History with humor

Updated: 2012-08-26 13:13

By Erik Nilsson (China Daily)

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History with humor

The National Peking Opera House stages its modern Peking Opera Shajiabang in Jiangsu province. Wang Jiankang / For China Daily

Erik Nilsson visits a revolutionary base in Jiangsu province and gets a dramatic view of the past, colored with a touch of comedy.

When visiting Red historical sites, you don't expect to see singing priests, latex-clad superheroes or actual explosions. Nor do you expect to get wet. That's how Shajiabang village in Jiangsu province's Wuxi catches the visitor by surprise.

Sure, the site where the founding of a Country Party Committee was born and where soldiers injured while fighting Japanese invaders were treated has the expected museum. It's replete with the anticipatable tons of guns, art honoring the era and wax figure recreations of historical scenes.

And there are placards commemorating the Shanghai Opera Flame in the Reed Marshes and namesake Peking Opera Shajiabang, "which made the story of Shajiabang a national institution".

History with humor

A giant sculpture featuring the figures in the Peking Opera Shajiabang welcomes visitors to the Shajiabang Revolutionary and Historical Museum. Provided to China Daily

But it's the onsite comedic performance scripted by local site managers that puts the "bang" in Shajiabang - and then adds an exclamation point. Make that many bangs, booms and bams, as the show crackles with real explosions.

The slapstick show is a take on the story of A Qing Sao (Sister-in-Law A Qing), a woman who treated many soldiers injured in the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45).

The performance blends equal parts of pyrotechnics, history and hilarity.

Crowds find themselves covering their ears while opening their eyes wide at such slapstick scenes as two superheroes in yellow spandex battling Japanese invaders, clothes that burn off (to reveal more yellow spandex underneath) and a purple-robed priest with a wig resembling poodle fur.

There are also gunmen who zip-line to the stage from the auditorium's rooftop, towers that blow up - hurling (fake) bricks into the air - and underwater detonations that mean those in the first few rows can expect a soaking.

It's almost as if a pyromaniacal Chinese Charlie Chaplin directed the script.

At one recent performance, the rail of a teahouse balcony onstage caught fire - seemingly not by plan - but went out without anyone rushing to extinguish it. In keeping with the theme of theatrics, the set of the TV drama Shajiabang was built adjacent to the site in 2004.

Since filming wrapped up, the faux traditional streets left behind have been turned into a tourist spot, with most of the houses now occupied by venders peddling local snacks and rice wine produced in urns, according to traditional style.

History with humor

Next to the street is a wetland upon which visitors can float in wooden boats to spot egrets flitting through reeds and ducks bobbing in the ripples. Apparently, they don't seem to mind the nearby blasts.

Contact the writer at erik_nilsson@chinadaily.com.cn.