Zhou Xinfang

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Zhou Xinfang
Born (1895-01-14)January 14, 1895
Died March 8, 1975(1975-03-08) (aged 80)

Susan Cha, Cecilia Chung, actress Tsai Chin, actor William Chow (deceased), actor/restauranteur Michael Chow

and Vivian Chow (wife of actor/director Ho Yi)

Zhou Xinfang (Chinese: 周信芳; January 14, 1895 – March 8, 1975) was a Beijing Opera actor who specialized in old male role.[1] He is considered one of the greatest grand masters of Beijing Opera, and the best known and leading member of the Shanghai School of Beijing Opera.[2] He was persecuted and died during the Cultural Revolution. He was the father of Michael Chow and Tsai Chin and grandfather of actress China Chow. He was father-in-law to actor/director Ho Yi who is married to his youngest daughter Vivian Chow. [3]

Early years[edit]

Zhou, a native of Cixi, Ningbo, Zhejiang, was born in Qingjiangpu (清江浦), north Jiangsu in 1895, in a family with a tradition of opera performance. He started to learn Beijing opera at 6, and made his debut as child role in Hangzhou at age of 7, thus acquiring a stage name "Qi Ling Tong" or "Age-Seven Boy". When he was twelve, this stage name was changed to "Qilin (Unicorn) Boy" as "age-seven" and qilin sound similar in Chinese.[4][5]


Zhou started performing in Shanghai in 1906, and went to Beijing in 1908. He started performing major roles from the age of thirteen, and worked with notable opera singers such as Mei Lanfang and Tan Xinpei (譚鑫培).[5]

Zhou had a light husky singing voice and specialized in playing lao sheng (老生) or old male roles.[6][7] He was often referred to as the "Southern Qi" (after his stage name Qilin Boy) in conjunction with "Northern Ma" (Ma Lianliang), another lao sheng performer.[8] He developed his own unique vocal style, which came to be known as of the "Qi style" or "Qi school".[9]

Zhou revised many old operas, such as Xiao He Chases Han Xin in the Moonlight (蕭何月下追韓信), and wrote new plays. His famous performances include Black Dragon House (烏龍院), Xu Ce Scurries (徐策跑城), Four Scholars (四進士).[5] He also starred in a few film adaptations of his operas, such as Song Shijie (宋士傑) and Murder in the Oratory (斬經堂).[10] According to the official "Zhou Xinfang Art Research Centre" in Shanghai, Zhou had performed over 650 titles of Beijing Opera in his career.[11]

In the early years after the Communist takeover in 1949, Zhou was regarded favourably for having contributed directly to the revolutionisation of traditional opera.[12] Zhou was appointed to a number of official positions, such as the Deputy Directorship of Chinese Opera Research Institute. In 1955, the Shanghai Peking Opera Company was founded and he became the director.[13] However, he would later come into conflict with part of the ruling clique. In 1964, Jiang Qing wanted the Shanghai Peking Opera troupe to rewrite and re-staging plays such as Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, plans which Zhou opposed but failed to stop.[14]

Hai Rui Submits His Memorial[edit]

Between 1958 and 1963, "new historical drama" became a prominent form in literary stage in China, and was often used for indirect criticism of contemporary politics. In 1959, Zhou was asked to write a play for the 10th anniversary celebration in Shanghai of the founding of the People's Republic of China. The story would be about Hai Rui, a Ming Dynasty official noted for his integrity and was dismissed from office for criticizing the Jiajing Emperor. Zhou wrote the play Hai Rui Submits His Memorial (海瑞上疏, Hai Rui Shangshu) with Xu Siyan (许思言), and the play was performed by the Shanghai Peking Opera Troupe.[15][16]

In Beijing, Wu Han also wrote another opera on the same theme, Hai Rui Dismissed from Office. This opera was attacked by Yao Wenyuan in 1965, accusing the play of being a veiled criticism of Chairman Mao Zedong. The attack by Yao on Wu Han's work about Hai Rui is often considered the opening shot of the Cultural Revolution,[17] and would eventually led to the persecution and death of Wu Han. Zhou was also criticized for attacking Chairman Mao in his portrayal of the Jiajing Emperor, Zhou however countered by saying that those who suggested any similarity of Jiajing Emperor to Mao were the real detractors of Mao. Zhou and his son were arrested and imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution, but he refused to recant.[18][19] He was released a year later and placed under house arrest until he died in 1975.[20]


  1. ^ "Zhou Xinfang, the famous Peking Opera artist". Ningbo.com. Archived from the original on 4 May 2007. 
  2. ^ "Heyday of Peking Opera and a Galaxy of Talent". China Style. Archived from the original on 2 June 2007. 
  3. ^ The Wall Street Journal
  4. ^ X. L. Woo (2013). Old Shanghai and the Clash of Revolution. Algora Publishing. p. 48. ISBN 978-0875869971. 
  5. ^ a b c Tan Ye (2008). Historical Dictionary of Chinese Theater. Scarecrow Press. p. 394. ISBN 978-0810855144. 
  6. ^ "Opera season pays tribute to late master Zhou Xinfang". CCTV. 2009-11-03. 
  7. ^ Chengbei Xu (2012). Peking Opera (3rd ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 73–74. ISBN 978-0521188210. 
  8. ^ China: Five Thousand Years of History and Civilization. City University of Hong Kong Press. 2007. pp. 812–813. ISBN 978-9629371401. 
  9. ^ Ruru Li (2010). Soul of Beijing Opera, The: Theatrical Creativity and Continuity in the Changing World. Hong Kong University Press. p. 44. ISBN 978-9622099944. 
  10. ^ Carolyn FitzGerald (June 7, 2013). Fragmenting Modernisms: Chinese Wartime Literature, Art, and Film, 1937-49. BRILL. p. 184. ISBN 978-9004250987. 
  11. ^ Zhouxinfang.com
  12. ^ Colin Mackerras (2005). The Performing Arts in Contemporary China (1st ed.). Routledge. p. 56. ISBN 978-0415361620. 
  13. ^ Wolfgang Bartke (1997). Who was Who in the People's Republic of China: With more than 3100 Portraits. K G Saur Verlag. p. 685. ISBN 978-3598113314. 
  14. ^ Jingzhi Liu (2010). A Critical History of New Music in China. The Chinese University Press. p. 386. ISBN 978-9629963606. 
  15. ^ Rudolf G. Wagner (July 1991). "In Guise of a Congratulation': Political Symbolism in Zhou Xinfang's Play Hai Rui Submits his Memorial". The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs 26: 99–142. doi:10.2307/2949870. 
  16. ^ Rudolf G. Wagner (1997). by Jonathan Unger, ed. Using the Past to Serve the Present: Historiography and Politics in Contemporary China. M.E. Sharpe. pp. 46–103. ASIN B00FAWPDUU. 
  17. ^ Rudolf G. Wagner (1990). The Contemporary Chinese Historical Drama: Four Studies (1st ed.). University of California Press. p. 236. ISBN 978-0520059542. 
  18. ^ Rudolf G. Wagner (1990). The Contemporary Chinese Historical Drama: Four Studies (1st ed.). University of California Press. p. 273-274. ISBN 978-0520059542. 
  19. ^ 李松, ed. (2013). 樣板戲記憶: 文革親歷. p. 353-355. ISBN 9789863261995. 
  20. ^ "Orient Excess". 

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