Bill Wading presents "All the Tea in China"

Decoding Chinese Opera

On the afternoon of December 9, an audience, consisting primarily of opera and music lovers, was abuzz with excitement, in anticipation of a Chinese Heritage Foundation lecture/recital showcasing prominent Chinese opera star, Feifei Shen, from Beijing. Shortly after 3 PM moderator Margaret Wong promptly began the program with a short history of the development of Chinese opera, from 2000 BC to the Tang Dynasty (600-900 AD), and introduced FeiFei to the audience.  Beautifully dressed in a white gown, FeiFei began with an ancient folk song, then sang two arias from the popular 2008 TV series on Dream of the Red Chamber, followed by two contemporary ballads on two famous women poets: Li Qing Zhao and Zhuó WenJun.

While FeiFei was changing her costume, Margaret continued with a description of the established format of Chinese opera, taking the audience through its staging, props, required attributes of actors (to be able to sing, speak, act and do acrobatics).  She the described the four main roles in Chinese opera: the dan (the diva), the sheng (male lead), the chou (clown) and the jing (painted face).  She also enumerated the significance of the colors of the painted face.  Throughout her delivery, Margaret encouraged the audience to imagine themselves in a traditional Chinese teahouse where Chinese operas are frequently performed and that it was all right to get up to avail themselves to the delicious tea and delectable treats that Yin Simpson had arranged for them.

When FeiFei returned, in a gorgeous traditional Chinese gown, she sang three arias from traditional Chinese opera: Farewell, My ConcubineA Walk in the Gardenfrom Peony Pavilion, and Lady Yang Gets Drunk.   The deeply appreciative audience sat quietly while FeiFei glided and danced as she sang. While such graceful and choreographed movements are integral to the delivery of all major arias in Chinese opera, they are rare in western opera.

With a final costume change FeiFei returned to sing four traditional folk songs, accompanied by pianist Li Lei.  At their conclusion, the audience applauded enthusiastically and many of them lingered afterwards to greet and to chat with FeiFei, urging her to return soon for more performances.  These serious music lovers greatly appreciated the intimate opportunity to see and hear Chinese opera the way it was intended, away from the acoustic assault necessitated by large venues.  

CHF Day at Theater Mu

Since its founding in 2004, the Chinese Heritage Foundation has supported area theater companies whenever they have planned a production with a Chinese connection. The History Theatre’s production of A Hundred Men’s Wife, based on the life of the first Chinese woman immigrant to MN, received one of the Foundation’s first grant awards.  In addition, the Foundation invited one of Liang May Seen’s granddaughters, Barbara Woo Bjornaas then living in Seattle, to return to Minnesota for a reception.  This granting activity continued with a 2010 funding to the Children’s Theatre for its production of Disney’s Mulan; a 2012 award to the Stages Theatre for its production of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, based on the book by Chinese American author, Grace Lin; and a reception for author C. Y. Lee at Theater Mu’first production of The Flower Drum Song.

In 2017 the Foundation stepped up its support of the theatre arts by underwriting the attendance of young Chinese American students at the History Theatre’s production of The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin, written by young Chinese American playwright Jessica Huang.  The response was so positive that the Foundation decided recently to underwrite more free tickets for young Chinese American families to attend Theater Mu’s current production of The Princess’ Nightingale.  On May 13, Mother’s Day, 250 young Chinese families took advantage of the Foundation’s offer and attended, for free, a matinee performance of this wonderful Chinese adaptation of the familiar Hans Christian Anderson tale. After a rapt performance many families stayed behind to greet artistic director Randy Reyes.  They listened as Reyes described the Theater’s efforts to create the authentic Chinese production they had just seen: from having Chinese calligraphy projected via shadow puppetry, to incorporating Chinese operatic movements and the well-known Chinese folk song The Jasmine Flower into the chorus.  Afterwards Reyes received many thoughtful questions such as how to navigate in an American society while keeping one’s Chinese heritage in mind, and he continued to address them in the reception afterwards.

Both Theater Mu and the Foundation were thrilled with the interest generated by this joint event and plan to work closely together in the future to engage more young Chinese American families in the theater.

Visit Photo Gallery.

