Su Shuyang

b. 1938, Baoding, Hebei
Huaju (spoken drama) playwright
Su Shuyang entered the Department of History of China’s People’s University in 1956. He became an overnight success with his first play, entitled The Story of Loyal Heart (Danxinbu, 1978). As a representative work in a new genre known as ‘anti-“Gang of Four” plays’, it depicts a Chinese-medicine doctor, Fang Lingxuan, who strives to invent a new medicine to cure heart disease in the face of sabotage by followers of the ‘Gang of Four’. The play ends with the initial success of the experimental medicine, but the happy moment turns sad with the heartbreaking news of the death of Premier Zhou Enlai. The play continued the Maoist socialist realist artistic tradition, while critiquing the Maoist ideology of the Cultural Revolution.
Su’s second play, entitled Neighbours (Zuolin youshe, 1980), further developed the form and content of socialist realist drama by depicting the lives of ordinary people—workers, teachers, Party officials and doctors—who reside in a traditional courtyard home in Beijing. One central character is a retired worker who takes care of the sick, the old and those in need of help, such as a former ‘rightist’ wrongly accused of having attacked the Party in the late 1950s. In setting, style and language, Neighbours worked in the genre of the Beijing-flavoured play, pioneered by Lao She, whose dramas were celebrated for their depiction of Beijing life.
Su’s play Taiping Lake (Taipinghu) further experimented with the Beijing-flavoured play by representing on stage Lao She’s own life. It depicts the playwright’s last day, on 24 August 1966. After having been brutally beaten by the Red Guards, Lao She wanders around Taiping Lake for a day and night, meditating on the paradoxes of his past devotion to the Party and the present anti-Party charges against him. Puzzled, he engages in conversations with the living—those who still fondly remember his famous works such as Dragon Beard Ditch and Tea House—and with the dead—his own characters, such as Madman Cheng in Dragon Beard Ditch, and Wang Lifa in Tea House, the teahouse owner who committed suicide to protest against the miserable old society. Taiping Lake also restages scenes from both Dragon Beard Ditch and Tea House to underscore the dramatic ironies presented by the playwright’s life and death in relation to the fate of his dramatic characters. When Madman Cheng from Dragon Beard Ditch says to Lao She that he is defenceless against the brutality of others and can only hide, he interrupts: ‘Madman Cheng, you should not hide! It is not right for them to beat an honest person like you.’ But Madman Cheng insists that he can do nothing, since his character has been written this way. Lao She then promises to change his play, in order that an honest man will not be beaten for nothing! Just as it is too late to rewrite his play, so it is too late to reverse that history in which Lao She helped create the façade of a happy socialist society.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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