Teahouse 茶馆

By Lao She 老舍[1]
Adapted by Meng Jinghui 孟京辉[2]
Translated by Claire Conceison 康开丽
Published in conjunction with Barbara Leonesi’s MCLC essay on Meng’s adaptation
See also Conceison’s 2019 report on Meng’s Avignon production

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright October 2023)

Preshow at performance of Meng’s Teahouse performed at the Avignon Festival 2019 from July 9-20 at L’Opera Confluence theater. All subsequent photos are from this performance. Photo: Claire Conceison.

Dramatis Personae (in order of speaking)[3]

Teahouse Customers
Wang Lifa
Master Song
Master Chang
Er Dezi
Master Ma
Pockmark Liu
Kang Liu
Kang Shunzi
Eunuch Pang
Qin Zhongyi
Tang the Oracle
Little Girl
Peasant Woman
Li San
Song Enzi
Tubby Huang
Little Spider
Big Spider
Ronald McDonald
Little Thing
Big Sister
Little Sister
Wang Shufen
Qin Boren
The Actor
Ding Bao

Teahouse set, designed by Zhang Wu. Composed of 6 tons of steel, it required assembly of 1,000 pieces by 45 technicians, and 8 electricians to rotate the sphere. Photo: Meng Jinghui Studio.

SCENE 1: Ensemble

First Customer: Who is this Tan Sitong?

Second Customer: I heard of him somewhere before. He must have committed a horrible crime. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been sentenced to death.

Third Customer: In the past few months, some officials and scholars have been trying to stir up trouble and causing all kinds of chaos!

Fourth Customer: No matter what happens, my Bannerman’s subsidy is safe. That Tan Sitong and Kang Youwei were saying subsidies should be abolished and we should earn our own living. That’s wicked!

Third Customer: By the time we get our subsidies, our superiors have skimmed most of it off the top anyway. It’s a tough life however you look at it.

Fourth Customer: A tough life is better than no life. If I had to earn my own living, I would starve.

Wang Lifa: Customers! Do Not Discuss Affairs of State.

Master Song and Master Chang: Drink some of this?

Master Song: Seems like there’s trouble again.

Master Chang: Don’t worry, they won’t come to blows. If it were serious, they’d have left the city by now. Why come to a teahouse?

Erdezi: Who do you think you’re talking about?

Master Chang: Who, me? I’ve paid for my tea. Do I have to bow to someone as well? It’s clear you’re new here. Come, sit down. Let’s have some tea together. We’re all from somewhere.

Erdezi: What I do is none of your damn business!

Master Chang: If you want to throw your weight around, try the foreigners! They’re tough all right! You’re on the public payroll, but when the British and French armies destroyed the old Summer Palace, I didn’t see you lift a finger to stop them!

Erdezi: Leave the foreigners out of this! I’ll teach you a lesson!

Wang Lifa: Now, now, gentlemen! Surely we can settle this as friends. Master Erdezi, why not take a seat in the courtyard now?

Erdezi: Out of my way.

Master Chang: What do you think you’re doing?

Erdezi: Perhaps I don’t touch foreigners, but I’ll show you a thing or two.

Master Ma: What an important person you are, Erdezi.

Erdezi: Oh, It’s you, Master Ma! Pardon, sir, I didn’t see you sitting there.

Master Ma: Settle your disputes in a reasonable way. Must you always resort to violence?

Erdezi: Yes, you’re right, I’ll go back and sit down. Li San, I’m paying for the tea for this table!

Master Chang: Sir, you’re a sensible gentleman. Please tell us who was right.

Master Ma: I’m busy. Goodbye!

Master Chang: How odd! Strange character, isn’t he?

Wang Lifa: Don’t you know that’s Master Ma? No wonder he snubbed you. You offended him.

Master Chang: I did? This is my lucky day!

Wang Lifa: You were saying something about foreigners just now. He lives off the foreigners. Follows their religion and speaks their language. If he wants, he can go straight to the Mayor of Beijing on business. Even the authorities handle him with care.

Master Chang: I can’t stand people who pander to foreigners!

Wang Lifa: Watch what you say. Li San, bring a fresh cup of tea!

Master Chang: How much is the tea? I’ll pay for it. Outsiders don’t do women’s work.

Wang Lifa: Pay once you have it.

