opera could have set out from Taiwan today and mounted the international stage, sure to have a place in the world theater.

Unfortunately, when Chinese opera was in vogue at that time, the Pear Garden・s conservatism had already become a habit. Once a habit was deeply entrenched, though the times were marching forward, the Pear Garden would stay conservative. Most people crowned themselves with "classical art", emphasizing "political orientation". This kind of mindset caused conservationists to come forward, after the success of Ya Yin's "White Snake", to use their politically sensitive feelers and raise tongue in cheek criticisms. For instance, Shen Ke-chang, columnist and critic, was the first to point out in the newspaper: 95% of the script of "The White Snake and Hsu Hsien" was copied from the Mainland China work "New Legend of the White Snake" (see Shen's article in Min Sheng Daily News , May 26, 1979). Chinese opera authority Chang Ta-hsia also echoed this in the newspaper, saying that copying from a Mainland script had involved a legal question concerning the whole nation, not just Chinese opera (see Chang's article in Central Daily, June 12, 1979). Under the circumstances of power politics in those days, copying a Mainland script was an extremely serious matter, especially when someone had clearly pointed out this had involved "a question of the law and its enforcement". Facing a storm of showers and thunder, Kuo Hsiao-chuang had kept calm and treated it with detachment. She had entered Ta Peng to learn the art from childhood, and had always dedicated herself to Chinese opera, day in day out, bearing it in mind always. Her diligence and efforts, her performance and achievements, her thinking and concepts were all clearly known to almost every one in the cultural circle. And while Ya Yin Ensemble was working hard to open a new way for Chinese opera and a glimpse of the light of dawn had only just been seen, suddenly a black cloud came and overshadowed it. Being touched, Professor Yang Hsiang-shih the script writer first published the article "How I rewrote the libretto of the Legend of the White Snake" (See Min Sheng Daily News, May 30, 1979). In particular, he wrote about how he discussed emphasis in the script and singing style scoring with Kuo Hsiao-chuang and Chu Shao-lung. Two paragraphs in it were written in great detail:

One said: "Kuo Hsiao-chuang felt that in "Theft of the Divine Herb", if only a few lines were sung, that would be inadequate to express Pai Su-cheng's feelings at that moment. Pai Su-cheng at that moment should be remorseful, anxious, wanting to save her husband's life regardless of her own safety. And the difficult mountain paths and difficulty in finding the divine herb would arouse all sorts of feelings. So I followed this train of thought of Hsiao-chuang's and wrote a sung passage in a high-pitched key."

The other one went: "In the scene of Closing the Bowl, (translator's note: the Monk Fa Hai used a magic bowl to imprison Pai the White Snake in this scene) Pai Su-cheng was in face of great disaster and in a psychological state of panic. Her last words enjoining her husband, and her expectations for her son, were a kind of feelings interwoven with hate (hate for Monk Fa Hai) and love (love for husband and love for son). So again I followed Hsiao-chuang's line of thinking and wrote a sung passage at the point when Hsu Hsien took over their son Meng-chiao. Later, when Mr Chu Shao-lung scored the music, in order to fit in with the singing style and key, there were slight additions and deletions made to this passage. I remember once when Mr Chu Shao-lung discussed the libretto with me, he felt that a couple of lines were missing. So I added another couple of lines. Later Mr Chu Shao-lung and Hsiao-chuang came and said to me, there were still places where she found it trying to sing, and so I deleted a couple of lines."

Professor Yang's essay was aimed at describing the process of the script creation at the very beginning. It amounted to indirectly refuting the suggestion of plagiarism. As founder of Ya Yin, Kuo Hsiao-chuang listened to the analysis and judgement of teachers who cared for her, and felt that the situation might be exploited by people with "ulterior motives" and went astray from the track of exploration in reforming Chinese opera and Chinese opera development. After careful consideration, Kuo Hsiao-chuang published the article "Aspects of New and Old Versions of the Ya Yin Ensembl's Script of the Legend of the White Snake". One paragraph in this article pinpointed Shen's article directly and made a rebuttal:

The other day I read Master critic Shen Ke-chang's suggestion of 95% 'copied' from the altered version of the New Legend of the White Snake with insertions made after the occupation of the Mainland. I felt shocked and aggrieved. How can the script we worked so hard to write and revise possibly be copying from a Mainland work? My own careful figuring out could be disregarded. But is the painstaking effort of the masters to be given no recognition in this way? I think I cannot keep silent, because the hard work of all the actors and workers of 'Ya Yin Ensemble', and the guidance and participation of the seniors and masters, should be understood by all walks of the community. Here I wish to thank all people who have voiced their views for their care and concern. At the same time I am prepared to put in writing the whole process of our script writing and rehearsing, and let the facts clarify everything."

