Thursday, 13 July 2017

Datong, the Chinese Utopia, in London

Datong, the Chinese Utopia, grand finale to the Chinese Music Series in London, the biggest ever showcase of Hong Kong culture presented in the west, comes to the Richmond Theatre on 27th and 28th July. Datong, the Chinese Utopia, has been described as "a century of Chinese history distilled into three acts". The opera, composed by Chan Hing-yun to a libretto by  Evans Chan,  examines  China's recent past through the lives of 19th century reformer Kang Youwei(康有為) and his daughter Kang Tongbei ( 康同璧).  Kang Youwei (1888-1927) was a scholar from  Nanhai, near Foshan in Guangdong province, whose ideas on the modernization of China appealed to the young Guangxu, inspiring the "!00 Days Reform" in 1898, which was soon suppressed by the ultra-conservative Dowager Cixi. The Emperor was imprisoned and Kang Youwei went into exile.  The title of this opera refers to Kang's book, the Datong Shu (大同書) revealing a vision of a global utopia of human equality and solidarity, where divisions of race, class and gender would no longer apply.

The opera begins during the Cultural Revolution, when the Red Guard movement demanded a new world order based on the abolition of the past.  Kang's daughter, Kang Tongbi, lies on her deathbed, her daughter beside her.  Years before, things were so different. Kang Youwei believed that feudal family structures kept China backwards, and that women should be equal to men. Thus Tongbi travelled the world, studied abroad and held feminist values, the prototype "New Woman" of early 20th century modernization.

Kang Youwei's ideas on reform were complex, confronting capitalism, religion and social organization, and so wide ranging that  they are recognized on both sides of the modern Chinese political divide. In his lifetime, and in exile, his ideas on equality brought him up against widespread racism.  In this opera, we see Kang meeting with President Theodore Roosevelt in the wake of anti-Chinese leglislation then sweeping the United States, We also see Kang Tongbi chiding foreigners who treat Chinese as lesser beings.  Lots of food for thought. In times of tyrbulence and division, we could do well to consider Datong The Chinese Utopia as an opera and as an introduction to Kang';s ideas.

Datong the Chinese Utopia, premiered at the Hong Kong Arts Festival in 2015 to great acclaim. In London, the cast will include  Louise Kwong as Kang Tongbi, Carol Lin as The Empress Dowager and as Tongbi's daughter (an interesting reversal)  and Apollo Wong as Kang Youwei, with David Quah in supporting roles.  The conductor is Lio Kuokman, the director Tang Shu-wing.  A film about Kang Youwei by Evans Chan premiered in 2011.  (see clips below) . Please read more about the Hong Kong Music Series HERE  (Beyond the Senses, Chinese Chamber Muisc as Theatre) and 

HERE. (Music Interflow, St John's Smith Square) (Photo credits : Yankov Wong)

No comments: