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Putting a flash of Chinese history on stage

Liu Xiaoqing (劉曉慶), one of mainland China's most influential actresses, is in Taipei to play the role of a legendary courtesan in the late Qing Dynasty (1644~1912). Directed by Tian Qinxin (田沁鑫), “Fenghua Juedai” (風華絕代) recounts Sai Jinhua's (賽金花) life from her mid 20s to late 30s, bringing to the stage the controversial figure of Chinese history, whose story is rarely told in theater.

“Fenghua” debuted in April this year in Beijing and has been on tour since. Tickets sold out wherever the show went, proving that the combination of Liu, Tian and the Tianjin People's Art Theatre (天津人民藝術劇院) was immensely successful.

“Tian wrote more than 30,000 lines for me in the play. I prepare the lines even when I brush my teeth,” said Liu during a press conference on Monday in Taipei.

“Our show attracts an audience that spans eight age groups — from people born in the 1930s until those who were born after the year 2000,” she added.

Other than Sai, Liu has portrayed a long list of female heavyweights of Chinese history, in TV series and movies, including Wu Zetian (武則天) and Cixi (慈禧). The former, who lived during the Tang Dynasty, was China's only empress. The latter is widely known as “the woman behind the throne,” who unofficially but effectively controlled the Manchu Qing Dynasty in China for 47 years.

This time Liu takes on the role of the legendary Sai, who was once married to a Chinese diplomat, Hong Jun (洪鈞), and spent time in Germany, Russia, Austria and Holland. Therefore she spoke German, which enabled her to negotiate with Von Waldersee, commander-in-chief of the Eight-Nation Alliance in 1900, and helped protect Beijing citizens.

The play begins at the point when Sai left Hong's family after his death, and opened “Jinhua Shuyu” (金花書寓) in Shanghai. According to Tian, “shuyu” is a kind of pleasure house, with no prostitution involved.

“The concept is similar to the Japanese Geisha. Women sell their talents rather than their bodies in 'shuyu.' The culture dates back to the Ming Dynasty,” she explained. ■

'Fenghua Juedai' (風華絕代) ► 7:30 p.m. Aug. 31 (Fri.) and Sept. 1 (Sat.) / 2:30 p.m. Sept. 2 (Sun.) / National Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall (國父紀念館) / No.505, Sec.4, Ren-ai Rd., Taipei (台北市仁愛路四段505號 ) / NT$600~NT$4,200 / www.artsticket.com.tw

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 Dancing in the opera 
Liu Xiaoqing, center, needs to memorize more than 30,000 lines in the 150-minute-plus play. (Courtesy of Taipei Arts International Association)

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