Kuo's article described in great detail the discussions on the plot, the writing of the lyrics, the choreography of the action scenes, etc. It stressed that of the script of 'The White Snake and Hsu Hsien', Touring the Lake was adapted by Yu Ta-kang before his death. Additions and deletions to the rest of the storyline was based on sources of what Kuo Hsiao-chuang herself had personally gone to watch, listen, record and edit when the 5 major opera troupes of the state staged 'The White Snake's Legend', plus Hsiao-chuang's own feelings, ideas and appreciation, then asking the 3 teachers Yang Hsian-shih, Chu Shao-lung and Liang Hsiu-chuan to substantiate it into a script.

She also used concrete examples to illustrate Ya Yin's aim to reform Chinese opera: the lovely scenery at the entrance of Touring the Lake was specially accompanied by elegant Chinese music; the expressiveness of body movements at the boat ride to create a setting of beauty; in the "Chin Shan Temple" scene, the discarding of the original arrangement of the White Snake using quick movements of the little lance to start the fighting sequence, but rather using body movements of "Black Dragon Coiling Round the Column" to imply the strength of the "snake" rolling about on the ground; and then in the "Flooding" scene, the flooding was expressed in the past by waving large flags, and now it was changed to brandishing gigantic white silk bands, so that their up and down movements might give the feeling of big waves and oncoming tides; and in the "Severed Bridge" scene, the teacher Liang Hsiu-chuan had arranged special body movements for the singing and dancing trio to express the conflict between the White Snake・s weeping lamentation, Hsu Hsien's mixed feelings of love and fear, and the Green Snake's indignation and helplessness.

At the same time, Kuo Hsiao-chuang also took this article to present personally to Mr Chu Sung-chiu, Director of the Cultural Workers Association, and reported to Director Chu that the principal members of Ya Yin Ensemble were young people born, raised and educated here. They had never been in contact with Mainland works, so how could they plagiarize them? Eventually, Director Chu told Kuo Hsiao-chuang in a friendly manner that he was fully aware of the whole incident and disagreed with the objections of a handful of people. He was most impressed and commended Ya Yin for having been able to attract so many young audiences in its gala performance.

Ya Yin's trying out its voice for the first time had made resounding noises that surprised people. This was not just the success of Kuo Hsiao-chuang alone, but the success brought about by the collective efforts of all front and back stage workers taking part in Ya Yin's work.

When Ya Yin made its debut, at first the scene showed the great curtain, the celebrated Tun Huang work painted by Chang Ta-chien and son. The atmosphere created by an interwoven combination of costumes, lighting, sets, props and music when actors entered really gave people a fresh feeling pleasing to the eye. Especially the concentration and dedication in singing and acting were warmly transmitted to the audience. It was decidedly not the formalistic traditional Chinese opera show, relying on masks and mechanical movements expressing doubtful images. Ya Yin was showing a true interflow of inner emotions. Only through this disclosure of true feelings inside could the young audience・s passion be aroused. After curtains, the audience lingered for a long time without leaving, praising and discussing with one another, their enthusiasm welling. Ya Yin had wakened the audience's passion for the appreciation of Chinese opera.

The public's zealous support for Ya Yin, from chatting about it orally after the show, to the writing of newspaper articles, formed a wave of discussion about the Chinese opera issue. People in the culture and art circles were especially concerned. For instance, Wen Chien-ssu, Meng Yao, Hsia Yuan-yu, Guan Guan, Ting Ping-sui, Shang Chin, and scholar Hsu Cho-yun had all written articles reviewing the show, and all gave Kuo Hsiao-chuang enthusiastic encouragement. As for readers' letters to the newspaper, most were positive about Ya Yin's performance. And in this dispute about the script, a reader "Opera Goer" specially wrote a long article to the Min Sheng Daily News (May 30, 1979) entitled "Why is Chinese opera unchangeable? The more I think about it the less I understand", to express his views and feelings:

Having entered the Hall and settled in my seat, I took a look. What a full house meant? Even the aisles were packed. The Hall was too large, and my old eyes too blurred, I couldn・t find any friend to give a nod and greeting. All around me were a crowd of young people. The show started. They were all dumbfounded, craning their necks, fully absorbed in the performance on stage, and often even clapping and cheering. I could see the new life of Chinese opera in those countless pairs of glittering eyes.

