Saturday was our last evening in Yangshuo, and we spent it at an outdoor performance that combined minority folk songs and glitzy movie effects. The production, called Impressions: the Story of Liu Sanjie, was conceived and directed by Zhang Yimou, a famous Chinese movie director. It is a “cast of thousands” show (ok, only 600 performers!) with lights and music. Most of it is performed on bamboo rafts in the river. The action was set too far from the audience for me to take any pictures (other than the one of Zoe and Maya saying plainly, “Start the show, already!”), but you can see some here and here and here. The most amazing scene was when dozens of boatmen on bamboo rafts pulled themselves along on long swaths of red cloth rising from the river. It was really impressive, with the music setting a furious pace for the action.
The setting for the performance was stunning – the stage was the Li River and the backdrop was strategically lit karst mountains. I don’t think anyone could have designed a more beautiful stage set. As a Guilin travel website says fulsomely, “Unlike the traditional artificial stage performance, the performance on the natural stage is a great work of man and god. No one knows how long this picturesque scenery has been waiting in rain and mists. Is its graceful image made for us?” Unfortunately, nature stopped cooperating after offering the stage set – the weather was terrible. It was incredibly hot and humid, and then it started to rain!
The show goes on, regardless of the weather, and they hand out “raincoats” at the entrance to the amphitheater. The raincoats were more like Saran wrap, and created quite a sauna-like effect in the heat! I decided I’d rather be wet from the rain rather than my own sweat, so I didn’t bother with the raincoat and only got a little wet. The girls chose to wear the raincoats and did fine with the heat.
The story for the hour-long show was a variation on the story of Liu Sanjie, a legendary figure in Zhuang tales (that’s why Zoe and Maya are wearing their Zhuang outfits – we’ve been looking for an excuse to wear them and a performance celebrating a Zhuang maiden seemed the perfect opportunity! They got quite a few compliments as we walked to our seats).
The stories place the year of Liu Sanjie’s birth at 703 A.D., and there are lots of different versions of her story. They all focus on her beautiful singing, though. In some she is a musical prodigy or called the Song Fairy and she leaves her fiancé and elopes with her lover. In others a wealthy landowner tries to make her his concubine because of her beautiful voice and she elopes with her fiancé; but most of them end with her becoming some kind of celestial being and ascending into heaven on a white crane or a carp. Some have her and her fiancé/lover turning into larks. None seem to have a particularly happy ending since Liu Sanjie ends up dead!
This version, according to Cristy, went like this: Liu Sanjie (Sanjie means “third daughter” – she was the third daughter of the family Liu) worked in the fields picking tea and always sang beautiful songs while she worked. She was in love with a local boy, and was happy all the time because he returned her love. An evil landowner was imposing cruel taxes on the people, and she organized them all against the landowner by singing beautiful songs. The landowner decided that the only way to stop her was to marry her as a concubine. She did not want to marry him, and the village people helped her and her fiancé to escape from him, and then overthrew the cruel landowner. Everyone lived happily ever after (except the cruel landowner who got what he deserved, the bourgeoisie pig!) I just loved the Communist Party spin on an old folk tale!
The show was pretty impressive, except for one weird scene – the shower scene. Liu Sanjie was being prepared to marry the evil landowner, which included taking a shower, and so to confuse him all the girls in the village also showered in the same waterfall and all of them claimed to be Liu Sanjie (kind of the Chinese version of “I am Sparticus. . . . No, I am Sparticus!”). This required much flitting around by apparently naked girls (they all had on body stockings). So much for the modesty of Chinese girls that I’ve been telling you about! It struck me as true kowtowing to the tourists.
We all enjoyed the performance, but it was nice to get back to our air-conditioned and dry room at the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat. The other family in our group had to get up at the crack of dawn to leave for the airport – they were going on to Xian and Beijing. It was great fun traveling with them, and we were sad to say goodbye before heading to our room.
Our flight left later, so we didn’t have to leave the hotel until 10 a.m. Sunday. We had a car and driver, and the girls actually slept most of the 90 minute drive back to Guilin (remember that it took twice that long by boat!). We left the Guilin Airport at 1:30, bound for Xiamen.
We had a wonderful time in Guangxi Province. I know we will go back when the girls are older. I’ll also try to post more pictures, and some reflections after all of this has sunk in. I do know the trip was really good for Zoe and Maya, and really good for me, too. We have no regrets, except, perhaps, at having to leave Guangxi Province after such a short time!