Finish This Cup Of Tea And Go Home

Here is the programme:



服装化妆:Patrizia Von Brandstein(德国)

Opera: Tea--The Heart's Mirror
Presenter: China National Opera House
Venue: Opera House Dates: July 30 - 31, 2008 19:30

Composer: Tan Dun
Writer/Lyrics: Tan Dun, Xu Ying
Director/Choreographer: Chiang Ching
Stage Design: Chiang Ching
Costume Design and Dressing: Patrizia Von Brandstein (Germany)

Here is the bitter-sweet account by Director/Choreographer/Stage Designer Chiang Ching published in the September 2008 issue of <Ming Pao Monthly>.  She is a performance artist living in Sweden.  This translation is an excerpt with some technical parts omitted.

My name is Chiang Qing (江青).  [In Chinese, it has the same characters as Chairman Mao Zedong's wife Jiang Qing (江青).]

I have described my life experiences in the 1992 book <Past Times, Past Events, Past Thoughts>.  In that book, I devoted more than twenty pages in the chapter titled <Name> to document the endless troubles that was caused by the fact that I have the same name as Comrade Jiang Qing.

In the book, I was moved to write: "Without knowing when it happened, I had become accustomed to using my name as a thermometer for political climate in mainland China."  At the end of that chapter, I wrote: "Comrade Jiang Qing died on May 14, 1990!  Was it suicide?  Was it murder?  ... I don't know.  I know that her story has not ended.  But the story about my name is going to end now.  I don't want this story to continue, and I don't it repeated."  I did not expect that the story of my name would continue to be repeated in 2008.

At the Stockholm Composers' Festival in November last year, the closing piece was the opera <Tea -- The Heart's Mirror> with music by the composer Tan Dun, the choreography directed by me and the costumes designed by Patrizia Von Brandenstein (who won an Oscar for artistic design in the movie <Amadeus>).

This year, the Chinese Ministry of Culture and the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games included <Tea> as one of the many cultural performances held in conjunction with the Beijing Olympics.  The opera would be performed at the China National Opera House within the National Centre for the Performing Arts.  Tan Dun was going to conduct the music and I would be responsible for the direction, choreography and stage design.  The Beijing edition would be based largely upon the Stockholm version.  The National Opera House offered greater possibilities for the stage, equipment, orchestra and cast because it has more space and better facilities.

Rehearsals went on for several months.  The Beijing media started to report on the opera as the time came closer.  One morning in mid-July, I received a call from a friend.  He said: "<Beijing News> has an advertisement for <Tea>.  They only have your English name Chiang Ching but not your Chinese name 江青.  Is that you?"  "What?  Is it a Chinese-language advertisement?"  "Yup."  "How come nobody told me beforehand?"

Being hypersensitive about my name, I asked someone to call the National Opera House, but they knew nothing.  I went to the people responsible for public relations at the production company, and he said that the advertising department took care of that.  After getting the run-around, I got this explanation eventually: "All advertisements must be approved by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.  The name 江青 is too sensitive during the Olympic period.  Therefore we used your English name on your American passport."  "But you should at least ask for my consent ..."

I was angry about this total disrespect.  I felt deeply deceived and insulted.  In the early summer of 1987, I was invited by the National Dances Association to hold <An Evening of Solo Modern Dancing With Jiang Qing> in Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Shenyang, Tianjin, Lanzhou, Llhasa and Beijing.  The theaters erected posters that used my real name.  This is something that could not be more normal.  But for me, it was unprecedented to use my real name publicly for a modern dance performance.  At the time, not a single department requested that my name be changed.  This is more than 21 years later and the reforms have been going on for so long.  But now the right to use 江青 has been take away!

