Impacts of female roles in traditional Chinese drama on foreign audience (US audience) or impacts to spread Chinese culture
In Chinese drama, the female characters are referred to as Dan. This is a general name given to female characters that play different roles, and it can be subdivided into four: Wudan, Laodan, Huadan, and Zhengdan (Wertz, 2011).Zhengdan is also known as “Qinqyi”, and this character mainly plays the role of a middle-aged woman who is strong-minded and her behavior is full of elegance. Most lines acted by the Zhengdan character are delivered as songs. Moreover, the spoken parts of her acting are delivered as rhythms. This character is always dressed in blue gowns. Huadan character refers to young women or girls who reside in the bottom of society. This is the role of a young woman who has an open personality, and one whose character is questionable (Wertz, 2011). For the Wudan character, she is skilled in martial arts and has superb fighting skills. It is subdivided into Wudan and Daomadan; according to the social position she occupies and the skills she represents.
Wudan most times wear short robes, and her role is an emphasis of acrobatics. Daomadan excellently uses spears and pikes, and she is good at riding horses. Lastly, Laodan is a character that aptly represents the aged women. She sings in their natural voices, but in tones that are milder. In some types of traditional Chinese drama, the Laodan character is called Bodan or Fudan. An extra female character in Chinese drama is called Caidan, represented by females that are cunning and clownish in nature. The performance of the Caidan character calls for fullness of energy, excitement and cheerfulness in the character (Wertz, 2011).The various female roles in traditional Chinese drama have had varying impact on both the foreign audience and to the eventual spread of Chinese culture.
In traditional Chinese drama, “Arousing heaven stirring earth is tou o’s injustice, Mistress Ts’ai represents an old woman thus plays the character of Laodan. At the beginning of the play she recites that flowers will bloom again, but men do not always regain their youthfulness, thus one does not need to always be rich and claim nobility (Han-ch’ing & Shih, 1972). This essentially addresses the Chinese culture that values working hard during the youthful years to achieve nobility and richness. Her concern is to persuade the young people not to break their backs, but to spare time and enjoy their youthfulness while it last.
To her, youthfulness fades away, and only flowers have the potential to bloom after shedding off their earlier bright petals. A precious moment of basking in youthfulness should not be wasted on incessant search for richness and nobility. Mistress Ts’ai is a widow, and she has seen it old. Her recitation serves to entrench the Chinese culture of enjoying youth while it lasts, and consistently pursuing happiness at the expense of richness.
Mistress Ts’ai has one child, an eight-year-old son. Both live together, and they have enough money on their hands to cover their needs. Mistress Ts’ai husband passed away, and she is one responsible for the upbringing of her child (Han-ch’ing & Shih, 1972). This shows responsibility in her and sets precedence of mothers to be responsible to their families in the absence of their husbands. Her steadfastness in seeing her son grow to maturity entrenches the culture of responsibility of parents in their up-bringing of their off-spring.
Moreover, Mistress Ts’ai has lent twenty taels of silver to a Scholar Tou. The scholar now owes her forty taels due to the accumulation of both capital and interest. She has incessantly asked to be repaid the money, but Tou has persistently claimed to be poor thus unable to repay this debt. The Mistress has realized that the Scholar Tou has a seven-year-old cute and lovely daughter, and she thinks she can become her daughter-in-law in exchange of the forty taels (Han-ch’ing & Shih, 1972). The female character, Mistress Ts’ai, wants to arrange a marriage for her son. This represents the culture of parents finding wives and husbands for their children. Her anticipated action in this traditional Chinese drama serves to expose the Chinese culture and ultimately spread to the world. Her role is that of an elderly parent who is focused on seeing her children grow to full maturity, and she wants to do her best for her child; be it financial well-being or finding a marriage partner for him.
When the Scholar Tou presents his daughter to Mistress Ts’ai to be her future wife to her son, she cancels the forty taels owed to her by the Scholar. Moreover, she adds him ten taels of silver as traveling expenses as he goes to the capital to take his exams (Han-ch’ing & Shih, 1972). This underlines the generosity inherent in the Chinese culture. She is ready to lend more money to Scholar Tou even before he has fully settled the earlier debt. In this traditional Chinese drama, she espouses kindness and generosity which are virtues that pervade Chinese culture. Scholar Tou thanks her profusely for her immense kindness and promises to do the same to her in the future.
