Peking Opera legend Mei Baojiu dies aged 82

Mei Baojiu

Peking Opera legend Mei Baojiu passed away in Beijing at 11 am on Monday. Mei was the last biological successor of the “Mei School” of the traditional performance created by his father Mei Lanfang, one of the most respected Chinese artists of the 20th century.

The 82-year-old artist died of oxygen deficiency caused by bronchismus. People close to Mei said that it is not uncommon for a professional Peking Opera artist to get such a disease because they have to practice their voices every day.

As the color of generosity and optimism was often thicker than his health condition, people tended to ignore his health condition until March 31 this year when Mei fainted during a dinner party. At that time, he was preparing for the 2016 Peking Opera and Kunqu Opera Tour.

Mei Baojiu (left) and his father Mei Lanfang Photo: Baidu Image

“He worked so hard. It seemed like he just got a cold, and said he’s going to take a few days’ break after the show,” Yang Danfei, a former Peking Opera performer from south China’s Yunnan province recalled.

Mei was the ninth son of Mei Lanfang, and the youngest among five boys in the family. Although Mei began to learn Opera at the age of 10 and made his debut at 13, he was not a fanatic from the beginning.

As a child, he was obsessed with machine and photography, but most of all, film projection, according to his early interviews with the media.

Mei was the second inheritor of the Peking Opera in his family history following his father and grandfather. The reason why there was never a third inheritor in the family was that the role, “male Dan”, a female character played by a male, in Peking Opera was strictly banned during the Cultural Revolution. Mei was the only one of his peers to play the “male Dan” in Peking Opera, like his father.

Mei Baojiu played the “male Dan” role in the classical opera "Farewell My Concubine" Photo: Baidu Image

A member of China’s top advisory body CPPCC, Mei also advocated for the preservation and inheritance of the Peking Opera. During China’s 2016 Two Sessions in March, Mei encouraged youngsters to practice Chinese traditional calligraphy and listen to the Peking Opera so as to pass on this traditional Chinese art.

Generous and cheerful as he was, Mei was a person with a strong sense of principles when it came to recruiting apprentices. As the only remaining successor of Mei School, Mei never lacked followers with talents and wealth, but he was discerning to anyone who came to him, except Tian Hui, also a follower of Mei, whose face was known to resemble that of Mei.

In 2014, Mei along with his disciples toured several regions including New York, Washington DC, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Tokyo to commemorate his father’s 120th birthday.

Six-year old Mei Baojiu Photo: Baidu Image

 

(This article is translated and edited by Chunmei.)


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