- Category: Arts and Leisure
- Thursday, 23 March 2017 17:18
An old newspaper circulated in the 1960s had progressively amassed more than 400 columns written by Jiang Yuliu, a legendary Cantonese opera playwright who is also nicknamed Mad Phoenix.
This batch of articles, which were published in the last century, had sunk into oblivion after the newspaper shuttered. They reemerged only in this century when I, a person who loves to comb through old newspapers of the last century for research materials, accidentally came across them and later compiled them into a book entitled Xiaolanzhai Zaji, for fear of loss or oblivion. In the previous year or so, I spent almost all of my time and energy preparing this book for publication.
Information on Jiang that are currently available in bookstores are mostly indirect or from further inferred material which could explain why there’s a lot of misunderstanding surrounding him. Included in Xiaolanzhai Zaji are true and genuine stories all personally written by Jiang about the first half of his life. For example, it was said that Nu’erxiang was ghostwritten by his elder sister, Jiang Wanzheng, but Jiang had clearly and flatly denied this rumour: “I used to write librettos for Cantonese operas. As my late elder sister was more proficient in literature than I was, I occasionally went to Houde Garden to seek help from her in drafting one or two lines. From these visits came the rumour that my late elder sister was the ghostwriter of my early works. In fact, she was musically illiterate; but with a good mastery of words, she was able to give me some advice.” Regarding Jiang’s “apprentice” Tang Disheng, the greatest controversy is whether they were really master and apprentice. Currently, the mainstream view is that they were not. However, quite a few important passages about “his apprentice Tang Disheng” can be found in Jiang’s articles, providing substantial evidence of their master-apprentice relationship. In addition, readers could find Jiang’s date, time and place of birth in some books. He was actually born on 3 March 1910, and not, as rumours suggest, in 1909.
Xiaolanzhai Zaji comprises three volumes, namely Xiaolanzhaizhu Suibi (Volume I, 132 chapters), Liyuan Haoxi (Volume II, 106 chapters) and Fosheng Langmo (Volume III, 164 chapters). Both Volumes I and III focus on memories from the first half of Jiang’s life, recalling stories about the Jiang family as well as his personal life. In fact, the books cover many aspects from his time living in Hong Kong, such as social life, health condition, feelings and current affairs. As for Volume II, it is a book of anecdotes about the Cantonese opera troupes, famous Cantonese opera actors/actresses and the industry, many of which tell of Jiang’s personal experiences as well as the original stories that he had adapted into well-known operas, libretto extracts and what he had learnt from Chinese operas.
Since publishing Translation Works Translated, Edited and Annotated by Su Man-shu in Beijing in 2009, I have been compiling books like Xiaolanzhai Zaji that was published in Hong Kong and Yue’ou Caiji that was published late last year in Guangzhou. Perhaps neither of these would suffice to be regarded as academic work. Compilation is a task done for others rather than one’s own goodwill; nevertheless, someone has to do it.