Opera in the park

Opera in the park, Elosua Miguel


A former factory worker and amateur Peking opera performer, playing the role of the virtuous lady, or zhengdan (正旦), in Qianling park (黔灵公园), Guiyang. November 2013.

After the massive layoffs from State Owned Enterprises of the 1990s, millions of workers lost their job. Although for the most part they could stay in their homes (the factories were closed down but danwei lodgings were usually handed over to its occupants at a subsidized price), and were provided with a pension when they reached the threshold age, the speed of economic development and inflation has forced many to look for alternative ways to make money.

Former factory workers often compare their economic circumstances with those of farmers, and tend to consider them as marginally better off. After all, farmers did not get aid from the State in the form of pensions or the subsistence allowance. (Note: the situation in the countryside has improved now, as described in previous photo captions.) Nor they did benefit from the creation of a real estate market that allowed them to exploit the increased value of their properties either.

In the background, other comrades watch the performance waiting for their turn. In particular, a breeze of nostalgia is brought about by the lady dressed in a Red Guard uniform, who is about to start performing the role of a revolutionary soldier in one of the model operas engineered by Mao’s last wife Jiang Qing (江青) during the Cultural Revolution. Music comes from the speakers, played from a computer. During the performance, the singer carries a pannier where the audience can give some reward. It’s not rare to see young people and children among the audience. Appreciation for the traditional (and revolutionary) opera might not be fading away with modernity after all.

Miguel Elosua

Spanish qualified lawyer; PhD in Chinese Law. UrbaChina Research Officer. Has lived in China since 2006.

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