Pockmark Liu: Master Chang, Master Song, you gentlemen are early today. You must try this! I just got it, the real thing from England! Fine and pure!

Master Chang: Even our snuff comes from abroad. How much silver must flow out of the country every year!

Pockmark Liu: Our Great Qing Empire has mountains of silver and gold. It will never run out. Master Song, look at this!

Master Song: What a fine little watch!

Pockmark Liu: Listen to it, ticking away merrily!

Master Song: How much?

Pockmark Liu: Why, you like it? Then it’s yours! Just five taels! Whenever you’re tired of it, give it back to me and I’ll refund you to the last copper! It’s really top quality, fit for a family heirloom.

Master Chang: It puzzles me, the number of foreign things we all have. Take you, for instance, Liu—you have foreign snuff, a foreign watch, a gown made from foreign satin, and a jacket and trousers made of foreign cloth…

Pockmark Liu: But foreign things look so nice! If I went around in simple cloth, looking like a country bumpkin, who would ever talk to me?

Master Chang: I still think our own satin and Sichuan silk are much nicer.

Pockmark Liu: Master Song, you really should keep this watch. These days, if you carry a foreign watch around, people will treat you with more respect. Take it now and pay me later. You two gentlemen have a seat here for a moment, I have to take care of a little business. Come here, Kang Liu. Let’s talk it over. Will ten taels of silver do? Make up your mind. I’m a busy man. I haven’t got all day!

Kang Liu: Master Liu, a fifteen-year-old girl worth only ten taels?

Pockmark Liu: A brothel might give you a few taels more, but you don’t want that.

Kang Liu: My own flesh and blood, how could I…?

Pockmark Liu: But you can’t feed her. Who’s to blame?

Kang Liu: We peasants can’t make ends meet anymore. If I could put food on the table and still tried to sell my daughter, it would be inhuman!

Pockmark Liu: That’s a problem for you peasants, not me! I’ll see to it you’re not cheated and your daughter has a place to fill her belly. Isn’t that enough?

Kang Liu: Who is buying her?

Pockmark Liu: This should please you. A palace official!

Kang Liu: What palace official wants a peasant girl?!

Pockmark Liu: That’s why your daughter’s a lucky girl!

Kang Liu: But who is he?

Pockmark Liu: The Grand Official Pang!

Kang Liu: The Grand Official Pang! The Grand Eunuch Pang!

Pockmark Liu: Even you must have heard of him. A personal attendant of the Empress Dowager, her favorite! Even the vinegar bottle in his house is made of agate!

Kang Liu: But Master Liu, please. How could I ever face my daughter again if I sold her to be the wife of a eunuch?

Pockmark Liu: You won’t be able to face her no matter what. Once she’s married, she’ll eat delicacies and wear brocades. That’s a lucky fate.

Kang Liu: But who has ever heard of selling a girl to a eunuch? He’ll only pay ten taels?

Pockmark Liu: Where in your whole village can you scrape up ten taels? In the countryside a child can be bought for five catties of flour. I’m telling you, you won’t find another opportunity like this. If you pass it up, don’t blame me! Master Chang, look how country bumpkins drag things out and can’t make up their minds.

Master Song: This seems like an important deal.

Pockmark Liu: Not really. If all goes well, I may get about twenty taels of silver.

Master Chang: What’s going on in the countryside that’s making them sell their children like this?

Pockmark Liu: Who knows? That’s why people say that even a dog wants to be born in Beijing.

Master Chang: Master Liu, it takes nerve to have a hand in such a business!

Pockmark Liu: But if I didn’t bother, they might not find a buyer!

Eunuch Pang: How can you ask two hundred taels of silver for a country girl?!

Pockmark Liu: A country girl, true, but once in the city, with a bit of makeup and instruction, you’ll have a real beauty. I’ve done more for you than I would for my own father. I left no stone unturned.

Kang Liu: Shunzi! Daddy is not human, he’s a brute! But what can I do? You must find a place to eat or you’ll starve. I must get a few taels of silver or our landlord will beat me to death. Oh Shunzi, accept your fate!

Pockmark Liu: So you’re back! She agreed? Good! Come and meet His Excellency. Kneel down before His Excellency!

Kang Shunzi: Daddy… I…

Kang Liu: Shunzi! Shunzi! She’s so hungry and upset that she fainted.

