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    Curtain call
    English.news.cn 2010-04-09 09:07:40
    Yin Jun (middle) and Mu Yuandi (right) back stage at the Chang'an Grand Theater during their recent performance. (Photo: China Daily)

    The Peking Opera art form nan dan, in which men play women's roles, is finding it difficult to re-establish itself after disappearing from the stage in the early days of New China. Zhang Zixuan reports

    The performer playing the legendary Tang Dynasty (618-907) concubine Yang Yuhuan is a very beautiful woman - for a man, that is.

    Hu Wenge, 43, who is showing off his skills at the packed Chang'an Grand Theater, is one of fewer than 10 practitioners of the Peking Opera art form nan dan, in which men play women's roles.

    Hu is the only nan dan apprentice of 76-year-old Peking Opera master Mei Baojiu and one of the last hopes for the future of the nearly extinct ancient performance style. Mei watches his student's 40-minute appearance from backstage, periodically nodding in approval.

    Nan dan branched off near the roots of Peking Opera's evolutionary tree, during a time when women were banned from the stage.

    It reached its heyday in the 1920s, with the rise of its four schools. Each of the Four Great Dan was named after the surname of its progenitor - Mei Lanfang, Shang Xiaoyun, Cheng Yanqiu and Xun Huisheng.

    But nan dan was labeled as a "remnant of feudalism" in New China's early years, and practitioners were persecuted and even executed during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76).

    The art form re-emerged after the opening-up and reform of the 1980s - but as a shadow of its former self.

    "It's on the verge of extinction," says Hu, who studies the Mei school of nan dan.

    "But we're still holding on for dear life."
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