Thunderstorm (Chinese: 雷雨; pinyin: Léiyǔ; Wade–Giles: Lei-yü) is a play by the Chinese dramatist Cao Yu. It is one of the most popular dramatic Chinese works of the period prior to the Japanese invasion of China in 1937.
The drama Thunderstorm was first published in the literary magazine, Four Months of Literature. Shortly after its publication, a production of the play was mounted in Jinan, and later, in 1935, in Shanghai and in Tokyo, both of which were well received. In 1936, Thunderstorm debuted in Nanjing, with Cao Yu himself acting in the lead role.
The subject matter of Thunderstorm is the complex relationship between the members of two households - the Zhou family, upper class and wealthy, the Lu family low class and poor. Specifically, the plot of Thunderstorm centers on the Zhou family's psychological and physical destruction as a result of incest, as perpetrated at the hands of its morally depraved and corrupt patriarch, Zhou Puyuan. Thirty years earlier he sends away the maid Lu Ma having fathered two children with her. Lu Ma's daughter Sifeng returns to become a maid in her place, and falls in love with the young master - her own brother - Zhou Ping, who is having an affair with his step-mother Zhou Fanyi. Zhou Ping discards his step-mother for the maid - his sister, Sifeng. Sifeng is pursued by the other "young master" Zhou Chong, son of Zhou Puyuan and Zhou Fanyi. The play concludes with Sifeng and the two young masters dead, Zhou Fanyi insane, and Lu Ma grief-stricken.
Although it is undisputed that the prodigious reputation achieved by Thunderstorm was due in large part to its scandalous public airing of the topic of incest, and many people have pointed out not inconsiderable technical imperfections in its structure, Thunderstorm is nevertheless considered to be a milestone in China's modern theatrical ascendancy. Even those who have questioned the literary prowess of Cao Yu, for instance, the noted critic C. T. Hsia, admit that the popularization and consolidation of China's theatrical genre is fundamentally owed to the first works of Cao Yu.
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Thunderstorm bears comparison with other works of ancient and contemporary drama, particularly drama dealing with the way the past haunts the present. In particular, Thunderstorm bears a strong resemblance in plot, themes, characterization, pacing and tone to the plays of Henrik Ibsen. For instance, Thunderstorm shares with Ibsen's Ghosts elements such as a respected patriarch who has, in fact, impregnated his servant, a romance between his children (who do not know that they are half-siblings), and a climactic revelation of this situation in the play. More generally, the book relates to the genre of classical tragedy, particularly the Oedipus cycle and other plays of Sophocles.
Thunderstorm was published in 1958 in an English translation by Wang Tso-liang and A.C. Barnes by Foreign Languages Press (Beijing). University Press of the Pacific published an English translation in 2001.
Film: In 1938, following its theatrical triumphs, the play was made into two separate movies productions, one in Shanghai and another in Hong Kong, that were almost coincidental versions of one another. The latter production, made in 1957, co-starred a young Bruce Lee in one of his few non-fighting roles (Lei Yu, dir. Wui Ng). A Cantonese film version, with the personal blessing of the playwright, was produced in Hong Kong in 1995, directed by Hong Kong director Ho Yi. This film was released in 1996.
The play was turned into a modern Chinese opera Leiyu in 2001 by Hangzhou-born composer Mo Fan for by the Shanghai Opera House company. The 2006 movie Curse of the Golden Flower, directed and written by Zhang Yimou, sets the same play in the imperial courts of the late Tang Dynasty.
- Zhou Puyuan (T: 周樸園, S: 周朴园, P: Zhōu Pǔyuán, S: Chou P'u-yüan)- He is a 55 year old man who is the CEO of a mining company.
- Fanyi (繁漪, P: Fányī, W: Fan-i) - She is Puyuan's wife. She is 35 years old.
- Zhou Ping (周 萍, P: Zhōu Píng, W: Chou P'ing) - He is the 28 years old son of Puyuan and his ex-lover Shiping. He is Sifeng's lover and has an affair with his stepmother Fanyi.
- Zhou Chong (T: 周 沖, S: 周 冲, P: Zhōu Chōng, W: Chou Ch'ung) - He is Fanyi's 17-year old son. He has a crush on Sifeng.
- Lu Gui (T: 魯 貴, S: 鲁 贵, P: Lǔ Guì, W: Lu Kuei) - Lu Gui, a 48-year old man, is a servant at the Zhou household.
- Lu Shiping (T: 魯侍萍, S: 鲁侍萍, P: Lǔ Shìpíng, W: Lu Shih-p'ing) - She is Lu Gui's 47-year old wife and Puyuan's ex-lover. She works as a maid at a school.
- Lu Dahai (T: 魯大海, S: 鲁大海, P: Lǔ Dàhǎi, W: Lu Ta-hai) - A 27-year old coal miner, he is the son of Shiping and her ex-lover Puyuan.
- Lu Sifeng (T: 魯四鳳, S: 鲁四凤, P: Lǔ Sìfèng, W: Lu Ssu-feng) - She is the 18 year old daughter of Lu Gui and Shiping. She is a maidservant working for the Zhou family. She is Zhou Ping's lover and pregnant with his child.
- Chinese Literature - Page 217 Dan Yao, Jinhui Deng, Feng Wang - 2012 "Upon graduation from university, Cao Yu finished his maiden work Thunderstorm and became famous overnight. Later he wrote Sunrise, ... series of tragedies triggered by an incest incident in an upper class family. Zhou Puyuan, the master of ..."
- Selective Guide to Chinese Literature 1900-1949: The Drama - Page 54 Nils Göran David Malmqvist, European Science Foundation - 1990 "Incest represents for her only an extreme form of escape, on the road towards efficient social communication and her own human and social ..."
- Chinese Theater: From Its Origins to the Present Day - Page 150 Colin MacKerras - 1983 "thunderstorm and the heavy atmosphere that accompanies it. Into several themes relating to the family, including incest, Cao Yu succeeds in weaving that of the labor movement, for one of Zhou's sons is in fact leading the workers against the ..."
- The Literature of China in the Twentieth Century - Page 177 Bonnie S. McDougall, Kam Louie - 1997 "Cao Yu (1910-96) Cao Yu's Thunderstorm is the most famous dramatic work of the pre-war period and possibly the most performed play"
- C. T. Hsia, A History of Modern Chinese Fiction, Indiana University Press, third edition, 1999. (ISBN 0-253-21311-8)
- Shanghai Opera - Thunderstorm (2001)