Eunuch Pang: I ordered something alive. I won’t take it dead! Master Qin!

Qin Zhongyi: You must be feeling a lot more relaxed these past few days.

Eunuch Pang: Of course. Peace reigns once more. The imperial edict has been proclaimed and Tan Sitong has been sentenced to death. I tell you, anyone who dares to meddle with the statutes laid down by our ancestors will have his head chopped off!

Qin Zhongyi: I’ve always known that.

Eunuch Pang: Ah, yes, you’re so smart! That’s why you’ve made such a fortune.

Qin Zhongyi: My little bit of property isn’t worth mentioning.

Eunuch Pang: How modest you are! Who in Beijing hasn’t heard of Master Qin? You’re more powerful than the mandarins. I’ve heard it whispered that quite a number of the wealthy support the reformists.

Qin Zhongyi: Well, I wouldn’t say that. What little influence I may wield won’t go far in your presence.

Eunuch Pang: Well said! Let’s both try our best, and see what happens.

Qin Zhongyi: Allow me the pleasure of paying you a visit one of these days. Goodbye!

Eunuch Pang: Bah! If an upstart like that dares to exchange words with me, times must really have changed!

First Customer: Hey, did you hear about the giant spider that was struck by lightning and turned into a demon?

Second Customer: Hey did you know we can prevent foreign armies from landing on our shores by building a wall along the coast?

Third Customer: Hey I know where you can learn the latest aria composed by a Beijing opera actor.

Fourth Customer: Hey you can make better opium by adding tea leaves.

Wang Lifa: Customers. Do Not Discuss Affairs of State. Mr. Tang, what brings you here?

Tang the Oracle: The streets are crawling with soldiers and horsemen. Oh, Manager Pang, what auspicious features you have! Such an inspired forehead and commanding jaw! Not the makings of a prime minister, but potential for fabulous wealth! If you give me some cigarettes, I’ll tell you more.

Eunuch Pang: They have to weed out Tan Sitong’s supporters, don’t they? Don’t worry, no one will lay hands on you.

Master Song: We’d better get going too. It’s getting late.

Little Girl: Ma! I’m hungry! I’m hungry!

Qin Zhongyi: Get rid of them!

Peasant Woman: Won’t some kind person do a good deed? Take this child! Only two taels of silver!

Master Chang: Li San, fetch two bowls of noodles, and take them outside to eat.

Li San: Yes, sir! Get up! Wait at the entrance. I’ll bring the noodles.

Peasant Woman: Let’s go!

Wang Lifa: Master Chang, you’re really softhearted giving them noodles! But let me tell you, there are so many cases like this. Too many! You can’t help them all. Isn’t that right, Master Qin?

Master Chang: Master Song, it seems to me that the Great Qing Empire is done for!

Song Enzi: Hold on. Just now you said, “The Great Qing Empire is done for!”

Master Chang: Me? I love the Qing Empire! I hope it isn’t done for.

Song Enzi: You heard him say that.

Master Song: Now, now, gentlemen, we have tea here every day. Manager Wang knows us well. We’re law-abiding men. We can easily settle this. Please take a seat.

Song Enzi: You refuse to answer? We’ll take you in too. He must be a follower of Tan Sitong—he said “The Great Qing Empire is done for!”

Master Song: What I heard him say just now was…

Master Chang: A simple explanation will clear this up.

Song Enzi: So you’re resisting arrest? Look, I have the “Law” here with me.

Master Chang: Remember, I’m a Bannerman.

Song Enzi: A Bannerman turned traitor gets a heavier sentence. Restrain him.

Master Chang: Don’t bother. I won’t run away.

Song Enzi: Just you try. You come along too Master Song. Tell the truth in court and you won’t get into trouble.

Tubby Huang: Manager Wang, prepare bowls of noodles for them! With me, Tubby Huang, here, no one’s gonna fight!

Master Song: Master Huang!

Tubby Huang: Who’s that?

Master Song: It’s me, Song. Please come over here and put in a good word.

Tubby Huang: No Problem. So, it’s you two gentlemen. On official business, are you? Carry on.

Master Song: Master Huang, please help us. Just a few kind words.

Tubby Huang: What the authorities can’t handle, I do. But when they can, I keep my mouth shut.

Master Song: Master Wang, please take care of our birds for us.

Wang Lifa: Don’t worry, I’ll send them to your homes.

(Eunuch Pang coughs)

Tubby Huang: Ah, Your Excellency! I heard your happy news.

Eunuch Pang: You will attend the wedding banquet?

Tubby Huang: I’m honored.

Next seven lines are polyphonic. 

Third Customer: In the past few months, some officials and scholars have been trying to stir up trouble and causing all kinds of chaos!

Fourth Customer: No matter what happens, my Bannerman’s subsidy is safe!

First Customer: Who is this Tan Sitong?

Second Customer: I seem to have heard of him somewhere before! He must have committed a horrible crime. Otherwise he wouldn’t be sentenced to death!

Fourth Customer: That Tan Sitong and Kang Youwei were saying all subsidies should be abolished and we should earn our own living. That’s wicked!

Third Customer: By the time we get our subsidies, our superiors have skimmed most of it off the top anyway. It’s a tough life however you look at it!

Fourth Customer: A tough life is better than no life! If I had to earn my own living, I would starve!

Wang Lifa: Customers. Do Not Discuss Affairs of State.

First Customer: Check! You’re finished!

Wang Lifa: One doesn’t find large teahouses like this anymore. A few decades ago, every district in Beijing had at least one. Bird fanciers used to come here every day to rest, drink tea and chat. It was a meeting place for all kinds of people. Gang fights were common in those days, but with a few dozen people drinking tea and eating bowls of noodles with minced pork, peace would always be restored. One could hear all kinds of stories, such as how a giant spider was struck by lightning and turned into a demon; or how it was possible to prevent foreign armies from coming ashore by building a huge wall along the coast. Or one could learn the latest aria composed by a Beijing opera actor, or who had procured a three-color glazed snuff-box. In those days, the teahouse was a center of cultural exchange.

Ensemble disperses.

Wang Lifa: Master Qin! You made time to visit the teahouse? Didn’t even bring a servant?

Qin Zhongyi: Just taking a look to see if a young fellow like you can run a business like this.

Wang Lifa: I learn as I go. My father died young, so I had no choice. The teahouse is how I make my living. I do everything just like my father. Always polite, always make obeisances, try to please everybody so there won’t be any trouble. Please take a seat, sir. I’ll make you a cup of our finest tea.

Qin Zhongyi: I don’t want any tea and I won’t sit down.

Wang Lifa: Just for a moment! You’ll be doing me a great honor.

Qin Zhongyi: Oh, all right. But don’t make such a fuss.

Wang Lifa: Master Qin, everything is going well recently?

Qin Zhongyi: Not really.

Wang Lifa: But surely with so many businesses, you have nothing to worry about. A mere trifle to you would be my entire fortune and more!

Qin Zhongyi: Don’t you think it’s about time we raised the rent a bit? The pittance your father used to pay me won’t even buy me tea!

Wang Lifa: Of course, sir, how right you are! But there’s no need for you to bother with such small matters. Send your servant and I’ll work it out with him. I’ll certainly pay what’s fair. Yes I will, sir!

Qin Zhongyi: You rogue, you’re even more crafty than your father. You just wait, one of these days I’ll take this place back.

Wang Lifa: You’re joking, sir! I know you are concerned about my welfare. You would never drive me out onto the streets, to sell tea from a clay pot.

Qin Zhongyi: Wait and see.

Master Chang: Li San, fetch two bowls of noodles, and bring them outside.

Wang Lifa: Master Chang, you’re really softhearted giving them noodles! But there are too many charity cases like this. You can’t help them all. Isn’t that so, Master Qin?

Master Chang: It seems to me that the Great Qing Empire is done for.

Qin Zhongyi: Whether it’s done for or not isn’t a matter of rich people giving bowls of noodles to the poor.

Song Enzi: Master Chang, just now you said, “The Great Qing Empire is done for.”

Master Chang: Me? I love the Qing empire. I hope it isn’t done for.

Song Enzi: So you’re resisting arrest? Look, I’ve got the “Law” here with me!

Master Chang: Remember, I’m a Bannerman.

Song Enzi: A Bannerman turned traitor gets a heavier sentence. Restrain him.

Master Chang: Don’t bother. I won’t run away.

Song Enzi: Just you try.