Mistress Ts’ai takes in the Scholar’s young daughter as her future daughter-in-law. She tells the Scholar Tou that he should not worry because she will take care of her just though she was her blood daughter. This shows the Chinese culture of taking care of children as a societal responsibility, and not a personal issue to be carried out by parents. As much as the Scholar travels far away to the city to take his exams, her daughter will be in safe hands of Mistress Ts’ai. The Mistress promises to treat her as her own blood and flesh (Han-ch’ing & Shih, 1972). Her act in this traditional Chinese drama spells the culture upon which society was founded. Children upbringing was an undertaking of the whole society.
In the traditional Chinese drama, Mulan, Shiamin Kwa, and Wilt Idema explores the role of Wudan- a female character martial arts skills and has impeccable fighting skills. The female Mulan, whose surname was Hua, joined the army instead of her old sickening father (Kwa and Idema, 2010). She is barely seventeen, but she is determined to carry her father’s heritage in fighting in a war. When she was young, she was strong and smart. Due these attributes, she joined her father in the study of martial arts and books (Kwa and Idema, 2010). She strongly believes the impending war provides an opportunity for her to repay him. Mulan discards skirts and jackets and opts for gowns and boots, complete with a horse, a new bow, and spear (Kwa and Idema, 2010). Additionally, she is focused on practicing her martial arts skills once more before taking on the enemy, or telling her family about her aims. Mulan is aptly used to present the Chinese culture of studying martial arts and their likelihood to be used in combat or in tackling enemies. She is full of fighting spirit, and she is determined to replace her father in fighting Black Mountains bandits. This inadvertently helps to expose the martial arts culture present to the world and enable its spreading.
Elsewhere, the female actresses who acted in plays of traditional Chinese drama in Chinatown, USA, were, unfortunately, stereotyped by white Americans as prostitutes. In the 1920s, missionaries in Chinatown and government officials at the Immigration Bureau of Department of Labor continuously viewed Chinese actress with unsubstantiated suspicion, with accusations of immorality (Rao, 2011). To the mainstream white Americans, the female characters played Huadan roles. Shockingly, leading actors did not get a similar backlash; they were celebrated and thought to be precious to the community.
Additionally, in Beijing opera, which is the most popular of all style of traditional Chinese drama, men are the one who perform female roles. These roles encompass miming, dancing and singing that are used to indicate the aspects of performance of the Chinese drama (Gunde, 2002). In Shaoxing opera that is found in the southern, women play male role as well as theirs. This indicates the ease of both female roles and characters to connect with the localities, and fluently use local dialects in when dialoguing and reciting lyrics. This impeccable inculcation of female roles serves to promote the local dialects hence popularizing the Chinese dramatic arts.
Moreover, in Tian Han’s opera, Tuqia zhizhan, Mrs. Xin, general Gao’s wife is addressed in a warrior’s armor. She proves to be the most courageous and wisest of all by saving her husband from committing a fatal error (Luo, 2008). Mrs. Xin presentation as a muscular woman at war serves to celebrate the femininities of the Chinese women. As much as they are women, they are courageous enough to help their husbands when it matters.
Han-ch'ing Kuan, & Shīh, C. W. (1972). Tou o yüan [chin. u. engl.] Arousing heaven stirring earth is Tou O's injustice.) Injustice to Tou o Tou o yüan.
Kwa, S., & Idema, W. L. (Eds.). (2010). Mulan: Five Versions of a Classic Chinese Legend, with Related Texts. Hackett Publishing.
Rao, N. Y. (2011). The Public Face of Chinatown: Actresses, Actors, Playwrights, and Audiences of Chinatown Theaters in San Francisco during the 1920s. Journal of the Society for American Music, 5(02), 235-270.
Wertz, R. (2011, January 1). The Cultural Heritage of China : Entertainment : Chinese Opera. Retrieved December 14, 2014, from http://www.ibiblio.org/chineseculture/contents/entr/p-entr-c01s02.html
Gunde, R. (2002). Culture and customs of China. Greenwood Publishing Group.
Luo, L. (2008). Modern girl, modern men, and the politics of androgyny in modern China. Michigan Quarterly Review, 47(2), 282-308.