Mourners brave the rain to remember 'unique' opera star Hung Sin-nui

Over a thousand gather to remember grand dame of opera Hung Sin-nui

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 December, 2013, 2:52pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 December, 2013, 11:02am

Heavyweights of the political and entertainment worlds from Hong Kong and Guangdong gathered in Guangzhou yesterday to pay tribute to Hung Sin-nui at a memorial service for the grand dame of Cantonese opera.

More than 1,000 dignitaries and members of the public braved the chilly rain on Monday morning to pay their respects to the legendary singer and actress, who died in Guangzhou on December 8 after a heart attack. She was 89.

President Xi Jinping , Premier Li Keqiang and the other five members of the Politburo Standing Committee led the list of those who had sent flowers and messages of condolence. Guangdong governor Zhu Xiaodan and Wan Qingliang , party secretary for Guangzhou, joined Hong Kong show-business heavyweights including Andy Lau Tak-wah and Lisa Wong Ming-chuen at the service in Guangzhou's Yinhe Yuan funeral home.

"Madam Nui nurtured many Cantonese opera actresses, especially on the mainland, and most of them sing in Hung tone," actress Wong said, referring to Hung's sweet, smooth and crisp style of singing. "I believe a large part of her legacy will be carried on but, of course, she is unique."

Video: A glimpse of Cantonese opera singer Hung Sin-nui's performance

The entrance to the hall where the service took place was decorated with pink fabric, while the hall itself was filled with white and yellow flowers from current and former leaders at state and provincial level, as well as Hong Kong stars. After the 30-minute service, members of the public were allowed in to pay their own tributes to Hung.

"I bowed to her body nine times. I couldn't sleep the evening I heard of her death. I'm very sad," said Huang Junying, a master of crosstalk, a traditional form of comedy. "Hung was influential on me on a personal level as well as internationally. This is a tremendous loss to Cantonese opera, to the nation's cultural industry and to the people."

Hung was born to a family of Cantonese opera performers in the Guangdong city of Kaiping, and embarked on her own opera career under her aunt's mentorship at the age of 12. Born Kuang Jianlian, she took on her stage name, a traditional phrase signifying marriage and relationships which translates as "Red Line Girl", at the age of 14.

Hung relocated to Hong Kong during the second world war. She ventured onto the big screen in 1947 and went on to make more than 90 films. They helped establish her as one of the biggest stars of Cantonese opera and Hong Kong cinema.

At the peak of her career, Hung returned to Guangzhou and joined the Guangdong Cantonese Opera Troupe. During the Cultural Revolution, the opera star found herself condemned and banished from the troupe to work as a street sweeper.

A Guangzhou resident saw Hung being criticised during one of the "struggle sessions" that characterised the years of turmoil. "A blackboard was hung on her neck … the public threw rubbish at her, calling her opera poisonous and branding her a capitalist roader," Xu Lichun, 65, recalled.

Hung last visited Hong Kong in May last year, when North Point's famous Sunbeam Theatre reopened. Her final public appearance was at an opera performance in Guangzhou, just eight days before her death.