Meng-yi LIU, In-house Administrator, Dadaocheng Theater
Everything that happens leaves a trace; every story is like a poem.
While in prison in 1982, Yao Chia-wen, pioneer of the Taiwan democracy movement, wrote a historical novel called The Seal of 1895 (the fourth in the series of seven books on Taiwanese history), describing in 700,000 characters the short-lived Republic of Formosa just after the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–95) and the courage and vigor with which the Taiwanese defended their land, inspired to protect their homes and their motherland. In 2008, playwright Shi Rufang adapted the book for the stage and Tang Mei-yun Taiwanese Opera Company produced the Taiwanese opera also named “The Seal of 1895.” The book was born again in an operatic performance lasting over two hours.
In 1895, the Qing court lost the war and ceded Taiwan to Japan. Now, before they could drive away even the Manchurian officials, the Tiandihui, Society of the Heaven and the Earth (who wanted to expulse the Qing and restore the Ming dynasty), were faced with yet another foreign regime.
The honest and cordial Taiwanese vagabond Yang Taiping (played by Tang Meiyun) shares a deep revolutionary camaraderie with Uncle Short Leg (played by Zhu Luhao), a soldier of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, and the members of the Tiandihui. Yang worked under Xu Dayin (played by Wu Mingzhi), the official who guarded the Republic of Formosa’s seal. On the surface Yang was a loyal volunteer soldier, and he secretly fell in love with Xu’s daughter Xu Bailu (played by Xu Xiunian).
After the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895, Tang Ching-sung was chosen as president of the Republic of Formosa, creating the yellow tiger flag and seal. But it was futile to resist the Japanese troops, so Tang fled, and 184 days after it was founded, the Republic of Formosa was no more. In the turmoil of mutiny and rebellion, Xu Bailu carried out her father’s wishes by burying the yellow tiger seal, but when she was raped and fell pregnant, her fiancé abandoned her. Yang Taiping, feeling sorry for Bailu, took her back to the suburbs of Taipei, where they were married at Yuemei Village. With Bailu’s help, everyone searched for the missing yellow tiger seal, but at that moment, the Japanese artillery took aim at Yuemei Village …
In order to defend the yellow tiger seal and save Yuemei Village, at the story’s end, Uncle Short Leg and Yang Taiping engage the Japanese in a savage fight and are all killed, while the yellow tiger seal finds an eternal resting place deep in the earth. Bailu the official’s daughter, having lived through this harrowing time of strife and hatred, staunchly carries her son and defends her home. Together they think back on all those “foolhardy heroes.”
The play starts and ends with a storyteller singing. The prologue is the folk song sixiangqi (“Thinking back”), which brings an intense regional flavor to this Taiwanese opera based on a part of Taiwanese history. A large amount of Western orchestral music is interwoven into traditional Chinese music framework, which lends it great majesty and a sense of the epic. Likewise, the ingenious blending of traditional Taiwanese operatic poses, modern dance, and modern theater carries the audience along in step with the plot development, while also allowing them to admire the elegance and grace of traditional opera.
Art director Tang Mei-yun also directs and plays the part of the simple, honest, and lovable Yang Taiping, portraying this character in a vivid way. Opposite Tang is her frequent collaborator, leading lady Xu Xiunian. Their many scenes together create heart-wrenching portrayals of the emotions experienced by men and women displaced by war. Renowned master of Beijing opera Zhu Luhao and famous actors Luo Beian, Zhu Degang, Wu Nianzhen, and Ke Yizheng were also invited to participate, bringing together leading exponents in a variety of fields to create another highpoint in the history of Taiwanese opera.
|Related Literary Themes：||Histories and Historical Fiction|