Qin Zhongyi: Wang, I’m serious about taking back this teahouse.

Wang Lifa: You wouldn’t really do that, would you?

Qin Zhongyi: This teahouse, my land in the countryside, I’m selling all of it.

Wang Lifa: But why?

Qin Zhongyi: I’m going to invest all my capital in opening a factory.

Wang Lifa: A factory.

Qin Zhongyi: A really big factory. That’s the only way to help the poor, keep out foreign goods and save the empire. What’s the use of telling you all this? It’s above your head.

Wang Lifa: Do you mean you’re going to get rid of all your property, just for the sake of others, with no thought for yourself?

Qin Zhongyi: You don’t get it. It’s the only way to make the country prosperous and strong. All right, time for me to go. I’ve seen with my own eyes that you’re doing good business. Don’t you dare play your tricks and refuse to raise the rent!

Wang Lifa: As I gaze upwards while walking in the street, I see a little star in the sky and it makes me think I need to kill myself tonight. But I don’t know why the little star chooses me and gives me this idea. I go back to my place and find my pistol. I am on the sofa. I don’t want to think about anything. I don’t think about anything. I ask myself if I am really going to do this with the pistol. I reply to myself that I am. I look up at the star again, and if it weren’t for that little girl appearing, I’m sure I would already be dead.

SCENE 2: Multimedia Animation (Physical Examination)[4]

Video projection with animated skeletons representing Wang, Song, and Chang from Lao She’s Teahouse, reciting lines of poetry from Brecht. Photo: Claire Conceison.

Projected titles:

This is the year that people will talk about
This is the year that people will be silent about
The old see the young die
The foolish see the wise die
The earth no longer produces
The sky hurls down no rain
This is real
I feel proud
I had a strange dream, I was in a city
I revealed their secret
I held her quietly
My lover, pale and silent
Like a lingering dream
If I ask you what happened to that love
Weeds of June, maidens of August
Wandered away
Bats in the dark
Drenched beasts
Deadly silent
I can’t see you
I wake up wild and restless at noon
Slighter than the clouds, lighter than the wind
On a cold day she swam for hours in the icy sea
She moved amidst the masts
She ate bread and drank wine
Weeping all the while
Before parting with you at the station
After entering the city in the morning
Leaving no trace of photographs
Starting a wonderful and productive day
I hear knocking at the door and move towards the edge of a crater
I remove one of my shoes ever so carefully
And jump, instantly reduced to dust
Tomorrow you will return home
Don’t water the little tree anymore
Look at the bullet you lodged in the wall
Your sole action is hesitation
Then you mutter something and go to bed
The coldness of human indifference, like fish trapped under the ice
How can I find you, city of my birth?
I follow a large group of bombers and blow up my childhood, my youth, my old age, my whole life
What did you see after all?
I heard you made yourself a target by raising your hand
Dawn came as you perished
A body disintegrating

SCENE 3: Wedding Dogs Barking

Ensemble with plastic baby parts. Photo: Meng Jinghui Studio.

Sound cue of phone ringing and actors make sounds of dogs barking and whining.

Little Spider: Breathing, caressing, tumbling, naked, vague.

Critic: Mr. Big Spider, you should publish your poems. It’s now or never!

Officer: Mr. Big Spider, I fell in love with you at first sight, let’s lift our glasses in praise of our poet!

Ensemble: (Singing) I am me. Wanted. Seen. Heard.

Publisher: Thank you to this great genius poet for composing such a great poem for my wedding. I am a woodcutter; my entire family cuts wood. My wife’s side of the family raises horses. I don’t know how to make fancy speeches, but I want to publish your poems and put you on par with all those great poets. If you are willing, let’s sign an agreement now.

Little Spider: Let’s sign.

Big Spider: I am Mr. Big Spider. I’ll compose a poem for you. If you like it, I’ll give you two more. Give me a drink. I want a shirt, who can give me a shirt? I want a white shirt, shirt white as snow, white as Snow White, Albino white, Vitiligo white, Leukemia white, as white as bin Laden’s turban, white flag-waving white, a shirt as white as white can be.

Little Spider: That’s mine. That’s my white shirt.

SCENE 4: Sophie[5]

Big Spider: I want to quit drinking. I want to fall in love. I need a woman. I want to leave this place. But I don’t want to leave alone. I need a woman. Even if only her face looks like a woman.

