Published in 1957, Teahouse is not
only a peak of Lao She's dramatist career but also a monumental work in the
history of modern Chinese drama.
Through a graphic depiction of what happened
to a teahouse in Beijing and the fate of Wang Lifa, boss of the teahouse and
that of a group of characters connected therewith, Teahouse mirrored the
then social turmoil and the seamy side of society. The first act described the
corrupt and moribund Qing Dynasty after the Reform Movement of 1898. The second
act portrayed the dogfight between warlords in the initial years after the
founding of the Republic of China (1912-1949), for which the ordinary people
could hardly earn a living. The third act pictured the Kuomintang's cruel
government in Beijing after the victory of the War of Resistance Against
The play depicts 70 characters living
in a 50-year-long period that involves three dynastic periods. It is an epic
play with a high degree of artistic condensation, conspicuous national
characteristics and a strong sense of history and life.
The successful performance of
Teahouse by Beijing People's Art Theater would be unimaginable without
Jiao Juyin (1905-1975), the general director for the play. As a play filled with
many characters from different historical periods, Teahouse posed a
severe challenge to the director. However, Jiao Juyin had not only acquired a
good command of the play but also turned it into a national poem.
The teahouse in the play serves not only as
a stage set but also a poetic symbol. The changes that took place there
represented the historical evolution.