Stories of Mulberry Village

Stories of Mulberry Village
[Sangshuping jishi 1988]
Huaju (spoken-drama)
Based on Zhu Xiaoping’s three related novellas about hardship and struggles in a village in northern China, Stories of Mulberry Village was written by Zhen Zidu, Yang Jian and Zhu Xiaoping and produced by the Central Academy of Drama (Zhongyang xiju xueyuan). The production attracted great attention in Chinese theatre circles.
The play is set during the Cultural Revolution in a small village enclosed by huge mountains where the barren land cracks when the weather is dry and becomes muddy when wet, and the wooden-wheeled carts are the only transportation. The play includes no central storyline but three intertwined narratives. (1) Li Jindou, the Party secretary and symbol of patriarchal tradition, tries his utmost to flatter and even to bribe the cadres sent by the government in order to keep more grain for his villagers. At one and the same time, however, he manipulates every aspect of the village’s life. His widowed daughter-in-law refuses to remarry his younger son and is finally driven to commit suicide by throwing herself into an old well. Her real sweetheart, a labourer from outside, is beaten up and not allowed to return. (2) With Li’s help, Fulin’s parents have sold their twelve-year-old daughter through a child marriage to gain enough money for getting a wife for their only son (Fulin), a strong young man with mental problems. Provoked by the village youth, Fulin strips his wife in public and chases her around to boast his possession of her. (3) Wang Zhike is the only man who does not share the same surname with the rest of the village. By accusing him of being a murderer and putting him in prison, Li and other villagers manage to get hold of his two rooms in a shabby cave dwelling. The whole village relies on one ox to plough the land, but it has to be killed because a ‘revolutionary committee’ has been organized and cadres need the meat to celebrate their victory. The play offers audiences a living fossilized image of Chinese peasants’ fate on the yellow earth, and the particular tragedy depicted here was caused by feudalism, ultra-leftism and the direst kind of poverty.
The play was directed by Xu Xiaozhong, the Moscow-trained director, teacher and president of the College at the time, as an example of his own ideal of creating a ‘new vocabulary’ for Chinese spoken drama. He attempted to combine the realistic drama with the aesthetic principles of the traditional Chinese theatre. In fact, the whole company went to the village twice in order to experience real life there. While on the stage, chorus, tableaux and dances rarely seen in spoken drama were used. The scenes of stripping Qingnü, the young peasant’s wife, catching adulterers and slaughtering an ox were all presented with rich imagery on stage.
Chen, Zidu, Yang, Jian and Zhu, Xiaoping (1994). ‘Selection of Scenes from Stories of Mulberry Village’. Trans. Sun Zhongshu, Ed. Richard Schechner. The Drama Review 142 (Summer): 113–30.
——(1998). Sangshuping Chronicles. Trans. Cai Rong. In Yan Haiping (ed.), Theatre and Society: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Drama. New York: M.E.Sharpe.
Fei, Faye C. and Sun, William H. (1994). ‘Stories of Mulberry Village and the End of Modern Chinese Theatre’. The Drama Review 142 (Summer): 131–7.
Pan, Ping (1999). ‘Triumphant Dancing in Chains: Two Productions of Chinese Huaju plays in the Late 1980s’. Asian Theatre Journal 16.1 (Spring): 107–20.
Xu, Xiaozhong (1994). ‘A Report on the Stories of Mulberry Village Experiment’. The Drama Review 142 (Summer): 106–12.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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