Later on, I learned from friends that all the promotional posters in the Metro for <Tea> used the English name Chiang Ching.  The People's Daily overseas edition wrote a promotional name for <Tea> in which 江青 was not mentioned at all.  I asked to see the relevant documents and regulations in order to see if I can protest the unfair treatment.  Of course, I never saw any piece of paper.  Instead, there was the constant advice: "Everything is sensitive during the Olympics and there is nothing we can do."  "This sort of thing is done upon the say-so of someone higher up, and there is no way that there could be an official document."  "An individual is very miniscule within the national apparatus, and you cannot undo certain things."  "We thought that the higher-ups must have gotten your consent beforehand.  We had no idea that you were completely unaware." ...

The most intolerable part was that someone used forceful language to say: "Either you use the English name on your passport, or else your name does not appear at all.  You can choose whichever option!"  This left me speechless.

My sense of responsibility made me put aside these absurdities and concentrate on the rehearsals.  On July 17, two days before the rehearsal at the National Opera  House, I got the news that someone had filed a report that two scenes in <Tea> contained "pornographic" elements.  Therefore, the Ministry of Culture has to screen the opera.  Indeed, someone from there came for the rehearsal on July 19.  I was too busy to say hello to them, so I still don't know who they are.

Late that night, the producer for the animated film called me up urgently: "Director Chiang, the three ink drawings of Ding Xiongquan cannot be used.  The higher-ups said that they must be changed.  There are two ways ..."  "Who is the higher-up?  Why did he notify you directly?"  I got mad and I started making calls even though this was almost midnight.  I confirmed that the order received by the animation producer was authentic.  The other party told me that there are two additional parts that must be amended.  First, during the tea bath, the light must be out when the man and woman lie down in an embrace.  Second, the scene in which the man and woman roll on the floor in an embrace must be eliminated.

"Why?"  "Because the Olympics are unusual times.  Everything must be done carefully with no room for mistake.  After this period, you can put on anything that you want.  I understand.  There is no need to explain any further.  I want to help you, but there is nothing that I can do."  What was I supposed to do when I heard the tone of helplessness in the young voice on the other side?  Is this what it is like in China today?  Is this the climate?


The design, rhythm and filming of the animation sequence had taken more than 20 revisions over several months.  How can it be changed without any discussion of the reasons?  Where is the minimal respect towards people?  Where is the respect for artistic creativity?  Upon careful examination, I found out that the excised paintings involved mammals in copulation.  All other copulation scenes between birds, worms, snakes and fishes were permitted.  I did not know whether to laugh or cry about the absurdity.

On July 28, our entire crew including orchestra, lighting, technician and dancers began full rehearsals at National Opera House.  The schedule was tight, because our final rehearsal was on the evening of July 29.  But more interference came.  After the July 28 rehearsal, we received new orders: Two flags were "dirty" and had to be replaced too.  I began to roar: "I am a person!  I am not a slave!  I do not have a soft-bone disease!"  In the end, everybody held me down.

Under the circumstances, I requested a written document to explain the reasons.  Or else I wanted to meet the higher-up who issued to order to discuss.  Of course, neither was possible.  "Chiang Ching, this is China.  You can't do that!"  "Sometimes, you must learn to play Tai'chi or else you can't get things done!"  "There are only two days left.  You just bite your tongue and get the performance done!"  As I listened to the advice and watched the sympathetic, helpless faces, I began to cry.  For the first time that I entered the performance arts, I did not experience the tension, excitement and ecstasy of opening night.  The disrespect to people, artistic creativity and the right for an artist to use her own name totally vexed me.

After the opening performance, I returned to the hotel.  I opened a prepared bottle of champagne to thank the stage dress designer Patrizia von Brandenstein who had made time to come to China to help me out.  We have been friends for 36 years, and she also helped me with the 2007 Stockholm performance of <Tea>.  Over drinks, she asked me calmly (but I think that she was also asking herself the same question): "For the same opera <Tea>, we were so happy and harmonious when we rehearsed in Stockholm.  We had so much room for creativity.  Ching, do you remember that?  We were so tired, but we were also so happy!  How come all those elements disappear when we come to China?"  I was at a loss for words.  I raised my glass and clinked hers, and I cited the lyric that was used many times in <Tea>:

Finish this cup of tea and go home!