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Tian Han and White Snake


Tian Han (1898-1968), born inChangsha,HunanProvince, was a great drama activist, an outstanding playwright, a leader of revolutionary music and movies, as well as a fruitful poet. Tian Han contributed a great deal to the development of Chinese modern drama as well as Chinese opera.

During May the Fourth Movement in 1919, Tian Han became famous for the vigorous anti-imperialism and anti-feudalism activities in the art circle started by him.

As a pioneer of the artistic movement, Tian Han, returning fromJapanin 1921, set up the Creative Society together with Guo Moruo (1892-1978). The Southern China Society headed by Tian Han played a leading role in promoting dramatic performances in the southern part ofChina. In 1927, Tian Han taught at the Department of Literature ofShanghaiArtUniversity. Later, he joined The League of Chinese Left-Wing Dramatists.

It was not until the 1940s and 1950s when a group of writers including Guo Moruo, Tian Han and Cao Yu (1910-1997), started to write plays and significant progress was made in Chinese theater in modern times.White Snake,Wusong, Wu Zetian, The West ChamberandYue Fei,etc., created by Tian Han, were representative poetic dramas of this era.

White Snake, also known asLeifeng Pogoda, a story about a snake spirit, can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), but it was not until the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) that it was put on the stage as aKunqu. It tells how a white snake, which had practiced asceticism for 1,000 years, turned into a beautiful lady by the name of Bai Suzhen, and came down to earth. She met Xu Xian, the young owner of a drug store inHangzhou,ZhejiangProvince. They fell in love with each other, and soon go married. However, they were persecuted by a rascally monk named Fa Hai. To safeguard her marriage, Bai Suzhen went to the land of the immortals to steal medicinal herbs, fought with Fa Hai on Jinshan Hill, and suffered a great deal. Finally she was buried under theLeifeng Pagoda. In theKunquversion, the white snake is not evil and loves Xu Xian wholeheartedly, making the audience admire her for her spirit of resistance to her fate.

It took Tian Han 10 years to adaptWhite Snakeas a Peking Opera. Tian Han carried forward and developed the historical achievements of his predecessors, and raised the image of the white snake to a higher level with a poet's romanticism. Lady Bai, as created by Tian Han, is a brave, decisive, gentle and kind woman, full of heroism.

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