Taking a new role
At a meeting during the first session of the 13th Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference National Committee in Beijing, one of the members said: “My name is Feng Yuanzheng. I’m an actor from Beijing People’s Art Theatre.”
Then, one of the other members at the session responded jokingly: “We all know you. You don’t have to introduce yourself.”
But Feng continued, saying: “Well, then I’d better introduce myself again. Even today, many people still call me An Jiahe.”
An Jiahe is a character he played in the 2001 series Don’t Respond to Strangers.
The character, one of the best-known villains in the history of Chinese TV, is a surgeon, who beats his wife, and he has almost become a synonym for domestic violence in China.
“It is a role that deeply rooted in people’s hearts,” says Feng, 56, a member of the 13th CPPCC National Committee. “So, I suppose that qualifies as success.”
Even now, his picture is often used when domestic violence cases are reported on TV. And, it is generally accepted that the TV series contributed to the passing of China’s Anti-Domestic Violence Law in 2015.
Speaking about domestic violence, he says: “People did not realize how serious domestic violence was,” he says. “So, in a way, I became a campaigner against it.”
Feng is a veteran actor from the Beijing People’s Art Theatre, but TV series and films also comprise a part of his career.
On stage, he is best known by history buffs for his role as Sima Qian, a great Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) historian, in a play of the same title.
Separately, his role in the 2012 romance Returning Home on a Snowy Night also brought him fame.
Feng, who is picky when it comes to choosing scripts, says: “I’m an actor, not a celebrity. So, I need good works, not public topics.”
Meanwhile, in spite of his rich experience, Feng says his new role as one of the country’s top political advisers needs different skills.
But he has ideas on how the country’s cultural sector can progress.
For instance, he has called for modifying guidelines for the use of the China National Arts Fund – which supports high-quality arts programs – in his proposal to the conference.
Explaining his proposal he says: “Currently, the time given to use the funds is too short.”
He says that the funding should be better scheduled, and profits earned from the programs should be put back into the fund.
“Also, the fund should be used to preserve endangered art forms like local opera genres,” he says.
Separately, the actor says he is glad to see public interest in high-end culture growing in recent years.
“Earlier, people used to host a banquet or go to a karaoke bar for entertainment,” he says. “But now, they often focus on the arts and cultural performances.”
According to him, the attendance levels at recent shows staged by the Beijing People’s Art Theatre is typically more than 90 percent.
“During the Spring Festival holiday, when we expected the audience numbers to be low, we were pleasantly surprised,” he says.
In the past few years, Feng has been among the performers from the Beijing People’s Art Theatre who have delivered nonprofit lectures on stage drama for the public, especially in elementary and high schools.
“The purpose of these lectures is to nurture our next-generation audience,” he says. “And, some of them may even develop an interest in a career on the stage.”
Speaking about finding new blood for his troupe, he says it is urgent that they train more young actors.
“Our generation will soon retire,” he says. “So, we train young people through more practice. And we get them to regularly read scripts aloud in public, as a common complaint we hear about young actors is that they cannot deliver their lines well.”
He also says that the revival of stage dramas will help the TV and film industries improve.
“The value of veteran performers is now being emphasized by audiences,” says Feng.
“People are bored by screens filled with ‘fresh meat’,” he says.
In China, “fresh meat” is often used to describe actors with pretty faces and poor performing skills.
Feng, who studied acting in Germany from 1989 to 1991, is a big fan of global cultural links.
And, he insists on taking original productions abroad without modifying them.
“A stage classic has to be showcased just as it is, no matter where it goes or whether there is language barrier,” he says.
“It’s to respect overseas audiences who knows art well.”
In a related development, he says that Sima Qian will be performed in Russia later this year.
Speaking about how to promote Chinese productions abroad, he says: “History-based productions which showcase our traditional costumes, rituals and architecture interest overseas audiences. But we still need time to figure out how to make our dramas which reflect modern Chinese life become more widely accepted.”
Besides performances, Feng feels academic exchanges between Chinese stage actors and their overseas counterparts should be enhanced.
After the interview which was conducted during a break in the conference proceedings, Feng returned to his seat to focus on the other members’ speeches.
And he took notes “to record good ideas” as he puts it.
Feng once served as a legislator for the Dongcheng district of Beijing.
And he recalls that he then used to mainly focus on the specific concerns of the local community.
“However, I need to have a much bigger focus now,” he says.
Hopefully, he can make a bigger difference for the country than he did as An Jiahe.
Source: By Wang Kaihao | China Daily