Little Spider: I’m the one you’re looking for.

Sophie: I love you, but I don’t know you. The way you rushed toward me in the street, I thought you were a gorilla.

Little Spider: It’s spring now. In this God-forsaken cave, we need something white. Like a cloud.

Sophie: I better go. If I get home too late, my mother will scold me.

Little Spider: After this?

Sophie: After what?

Little Spider: After being loved by me?

Sophie: Please don’t have dirty thoughts about me.

Little Spider: Why not? What makes you different from other girls? Except that you look different. Are your knees feeling any better?

Sophie: I don’t know. I’m feeling pretty weak.

Big Spider: Little snail, don’t tremble. If you tremble, I’ll tremble, and never stop. Little snail, just breathe, you are safe, I am here with you, breathe me in like fresh air, I am your white cloud, your blue sky. I want to be with you forever. Say those three little words to me.

Sophie: I – Am – Leaving.

Little Spider: I need comforting. I’ve grown weak during the winter, I need a woman, and you look like a woman.

Sophie: And you look ugly.

Little Spider: That’s what they say.

Sophie: You scare people, but you don’t scare me. Do you know my name?

Little Spider: What is it?

Sophie: It’s Sophie. Sophie. Sophie.

Little Spider: Forget your name. Women don’t need names. Are you a virgin?

Big Spider: I need a woman. One like you, with a face that’s alive. We’ll look at each other all day and never tire of it. At night we’ll go out on the grass under the stars. Say it now, you love me.

Sophie: I love you.

Little Spider: Thank you. I do love you.

Sophie: My mom is at home waiting up for me.

Little Spider: How old is she?

Sophie: Seventy.

Little Spider: Then she’s used to misfortune.

Sophie: Like if the earth suddenly swallowed me up? Or you locked me up in the attic, and I couldn’t go home again?

Little Spider: No, you wouldn’t want to go home again.

Big Spider: Let’s make a baby.

Little Spider: Do you have siblings?

Sophie: Yes. And they need me.

Big Spider: Let’s make a Shakespeare, and a Dario Fo.

Little Spider: The air here is like milk.

Big Spider: And then let’s make a Mike Tyson and a Kobe Bryant.

Little Spider: The trees along the river are damp from the rain. Your legs must be really white.

Big Spider: Then let’s make a Bruce Lee. Then a Wang Lifa. Then another me. Making so many babies, we better stop. The rain is stopping. Everything is stopping. The leaves that were once dry are now wet, and they smell so fresh. But the roots of the trees are still dry. Why can’t we have sex with plants?

Sophie: Listen.

Big Spider: A wild wind roars through the dark, wet leaves! The dew is falling from the leaves until not a drop is left.

Sophie: I can feel a drop running down my neck.

Big Spider: Love is a whirlwind. Tearing your clothes off. After star-gazing together, I cover you in the fallen leaves. Is this really happening? Are you really coming towards me? I’m not dreaming this?

Sophie: I am naked. I want to hide inside your body.

Big Spider: Is the perfume I smell the scent of your body? I’m intoxicated, you stumble towards me and sit down without making a sound. It’s like none of it happened, but this time I must tell you: I love you.

Sophie: My mother is home still waiting for me. She must be holding my corpse and crying. How long have we been like this? Three weeks?

Big Spider: Don’t see your parents. I don’t want to see mine. Three weeks, thirty days, three years, maybe even thirty years. We have already rotted under the roots of the trees.

Sophie: It’s wonderful lying here like this, like animals in nature with, the sky above us, never lonely.

Big Spider: Quick, I’m tearing your shirt off again. I am that fucking awesome you, and you are that fucking stupid me.

Little Spider: Why have you come here?

Big Spider: Evil must be called forth in good faith. We don’t sin in the light of day. There is nowhere to hide.

Little Spider: Let’s go.

Big Spider: There is still some alcohol left, have some respect for it. Are you going out looking for love? A long, long time ago you were probably in love, but now love is ashen, like a corpse. Fuck. Fuck you. Fuck me.

Little Spider: Let’s go. Come on, please, let’s go. Let’s forget these weak, fragile women and keep moving, walk along some dusty road, a place with drunks and wanderers and danger. Forget these women, their fragility is suffocating. Next time we get drenched in the rain, the sun will bake us dry.

