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Like Father, Like Son

Updated: 2007-08-06 09:00

Chinese playwright Cao Yu, litterateur Lao She, Peking Opera performing artist Mei Lanfang, and translator Fu Lei are all elder statesmen of their fields. One thing they have in common is children who have matched them as outstanding artists.

Chinese playwright Cao Yu and his daughter Wan Fang

Cao Yu

Cao Yu

Chinese playwright Cao Yu (1910 - 1996) was an innovator in drama, even referred to by many as "the Shakespeare of China." His 1933 play "The Thunderstorm" marked the height of the Chinese Modern Drama and remains one of the most celebrated plays of any period.

Cao Yu was a professional pseudonym for Wan Jiabao, born on September 24, 1910 in Qianjiang Country in Central China's Hubei Province. He was raised in Tianjin (Tientsin) where his father worked as a bureaucrat. He discovered his talent for writing at a young age.

Cao Yu wrote and published his first significant play, "The Thunderstorm" (Leiyu, 1933), at the age of 24. The play features the complicated relationships among the members and servants of a large well-off family and their disintegration as a result of the morbidity and corruption in that era. Cao's next play was the stirring "Sunrise" (Richu, 1934) - a tale of vice and opulence among the rich portrayed in stark contrast to the misery of the poor in old China. This play, too, was adapted for film as well as performed as a musical by the Musical Center of China. Cao's work "Wilderness" (Yuanye, 1935) followed. It was described in Cao's 1996 New York Times obituary as a story about "an unjustly imprisoned peasant who escapes to get revenge on a family of rich, corrupt landowners." Other popular plays written by Cao Yu included "Metamorphosis" (Shuibian, 1940), "Peking Man" (Beijing Ren, 1940), and a 1941 dramatic adaptation of Ba Jin's novel, "The Family" (Jia). While all of what Cao Yu produced was well-accepted by critics and audiences alike, none of his later works ever prompted the intense response and lofty praise that "The Thunderstorm" enjoyed.

Wan Fang

Wan Fang

Wan Fang, born in Beijing in 1952, is a famous contemporary playwright in China. Currently Wan works at the Central Opera House as a playwright. Greatly influenced and inspired by her father's talents and passion in life and writing, Wan Fang has written many excellent novels, screenplays for movies, TV dramas and stage plays.

It has been 10 years since the great dramatist Cao died. To commemorate her father, Wan wrote "The Soul of Stone" last year. "I can feel his real talent and passion for writing," she wrote. "He faced destiny, defied, and rebelled against the dissatisfaction and pain from the old society." He told her that writing originated from subtle and careful observation of real life. Wan felt lucky to be his daughter as she learned a lot from him both through his writing and personality.

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