Two days' full house, Kuo Hsiao-chuang was particularly giving her all. After the show there were good reviews in all the papers. Having read the papers I said, "Trouble, trouble!" My friend at my side asked eagerly, "What・s the matter? Do you need to go to the hospital?" He thought I had a heart attack. I said, "Not me, Kuo Hsiao-chuang's in trouble. Just think: people fear being famous as swine fear growing fat. She alone is reaping all the honors. Among those uncles of hers connected with Chinese opera there are bound to be some who feel uncomfortable, who feel losing face. They are bound to give the little girl a little lesson."

On the evening of May 17, I watched the White Snake Legend from beginning to end. I didn't know who's Tu Chin-fang or Tu Cheek-fang. I'd never heard of him. Now somebody pointed out it was Tu Chin-fang's script. This expert must have known Tu Chin-fang very well. Yesterday I consulted an expert. He told me Tu Chin-fang could be said to be a new rising star in the Chinese opera field on the Mainland. He was not clear about Tu's specialty either. So those who studied Tu Chin-fang, did they go to the Mainland to listen to Tu Chin-fang? Or did they possess Tu Chin-fang's scripts, records, tapes? And then somebody told me, "You are an old fool. Tu Chin-fang's records and tapes could be bought in those record shops at West Gate Street." I got even more baffled. It could be put on sale publicly, it could be listened to publicly at home. But whoever adapted it and put it on stage that person was committing an infamous crime. Why? The more I think the more I am baffled.

The White Snake's Legend that day was a revised version. Somebody said it was "95%" Tu Chin-fang・s. But after the Mainland・s occupation, the two operas made famous by Yuan Shih-hai, "Removing the Three Evils" and "Composing A Poem with Spear in Hand", were staged 100%. Why didn・t anybody object? The more I think the more baffled I am.

People like Mei Lan-fang are caught in the occupied Mainland, so let us not talk about him. But Cheng Yen-chiu is a Communist who has formally joined the Party. And over here countless people are working hard to practice the "Cheng style", not just a little twist in the singing style, even the taking of a breath, they just fear they have not imitated it closely enough. Moreover, many people place ads openly publicizing their "Cheng School" performance and have never been banned. The more I think about this the more baffled I am.

Kuo Hsiao-chuang mobilized a lot of young people to come to the Chinese opera, both on stage and in the auditorium. In particular the audience in the auditorium; without young audience, the future of Chinese opera is hopeless. It is another matter how this "Red Magic Weapon" has battered Kuo Hsiao-chuang. If it should all at once shattered a new opportunity we have hoped for for 30 years, what is the ulterior motive? The more I think about it the more baffled I am.

Some "Defenders of Tradition" in the Chinese opera circle look so upright in their faces, guarding Chinese opera so jealously. Your guarding is a little excessive, too jealously. People outside the circle cannot enter at all. The young people have even less hope of getting close to it. The guarded Chinese opera cannot come out either. It wants to develop, to breakthrough, but there is no way out. What kind of rhyme and reason is this? The more I think the more baffled I am.

For 30 years, everybody has been guarding that pond of stagnant water called Chinese opera, watching it grow mosses, turn green and stink. Whoever blows a bubble is battered with a stick. If I don・t do anything, you can forget about doing anything too. Is this developing Chinese opera? Or an obstacle? Is it encouragement? Or sabotage of the rejuvenation movement of Chinese opera? The more I think the more baffled I am.

After the publication of "Opera Goer"・s essay, it quickly aroused echoes among the public at large. Celebrated writer Hsia Yuan-yu made it a point to write the article entitled "Exonerating a Wrong" to echo the public view (See Min Sheng Daily News, June 12, 1979).

Only after reading Mr Opera Goer's article do I know that the performance of "The White Snake's Legend" is in trouble. We can only blame the young people for not being worldly wise, leaving aside big money not to make and had to choose to look for trouble. Whether or not Chinese opera is to be promoted will be carefully planned by those senior and moral gentlemen. Who needs you to bother? Better listen to our good counsel when there is still time. Mr Chu should change his profession to learn the violin, with your cleverness you will surely make your fame abroad. As for Miss Kuo, she has acted in several movies and on TV already. Why come to the stage again? That is really stupid. Better go back in front of the camera. Girls must "possess both money and virtue". Otherwise it is not bad to go to the USA. The two of you, turn back when there is still time and it will surely be a right move.

How can traditional culture be changed even an iota? Of course it must keep its old shape. So we are thinking of rallying our comrades, first of all we will throw out all the sofas, refrigerators and spring beds in our houses, replacing them with old-fashioned antique Chinese wood-carved armchairs, tables and plank beds, just to show our loyalty.