2018 Calligraphy Exhibit by Zhang YanSheng

Biography of Zhang YanSheng

Calligrapher Zhang YanSheng 张燕生 was born in Beijing in 1953. Growing up in a scholarly family he was steeped in the traditional discipline of calligraphy and studied the calligraphy of all the famous calligraphers such as 王羲之 from an early age. However, his first career as a young adult was in films. He was a science film director at the China Agricultural Film Studio and later at CCTV. During his seven-year tenure there he created dozens of popular science films, documentaries, feature films, scenery films, urban films and large-scale theatrical performances.

In 1985, at age 32, he decided to return to calligraphy and entered the Chinese Painting and Calligraphy Extension University (later known as The Chinese Painting and Calligraphy International University).  He came under the tutelage of famous calligrapher Ouyang Zhongshi 欧阳中石, and following graduation, joined his advanced studies group.  It was during this period that, coupled with his innate understanding of the art form, Zhang honed his own style as a calligrapher. Concurrent with this development, he immersed himself in philosophy. Since then he has subscribed to the belief that one’s calligraphy reflects one’s personality, integrity, and achievements; and that one’s calligraphy can reach new heights only when one’s heart is pure and square. 

In 2011 Zhang participated in the cultural and artistic exchange activities associated with the 2011 Beijing International Mind Sports Games. His scroll of the 1826-word Amitabha Sutra 佛说阿弥陀经, in small script, was very well received; and his three title banners, International Mind Sports Games in Chinese 国际智力运动会, were presented to the President of the World Sports Federation at the conclusion of the Games. They are now part of the Federation’s permanent collection at its Swiss headquarters.

In 2012, as part of the Chinese painting and calligraphy delegation, Zhang attended the International Art Fair in New York.   His two exhibited works, Heart Sutra 心经 and Yin Fu Sutra 阴符经, in running script, received much thoughtful praise from connoisseurs and general visitors alike.

Zhang’s mature works often reflect the peace and quiet of water, at times soulful, at times fleeting and mystical like the winds; but they are always scholarly, guided by a higher understanding. His style is always elegant and dignified. His brush strokes are robust and steady, conveying strength and gentleness at the same time. At times these strokes and characters are like thunder and rain, and yet at other times they look chiseled like a fine piece of jade carving. There is always a feeling of freshness to his completed works. They are like a fresh lotus blossom rising from a pond, or a deity floating down from heaven, always commanding the viewer's attention and admiration.

Representative works:

Hongshan Monastery 鸿山寺: in running script, written in commemoration of the renovation of Hongshan Monastery in Xiamen

Jiuhua Fu 九华赋: in running script, written for the Buddhist Temple in Jiuhua Mountain

Chan Cha Fu 禅茶赋: in running script, commissioned by the Abbot Zedao 泽道大和尚 of the Tianxin Yongle Temple in Wuyi Mountain

2018 Events

2018 is off to a great start with a calligraphy exhibit by wellpknown calligrapher Zhang YanSheng from China.  Read his bio here.

2017 Open House

2017 CHF Open House


17openhouse 1 20171101 1365840692As is customary, CHF holds its open house on a bright crisp Sunday morning on October 22.

The Gramcery party room was decorated, under the watchful eye of Yin Simpson, into a welcoming warm space. The buffet lunch, again under Yin’s careful supervision, consisted of fresh salmon, duck, tofu, Chinese vegetables and mushrooms, tea leaf eggs, etc., and offered everyone an irresistible chance to enjoy good food and good company at the same time.

At 1 PM M.C. Margaret Wong called our meeting to order. She introduced our three CHF Fellows in History and each of them, Eric Becklin, Kan Li, and Tianxiao Zhu, spoke about their research and expressed their appreciation of the opportunity our Fellows

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hip has given them. Margaret then mentioned the Jixi Exhibit at the Weisman Museum where CHF underwrote a special guided tour for Chinese language school students. She then introduced playwright Jessica Huang who talked about the CHF Day at the HistoryTheatre during the run of her play, Paper Dreams of Harry Chin.

Pearl Bergad then gave a report on the many premieres of our Dream of the Red Chamber Opera Project: world premiere in San Francisco a year ago, Asia premiere in Hong Kong in March of this year, and China premiere in Beijing a month ago. Or particular interest is the role the opera has assumed in advancing US China Cultural Dialogue. More detailed reports are available elsewhere on this website.

Interim Chair Ken Lau then introduced new board members and talked about future possibilities that were under current discussion. The meeting ended with a spirited auction of a wonderful painting donated by Rudy and Judy Johnson. Everyone had a wonderful time.

Please visit Photo Gallery for CHF Day at History Theatre, Jixi Exhibit, and open house.