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Like Father, Like Son

Updated: 2007-08-06 09:00

Peking Opera performing artist Mei Lanfang and his son Mei Baojiu

Mei Lanfang

Mei Lanfang

Any introduction to Peking Opera would be incomplete without mentioning female impersonator Mei Lanfang (1894-1961). Traditionally only men performed in Peking Opera, including the female roles. Mei Lanfang was the very best "master of the miss." During his stage life, he embellished the traditions of the past with his own creations, shaping a style of his own and giving birth to "The Mei Lanfang School." He was also the first artist to introduce Peking Opera to an overseas audience, winning international recognition across the globe.

For half a century, Mei Lanfang was a household name in China. Right up until the time of his death, he managed to preserve the splendor of his art, playing roles with the same vitality he did as a young man.

Mei Lanfang himself admitted that he was never a student of great natural talent. He just strove his whole life to achieve artistic perfection through practice. Mei Lanfang began his career at the age of 8. His teacher said he showed little promise because of his lack-luster eyes. To remedy this, he exercised them relentlessly.

In more than 50 years on the stage, Mei Lanfang played no less than 100 different characters in the traditional Peking Opera repertoire. He revolutionized both stage make-up and costumes, and systemized and enriched characters' gestures, expressions and poses. He also wrote many new plays, choreographing them himself. The many dances he created form part of the great legacy that he left to Peking Opera.

Mei Baojiu

Mei Baojiu

Mei Baojiu, the youngest son of Beijing Opera master Mei Lanfang is now a performer famous for taking on the role of "dan," a female role typically played by a man in traditional Chinese theatre. In addition, he is the head of the Mei Lanfang Beijing Opera Troupe of the Beijing Opera Theatre of Beijing. He started studying theater and made his stage debut at the age of 10, under the guidance of his teacher Wang Youqing. He was considered the best prodigy of the Mei School style of Beijing opera, especially because of his vocal abilities.

Mei is known for his beautiful voice. In addition to resembling his father, he is known as the best performer in the Mei School and his repertoire includes "Farewell, My Concubine," "The Drunken Imperial Concubine," "Mu Guiying Takes Command," and "Unofficial Biography of Yang Taizhen."

In recent years, his focus has been on the development of the Mei School and on cultivating students like Li Shengsu, Dong Yuanyuan and Zhang Jing. He's also participated in artistic exchanges both at home and abroad and received the Asian Excellence Performing Actor Award from the New York Lincoln America & China Art Center.

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