The Yue Opera "Guangqi in Shanghai” Debuts

Xu Guangqi and Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit missionary
Xu Guangqi and Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit missionary
By Zhang XiaohuaFebruary 28th, 2022

On the evening of January 26, the large-scale Yue Opera play "Guangqi in Shanghai" premiered on the Star Stage of the Shanghai Qunyi Museum, reproducing the legendary life of the famous Shanghai sage Xu Guangqi.

Created and performed by the Shanghai Ruyi Yue Opera Troupe, the opera was also a gift presented by the Shanghai literary and art circles on the occasion of the grand commemoration of the 460th anniversary of Xu Guangqi's birth in April this year.

Xu Guangqi (1562-1633), born in Shanghai, was a Jinshi ("presented scholar", the highest level in the civil-service examination) during the Wanli period of the Ming Dynasty, and was an official up to the positions of the Minister of Rites, Grand Secretary of Pavilion of the Imperial Library, and the Second Assistant to the Cabinet in Chongzhen period. He was a scientist, agronomist, and politician in the late Ming Dynasty, as well as a pioneer of cultural exchanges between China and the West in the seventeenth century. His translation works Treatise on Agriculture and Jihe Yuanben Books 1-VI (translation of Euclid’s Elements) had a great influence. In contact with the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci who preached the gospel to him, Xu was baptized and became a believer whose Christian name was Paul. He was called the head of the "Three Pillars" of Chinese Catholicism. Many historians referred to him as "the first Chinese person who saw the world with open eyes."

The play was the first one created by Shanghai Ruyi Yue Opera Troupe. Developed along with the plots of "controlling plagues of locusts, translating foreign books, planting sweet potatoes, and reforming the calendar", it arrayed the main achievements of Xu Guangqi from youth to old age and applauded his innovative spirit of openness to see the world and his noble feelings of caring for the necessities of the people.

Xu was closely related to Shanghai, and his name was imprinted extensively in locations such as the Xuhui District, the Xujiahui Origin Scenic Spot, Guangqi Park, and Guangqi City. However, for many people, their knowledge of Xu is only limited to the place names and the few words they read about in textbooks as students.

The creation of the play originated from a short theatrical play "My Heart Remains the Same", which was rehearsed and shown in 2020. It re-created Xu's life achievements and shining personality in the form of his memories, and feedback was very positive for the performance. Then the troupe leader, Tong Lijun, came up with the idea of rehearsing a large-scale play and reproducing his legendary life on the stage. She said, "This is my responsibility as a Shanghainese citizen. I have known the name Xu Guangqi since middle school, but I would only have a vague impression of him if it wasn't for the rehearsal of 'My Heart Remains the Same'. Many of my acquaintances have the same knowledge of this person but have no idea of his deeds."

The main creative team handled the contradiction between ideology and artistry very well as a short play was enlarged to a two-hour opera, and determined the general tone of optimism in the style of light comedy. Among the four scenes, the first three were witty and comedic, followed by the last tragic one to deepen the impression.

"Guangqi in Shanghai" was the first large-scale project materialized according to the Agreement of Joint Development that the troupe signed. After the audition, the opinions of experts and audiences as feedback would be considered to further refine and improve the show. The audience can expect a brand-new performance in April. Furthermore, the play will be performed at schools and communities in the future, so that more people can get to know a different Xu Guangqi along with it.

- Translated by Shuya Wang

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