'Shining Pearl' Takes Center Stage in Peking Opera

March 20, 2019  Editor: Wei Xuanyi

Sun Ruihan (in costume) poses with her classmates after a Peking Opera performance at a school activity in September last year, in Harbin, Heilongjiang province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

 

Harbin girl overcomes disability to show great talent in the performance art.

Just two days after last month's Spring Festival holiday, 10-year-old Sun Ruihan returned to class at a Peking Opera training institution for young learners in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province.

In the 100-square-meter training hall, she practiced the basic skills alongside her classmates. Her slightly crippled right leg made Sun, who was born with cerebral palsy due to a lack of oxygen, stand out from the others.

"When the doctor told me the diagnosis and the unknown consequences, even though she was saved, I did nothing but cry," Sun's mother, Zhang Jing, said. "Soon after putting away our sadness, my husband and I decided to save her and bring her up at all cost."

Timely treatment at birth prevented Ruihan from having brain damage.

"We spent 200,000 yuan ($29,730) in the first two years after her birth, which was quite a large amount for our family, but I felt a little relieved when I knew that she could grow up with a normal level of intelligence," Zhang, 43, said. "But due to high muscular tension, she was not able to walk on her own until the age of three."

To help the girl recover her motor functions, her parents insisted on giving her regular treatments, including traditional Chinese medicine massage and physical therapy. However, she still walked with a limp.

"In the summer of 2015, a friend advised me to try the Peking Opera course, in which the physical training might help my daughter recover the use of her leg," Zhang said. "Furthermore, we thought it would be a good chance for her to develop a specialty, so we brought her to the Peking Opera training institution near our home."

Sun said: "I was only 6 years old at that time and knew nothing about Peking Opera, but I was pretty enthralled by the stage photos of the actresses displayed at the institution, in which they seemed so beautiful, with delicate makeup and colorful costumes. Therefore, I really wanted to learn at the institution."

At first, the principal of the institution, Wang Xichen, refused to admit her.

"The little girl wasn't able to walk normally, so I didn't think she could learn Peking Opera, which involves lots of body movements," the 30-year-old Peking Opera actor said.

But the persistence Sun and her parents displayed in several visits moved him deeply.

"I promised to teach her, but also told them that they could quit at any time if she felt it difficult to follow," he said.

In the following four years, the girl has not disappointed her teacher or her parents.

The lessons are held three times a week and she has not missed a single one.

"Some simple actions seem quite difficult for the little girl, such as a back somersault that needs help from two others," Wang said. "She practiced much harder than others to make up for her physical disability, without any complaints."

The consistent physical training gradually improved the condition of her leg, even though she may never become a perfect actress on stage.

And she has showed great talent in singing Peking Opera.

"She has a good voice for Peking Opera," said her 71-year-old singing tutor, Xing Huizhu, a famous Peking Opera actress in the province. "More importantly, she always diligently practices and can quickly understand what I say."

In May 2017, Sun won her first golden award at the provincial Peking Opera competition after nearly two years of learning, and she won several provincial awards in the following years.

"The awards greatly boosted her confidence in life," her mother said. "She looks just like a shining pearl on stage, which I have never seen before."

After several performances in school, she also became a star among her schoolmates.

"During my first year in school, I seldom went out of the classroom due to my weak legs as well as concerns about being laughed at," she said. "But when my classmates scrambled to take photos with me after the performances, I felt quite proud."

At Wang's suggestion, Ruihan began to learn playing the jinghu, a two-stringed fiddle used in Peking Opera, several months ago.

"A jinghu player who can sing well will have an advantage on stage, and it may help to achieve her dream," Wang said.

Sun said: "I hope I can remain on the Peking Opera stage in the future. I will continue to work hard."

 

(Source: China Daily)

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