Big Spider: Let’s abandon them.

Little Spider: Let’s go.

SCENE 5: McDonald’s

Ensemble. Actor playing Ronald McDonald at lower left. Photo: Claire Conceison.

Little Spider: I’m in love with a girl. She’s called Little Thing. I really really love her. She is the most pure and innocent kind of girl. One night I dreamed she was having sex with a tree, and I haven’t been able to sleep since.

Big Spider: What color are her breasts?

Little Spider: I haven’t seen them.

Big Spider: What color is her… hair?

Little Spider: I haven’t seen it.

Big Spider: Have you seen her body?

Little Spider: I haven’t seen it.

Big Spider: In dreams, she likes to have sex?

Little Spider: She does. But I can’t do that with her, she is too pure.

Big Spider: She is dressed in white, waiting for you to turn it red. But when you have sex with her, she becomes nothing more than a faceless piece of meat.

Little Spider: Right. So you think so too.

Big Spider: Only those who can’t get sex say it’s dirty. I tell you, when you’re holding a virgin’s buttocks, you’re like a god thrilled by the joy and terror of creation. You lie together on white sheets waiting for them to turn red, surrounded by corpses. How old is this girl?

Little Spider: Not yet seventeen.

Big Spider: Don’t worry, I never touch girls under seventeen.

Ugly: Hello.

Ensemble. French surtitles at upper left. Photo: Claire Conceison.

Ronald McDonald: Hello.

Ugly: I’d like a Filet-O-Fish sandwich, large fries, a large coke with ice, and a chocolate sundae.

Ronald McDonald: How will you be paying for it?

Ugly: Alipay.

Ronald McDonald: You get a discount if you use Wechat.

Ugly: No thanks.

Biggie: Hi.

Ronald McDonald: Hello.

Biggie: Five large fries to go.

Ronald McDonald: You’re a body-builder. They have too many calories for you.

Bajie: Hello, three Big Mac meals. One for here, one to go, and the third for whoever orders the next Big Mac meal.

Ronald McDonald: You’re so generous. My late night snack is a Big Mac meal.

Daxi: Hello

Ronald McDonald: Hello.

Daxi: Filet-O-Fish, no bun, no lettuce, no dressing, and no Alaskan Pollock. I just want to go to Alaska.

Ronald McDonald: Give her an empty box and a plane ticket.

Xiaoming: Hi.

Ronald McDonald: Hello.

Xiaoming: I want a Happy Meal with a Darth Vader doll.

Ronald McDonald: I’m sorry, we only have Hello Kitty dolls and Minions dolls.

Xiaoming: Then give me a Darth Vader mug.

Ronald McDonald: We only have Hello Kitty dolls and Minions dolls.

Xiaoming: Then I want the Han Solo mug.

Ronald McDonald: They’re not in the same collection.

Xiaoming: Then noodles with meat scraps.[6]

Ronald McDonald: We don’t have those.

Didi: Hello. I want three hamburgers, five Big Macs, one Crispy Chicken, six Filet-O-Fish, seven McChickens, ten Spicy McChickens, two cheeseburgers, one egg and cheese sandwich, one double cheeseburger, eight chicken sandwiches, five apple pies, nine large fries, eight curly fries, three Chicken Mcnuggets, twelve spicy chicken wings, three cokes, one Sprite, two Fantas, six teas, one milk, four coffees, eight hot chocolates, five ice cream cones, and three McFlurries.

Ronald McDonald: All we have left is Happy Meals.

Didi: Then it’ll be one Happy Meal.

Ronald McDonald: We only sell it to families with children. I can’t sell you one if you have no children.

Bao’er: Hi. Fifteen packets of ketchup.

Ronald McDonald: You again! Here are 25 packets of ketchup, don’t come back!

Bao’er: Okay. Bye.

Dafei: Hello.

Ronald McDonald: Hello.

Dafei: I’d like an order of freedom.

Ronald McDonald: Don’t you want to try our new Self-Protection Crystal meal?

Dafei: No thank you.

Ronald McDonald: Order it now and you’ll get a limited edition Cinderella and Prince Charming set.

Dafei: No thanks. All I need is an order of freedom. No ice and not too sweet.

Ronald McDonald: It has to be pretty sweet if you don’t want ice.

