Shi Junling's cartoon characters of Peking Opera Photos: Courtesy of Shi Junling Cartoonist serves the grand traditional art on a new stage
When describing Peking Opera, a traditional Chinese opera style with a history of 200 years, you might choose adjectives like elegant and magnificent rather than cute and lovely. But actually, many classical characters in Peking Opera plays have already been turned into cute cartoon characters.
Shi Junling, the woman who overthrows people's impression of the classical art, is a freelance cartoonist from Hebei Province and a fan of Peking Opera. "I simply sketch out what Peking Opera looks like to me," she told the Global Times. "It is cute, lovely and close to ordinary people."
'A Bite of Peking Opera'
Most people got to know Shi (nicknamed Pangbuduner, which roughly translates to "chubby") and her A Bite of Peking Opera through a series of cartoons she posted on Sina Weibo recently. There are 19 pictures so far, each depicting a classical figure in Peking Opera drawn as a yummy dish based on the looks and colors of that character, explained Shi.
In the paintings, Bao Zheng, a black-faced judge during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), becomes a black sesame dumpling. Yu Ji, the favorite concubine of King Xiang Yu in Farewell My Concubine, transforms into a dish of fish in brown sauce crouching in a white plate, decorated with several leaves of parsley. Zhou Yu, an important military counselor in The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, is drawn as vanilla ice-cream to mimic the character's creamy white skin as a youth.
And Wang Zhaojun, one of the four legendary beauties in China, becomes a plate of tomatoes mixed with white sugar. Shi said that she watched the opera Zhaojun Chu Sai when the first snow of the season hit China's north, so in the dish she combined Zhaojun's red coat with the white snow.
Shi said this group of pictures began last June with Meng Liang and Jiao Zan, two characters in Mu Ke Zhai, a well-known Peking Opera. She painted what the two look like after being burnt in a fire (as happens in the story): they are depicted as brochettes.
"It was right after the documentary A Bite of China was broadcast and a friend said what I painted was 'a bite of Peking Opera.' I thought it was a good idea and painted more," she said.
These lovely cartoons do not come easily. Shi must spend from four to 10 hours on one picture, depending on the complexity of the figure. "Each [figure] has a fixed image on stage. I need to be faithful," Shi said.
All the figures are drawn strictly based on their images, with details in costumes and headdresses. "The most difficult part is I cannot make a mistake in the details," said Shi, "I cannot change their costumes as I like. They are really complicated."
Shi prefers characters that appear frequently on the stage and are known by the majority of opera fans. "I plan to draw 54 in total, to make it enough for a poker card game," she joked.