Cao Yu

Name in Chinese
Name in Wade-Giles
Wan Chia-pao
Related People

Biography in English

Wan Chia-pao (1910-), known as Ts'ao Yü, playwright whose best-known work was Lei-yü [thunderstorm]. After 1949 he devoted himself to cultural activities in the People's Republic of China. Wan joined the Chinese Communist party in 1957.

Born in Ch'ienchiang, Hupeh, Ts'ao Yü came from a well-to-do family. He attended the Nankai Middle School in Tientsin, where he became an enthusiastic member of a dramatic club directed by Chang P'eng-ch'un, the younger brother of Chang Po-ling (q.v.). Ts'ao Yü appeared in several stage productions during his school days and collaborated with Chang P'eng-ch'un in translating John Galsworthy's play Strife. In 1930 Ts'ao Yü entered Tsinghua University, where he studied Western literature. He was graduated in 1933 but stayed on at the university for another year. His first play, Lei-yü [thunderstorm], was staged in 1935 by the Futan University Dramatic Club under the direction of Ou-yang Yü-ch'ien and Hung Shen (qq.v.) in Shanghai. When taken on tour by the Chung-kuo lü-hsing chü-t'uan [China traveling dramatic troupe], Lei-yü was an outstanding success in every city visited. Ts'ao Yü wrote five more successful plays within the next six years. These were Jih-ch'u [sunrise] , of 1935, awarded the Ta Rung Pao drama prize in 1936; Yuan-yeh [wilderness], of 1936; Shuipien [metamorphosis], of 1940; Pei-ching jen [Peking man], of 1940; and Chia [family], of 1941, adapted from the novel of the same title by Pa Chin (Li Fei-kan, q.v.).

In 1934 Ts'ao Yü was a professor of English at Tientsin Normal College for Women, and in 1935-40 he served as professor and dean of the National Academy of Dramatic Art at Nanking and, after the Sino-Japanese war began, at Chiangan. He also lectured in the English department of Futan University, which moved to Peip'ei near Chungking. At war's end, Ts'ao Yü returned to Shanghai. In March 1946 he and Lao She (Shu Ch'ing-ch'un, q.v.) went to the United States on a cultural cooperation grant from the Department of State. Ts'ao Yü attended a writers conference at the University of Denver, visited Canada at the invitation of its government, and collaborated with Reginald Lawrence on an adaptation of Pei-ching jen. He remained in the United States until December 1946, when he returned to Shanghai because his mother was ill. Upon his return he went to work as a script writer for the Wen-hua film studio. In addition to his film work, he lectured at the Municipal Experimental Drama School and wrote a play entitled CKiao [the bridge], which was published in the Wen-i fu-hsing [literary renaissance].

A supporter of the Chinese Communist effort to win control of mainland China, Ts'ao Yü attended the conference of Chinese writers and artists which was held at Peiping in July 1949 and served on its presidium. He also served on the Chinese delegation to the World Peace Conference at Prague. Upon his return to China, he was elected to the standing committee of the All-China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, the national committee of the Chinese Association of Literary Workers, and the standing committee of the China Association of Dramatic Workers. In 1950 he became vice president of the Academy of Dramatic Arts and director of the Peking People's Art Theater. He was a delegate from his native district in Hupeh to the National People's Congress in 1954. In 1956 he attended the Congress of Asian Writers at New Delhi and the World Congress for Banning Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs at Nagasaki. He joined the Chinese Communist party in 1957, when membership was being expanded to include older intellectuals. In the mid-1950's Ts'ao Yü also participated in a number of campaigns against "rightists" and "anti-party" writers, including Hu Feng and Ting Ling (qq.v.) in 1955 and Wu Tsu-kuang and Hsiao Ch'ien in 1957. He served as vice president of the Sino-Mongolian Friendship Association in 1958. That October, he was appointed to the board of editors of Shou-huo [harvest]. In August 1960 he became vice chairman of the China Dramatists Association. Apart from abortive attempts to rewrite his early plays according to Marxist tenets, Ts'ao Yü remained creatively inactive until 1956, when his first new play in ten years, Ming-langti Vien [a brighter day], was staged in Peking. The plot concerns a bacteriologist on the staff of the former Peking Union Medical College, now transformed on Communist lines, who volunteers for the Korean front when germ warfare shatters his belief in the dedication of the scientist. This play was awarded a prize by the Central People's Government, although by contemporary Western standards both the dialogue and stage production were undistinguished and were marked by obsessive anti- American propaganda. In 1958 he published Ying-cKun chi [welcome, spring], miscellaneous essays of his collected from newspapers and periodicals. In 1962, in collaboration with other writers, he published the five-act historical drama Tan-chien p^ien [Kou-chien's revenge] based on the legend of the struggle between King Fu-ch'a of Wu and King Kou-chien of Yüeh in pre-Ch'in times and the eventual conquest of Wu by Yüeh after many defeats and humiliations. Selections of Ts'ao Yü's plays, published under the title Ts'ao Yü chü-pen hsüan, were published in Peking and elsewhere in 1952, 1954, and 1961.

Ts'ao Yü's reputation as a dramatist rests on his early plays, which were probably the most significant contribution of any single writer to the modern or Western-style Chinese drama (hua-chü) . Although his early promise was not fulfilled in later years, his youthful achievements have become theater history. Lei-yü, his masterpiece, is a long four-act drama with prologue and epilogue. It depicts the disintegration of a wealthy middle-class family through the adultery of various members, whose spiritual destruction is dramatically accented by setting the action of the play against the physical menace of a gathering storm. The characterization is clever, the dialogue is convincing, and the plot is well constructed. These three elements were the dominating factors in all of Ts'ao Yü's plays, which also owed a great deal of their stage success to their author's skill in adapting modern Western stage methods to Chinese themes. Henrik Ibsen and John Galsworthy inspired his realism as did the Greek dramatists' somber sense of fatalism, which runs through all of Ts'ao Yü's work. By his emphasis on human tragedy and degradation, Ts'ao Yü exposed the corruption of society, but he also held out the promise of redemption. In Jih-ch'u, for example, he tells the story of a girl whose life is spent among the evils and temptations of the city and who is about to attempt suicide when her faithful lover arrives from the country to encourage her to face a new future. Family revenge and murder color the theme of Yüanyeh, in which the dramatist symbolizes human struggle against fate through tortuous family complications arising from the arranged marriage system. Pei-ching jen is a satire on the decadence of traditional family life and the ineffectiveness of the student who has returned from study abroad. Beneath the Chinese theme is a suggested condemnation of the whole civilization. Shui-pien concerns a woman doctor who reforms a corrupt wartime hospital, where her son, a resistance hero, undergoes a serious operation. In this conflict of public duty and personal emotion, Ts'ao Yü symbolizes the regeneration of China. Chia is a stage tragedy of unfulfilled love and a condemnation of traditional Chinese ethics.

Ts'ao Yü had a perceptive grasp of Chinese psychology, and his characters sprang to life for his audiences. When he wrote his first play, the modern Chinese theater movement was in a period of active expansion, its days of pioneering experiments having ended. Receptive middle-class intellectual audiences had grown enormously in the major cities. With this potential support, Ts'ao Yü, with his talent for uncompromising realism dramatically stated and backed up by a sound practical knowledge of stage requirements, was assured of immediate success. Besides his main works, Ts'ao Yü wrote several one-act plays and made some translations, of which the most important was Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, produced during the Sino-Japanese war.

Ts'ao Yü married Cheng Hsiu, a fellow student at Tsinghua and the daughter of a jurist. Wan Fu-lin & ins T. Shou-shan U ill [358]

Biography in Chinese

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