Bold translation project to bring Peking Opera to a global audience

Updated: 2011-09-20 08:35

By Li Yao and Chen Jia (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Foreign fans are always impressed by Peking Opera's elegant costumes, startling makeup and graceful movements but few if any know what the performers are singing about.

Sun Ping, dean of the Institute of Arts at Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU), is trying to solve this problem by leading a groundbreaking project to translate 100 plays of classical Peking Opera into foreign languages.

Sun said the project aims to make the entire performance art of Peking Opera easily accessible to foreign audiences, providing not only literal translations of the text but also explanations of the artistic rendition such as costumes, typical make-up for different roles, theatrical arrangements and actors' symbolic actions.

Peking Opera, which developed in the late 18th century, is a form of traditional Chinese theater art that combines music, vocal performance, mime, dance and acrobatics.

Based on her extensive experience of teaching at various foreign universities such as Yale, Sun said Peking Opera has what it takes to extend the global influence of Chinese culture.

"Many foreigners are fascinated by its exotic style that bears little resemblance to the art forms familiar to them in their home countries," Sun said.

Viewers can learn from these plays a great deal about Chinese traditions and core values, such as being filial to parents, loyalty, benevolence and uprightness, she said.

The endeavor is not limited to just 100 plays, and the series of translated books is expected to be acquired by libraries and become textbooks for art students in Chinese and foreign universities, Sun said.

The list of all eligible plays has been completed, and the first book, containing about 10 carefully selected masterpieces, will be published in a year's time in both English and Chinese, according to Sun. The 10 plays include Yangmen Nujiang (Women Generals of the Yang Family), Baishezhuan (Madame White Snake), Qin Xianglian and Yezhulin (Wild Boar Forest).

The first book will cover different Peking Opera genres, both traditional and modern plays, and feature all the five typical roles - Sheng, Dan, Jing, Mo and Chou, Sun said.

The book will be the "Hamlet" of Peking Opera and the first theoretical work in this field, she said.

A dedicated team will see to the accurate translation of the texts, and Sun will take up the more demanding task of writing about performance theories and cultural appreciation of the art form.

More books, each covering 10 plays in English and Chinese, are expected in the future, with their target audience mainly in the United States and Europe.

These books will be promoted in other countries in languages such as French, German, Spanish and Russian.