Finally, I hope Mr "Opera Goer" will reveal his real name. Firstly we are of the same native place, the same hobby and the same age. We can be friends. Secondly, do not let my few readers think that I have changed my style. It is not too good for one to change his temper.

Since "Opera Goer" and Hsia Yuan-yu both wrote their articles in the humorous, amusing and sarcastic style, making them light hearted and easy to read, they hit right at the "ulterior motive" of the conservatives and made tens of thousands of readers understand completely what it was all about. At this point, one could see clearly the whole thread of thought in the turning out of the incident. To sum up, there were 3 main factors:

The first was boycott: Ya Yin as a private opera troupe dared to contend with the 4 great public troupes in that age of power politics, and it was naturally inevitable for it to meet resistance and boycott. So at the beginning Ta Peng had prohibited outside work for actors, making Ya Yin short of actors and nearly could not put on their show. Fortunately Kuo Hsiao-chuang personally called on Lieutenant General Liu Ko-lun, Deputy Director of Political Combat Department Headquarters and Executive Officer in the Defence Department at that time, presenting her case earnestly and pleading for support in the common pursuit of reviving Chinese opera. General Liu was an understanding man, he was greatly moved and lifted the ban. So Ta Peng consented to lend their cast.

The second was discontent: The singing and acting contents as well as mode of performance of Chinese opera had been fixed for many years with minimal change. The older generation was still immersed in the traditional theater, drinking tea, eating melon seeds, chatting loudly and cheering and applauding all at the same time. When they were absorbed in listening to the opera, they could even close their eyes, moving their heads about and beating the rhythm with their hands at the same time. This was the scenario of late Ching Dynasty and early Republic days. Now the times were different. For the art of Chinese opera to march with the times, besides preserving traditional characteristics, modernized innovative styles had to be injected too, Ya Yin's attempted reforms and the traditionalists/conservatives were exactly standing in a confrontational scenario between the old and the new. Since the old school saw Ya Yin as heretic, no matter how it worked hard, these people would still have things to say.

The third was jealousy: Before the staging of "The White Snake and Hsu Hsien", no one would believe that Ya Yin's reforms would win the general public's applause and society・s approval. Reform of Chinese opera was exactly the longed for wish of the whole society. Ya Yin had gathered the glory all in itself. Inevitably people were envious and jealous. Human jealousy was the most destructive. It could use all sorts of ways and means. Giving you a hat of Communism was just one of the tricks. Although Kuo Hsiao-chuang had manifested the power of justice and truth with the support of scholars, experts and public opinion, hence turning ill luck into good, extricating herself from overt and covert attacks from narrow-minded people, the path afterwards was even more difficult.

In the second year of Ya Yin's inception, it prepared to stage the opera "Tou O's Earthshaking Grievance". This was the celebrated work of Kuan Han-ching of the Yuan Dynasty. This time the famous lady writer Meng Yao was invited to write a new script. Having tasted the fruit of success, Kuo Hsiao-chuang put even more effort into it. This was the time of the grand judgement of the Mei Li Island Kaohsiung Incident. So it touched the political sensitivity of the conservatives again. They all went to the government department in charge of culture and drama demanding a ban on this opera. Since the debate over the script of "The White Snake and Hsu Hsien" had led to the community's criticism of the conservative school, now that the ban was suggested, public opinion heatedly urged not to mix politics with art. The approving body, the Department of Education, was caught in the middle. It issued its official letter only a few days before the show, informing Ya Yin Ensemble that it had to delete the scene where Tou O was wrongly executed in trying to exonerate her mother-in-law. The news caused unanimous concern of the community. Everybody sympathized with Ya Yin. But the show time was imminent and there was not enough time for Ya Yin to appeal. So the tragic ending was changed into a comedy. Originally the final scene of "Omen" was a long rehearsed scene for Kuo Hsiao-chuang to show her best. This was deleted as well. After the show, the public all expressed bafflement at the censorship imposed by the Department of Education. The grievance of "Tou O's Grievance" was a heart-rending incident in the Chinese opera circle in those days, making people unable to know whether to laugh or cry.

Later, Ya Yin applied time and again, explained its case time and again, and "Tou O's Grievance" was finally successfully vindicated. In November, 1984, at the invitation of the Taipei City Arts Festival, the complete version was staged and took the city by storm again. Kuo Hsiao-chuang's tenacious fight and her spirit of dauntlessly facing even millions without fear, was the mainstay that made Ya Yin stand firm unshakingly in the tempest.