Xinhai Revolution

A wrong note on Sun Yat-sen opera

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 September, 2011, 12:00am


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After all this time, you'd think there would be nothing controversial about the legacy of Dr Sun Yat-sen, but that would underestimate the mainland's unpredictable sensitivities.

For reasons that have yet to be explained, the world premiere in Beijing of a Hong Kong production of a new opera, Dr Sun Yat-sen, has been abruptly cancelled. The anticipated work had been announced globally and previewed in April in New York. Suddenly it was announced yesterday that next Friday's premiere was off and audiences could see, instead, something called Chinese Orphan.

What makes this especially bizarre is the timing. We're at the 100-year mark of the 1911 revolution that ended 2,000 years of imperial rule.

Sun, who had agitated for revolution for years, was not in China during the successful revolt itself, but returned in time to be named first president of the Republic of China. He is the one leader who is venerated - justly - on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Perhaps the opera's focus on Sun's complicated love life - his marriage to Soong Chingling, the daughter of Sun's close ally Charlie Soong - was judged to be too racy or disrespectful for such an august historical figure. Maybe it deviates too much from the musty history-book way in which the communist party would like Sun to be depicted.

Whatever, it's as outrageous as if an American theatre company was banned from staging a play about Thomas Jefferson and his relationship with black slave Sally Hemings.

And it highlights, once again, the immaturity of a world power afraid of its own shadow.

Hong Kong audiences, at least, can look forward to the show. It opens at the Cultural Centre on October 13.