Mei Baojiu: China’s renowned Peking opera master dies aged 82

Youngest son of Peking opera legend Mei Lanfang was devoted to his art, considering it his lifetime mission to pass it on to the younger generation

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 April, 2016, 3:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 April, 2016, 3:00am

Peking opera master Mei Baojiu, known for his portrayal of elegant female roles, died in Beijing on Monday morning after 26 days in hospital. He was 82.

Mei had slipped into a coma after experiencing breathing problems, according to his obituary from the Beijing Peking Opera Theatre, where he led the Mei Lanfang Peking Opera Troupe.

He had reportedly collapsed during lunch on March 31, two days after his 82nd birthday.

Peking Opera troupe honours icon of the form with US tour

Born in Shanghai in 1934, Mei was the youngest son of renowned Peking opera legend Mei Lanfang. The elder Mei was known for his Dan, or female roles.

At age 10, Mei Baojiu started training with famous Peking opera artists, including Wang Youqing and Zhu Chuanming. He officially performed in public at age 13 and started performing with his father at 18.

Mei was the second generation of what was known in the circle as the Mei school, started by his father, playing elegant female roles with a unique way of walking, dancing, speaking and executing perfectly timed, poised stances.

It’s our mission not only to enjoy a performance but also to let the younger generation know what’s the right thing to do
Mei Baojiu

Like his father, Mei made his name playing female roles in traditional Peking opera, such as consort Yu in Farewell My Concubine, Yang Yuhuan in Imperial Consort Intoxicated and Mu Guiying in Lady General Mu Takes Command.

His career was halted for 14 years before and during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and ’70s, when he was instead given the job of maintaining stereo equipment.

Mei rarely created new shows. Most of his works were built upon his father’s.

In an interview with CCTV in 2014, Mei said his mission was to continue the art in the way “I learned it, acted it, and taught it to my students” and “do practical things and try to teach as many students as I can”.

He also followed in his father’s footsteps, touring the United States, Russia, Taiwan and Hong Kong in 2013 and 2014 to promote Peking opera in celebration of his father’s 120th birth anniversary.

Mei Lanfang’s tours around the world had brought him international acclaim.

A member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, China’s top political advisory body, Mei Baojiu’s proposals during the annual sessions were often linked to preserving and promoting Peking opera and traditional Chinese culture.

In 2014, he told China National Radio that Peking opera taught nothing but virtues and that he considered it his duty to pass it on.

4 quirky policy proposals suggested at China’s big annual political bash

“It’s our mission not only to enjoy a performance but also to let the younger generation know what’s the right thing to do,” he said.

In 2009, Mei proposed introducing Peking opera in primary schools. In 2012, he proposed creating animated works out of traditional Peking opera shows to attract young listeners.

Just last month, he proposed that children should learn calligraphy, traditional Chinese characters and Peking opera so they would accept and embrace traditional Chinese culture.

Mei has trained dozens of Peking opera artists, but only one was a man playing female roles.