Dafei: Okay, fine.

Little Thing: What have I done? I am horrible!

Little Spider: You should wash yourself clean. I don’t know how I could have done this. It’s not your fault, don’t blame yourself. You shouldn’t have let me see you, shouldn’t have come looking for me. I saw your trembling legs and took off like a rabbit farting.

Little Thing: You did not take off. You stayed put and didn’t go anywhere.

Little Spider: That was not me.

Little Thing: Who was it then?

Little Spider: It wasn’t me.

Little Thing: Tell me who it was.

Big Spider: Right now it’s time for poetry.

Little Spider: The Sun Rises Behind the Mountains—

Little Thing: Should I be standing up?

Little Spider: Stay seated. As the Flood Waters Recede—

Little Thing: Don’t you want to open a window?

Little Spider: No, I like the foul odor.

Big Spider: All is happening. All has already happened.

Little Spider: As the Flood Waters Recede, My Thoughts Take Flight, Like White Doves Gliding Over Black Ink. Get out of here! Don’t ever, ever let me see you again.

Little Thing: What did I do wrong? What did I do wrong? What did I do wrong…that you would treat me like this. What did I do wrong?

Little Spider: The Night Sky…

Big Spider: Blah blah blah. Nothing happened.

Little Spider: The Night Sky.

Big Spider: Little Thing will get pregnant. And be a pregnant fool for the next 30 years.

Little Spider: The Night Sky Turns Gloomy, and Sometimes Purple. My Body and Shirt Wrestle with Each Other. Above a White Bed, Two Pigeons Fly into Our Cage.

Big Sister/Little Sister: Are you calling to us, Big Spider?

Big Spider: It is I, Big Spider, who calls you to me. Come serve this little spider. Take your clothes off.

Big Sister/Little Sister: We have good news and bad news.

Big Sister: The good news is both of us came here, and we haven’t bathed in three days and are covered with fungus.

Big Spider: Take your clothes off.

Little Sister: The bad news is that on our way here we heard a young girl named Little Thing drowned herself in the river.

Big Spider/Little Spider: Take your clothes off.

Little Spider: Do you know why she killed herself?

Little Sister: Little Thing left home this morning and never returned.

Big Spider: Little Thing is having a long nap in her aquarium. She gets littler and littler and littler and littler until she just disappears. I’m the guilty one, punish me! But who dares do it? Only evil can punish evil. I’m hungry. I need to eat. Need to dry out. Need to sleep. Let me take a long nap in the forest and wait for summer. A hot and steamy summer, a blazing hot summer, I am the new Adam, I defy all of humanity.

SCENE 6: The Hymn of the Rope

When big spider grew in his mother’s womb
The sky was so vast, tranquil, and pale
The sky was pure, naked, and surprisingly strange
Big spider loved the sky he was born under
The sky is always immersed in both joy and suffering
Even when big spider was in a deep sleep
At night, drunk under a purple sky
In the morning, he was docile as the sky turned apricot yellow
Passing by bars, hospitals, and churches
The cold-blooded big spider flees, avoiding all
Never giving up, no matter how tired
Blending in with his sky
Anywhere that sinners gather
The naked big spider flails restlessly
Only the sky, the great cosmos
Covers his nakedness
Smiling like a woman, the great universe
Offers herself to those who have not been crushed
The big spider is fascinated by this spectacle
And remains there, gazing, taking his time to die
While dead bodies surrounded the women
Doubling his pleasure
There is plenty of room, the big spider says, and too few corpses
Plenty of room in this pelvis
Big spider cares not whether or not God exists
But whether or not there is alcohol is no laughing matter
Once a woman has given you her all, he says,
Let her go, for she has nothing left
Never be wary of the men who still tangle with her.
They are fine. But children, even the big spider himself is afraid of children.
All vices serve some purpose, big spider says
It is the people infected with them who need to be called out
Is it the more vices you have the merrier?
No! Having even one is useful enough.
Laziness kills joy
Whatever Big Spider says, we think, that’s what we’ll do
If you are going to do something, act quickly
If you do something horrible, remember what Big Spider says,
It’s better to do something than nothing
Don’t be too lazy or listless
For orgasms don’t come easily
The body must be strong, and the mind experienced
A big belly will really get in the way
You must be strong, pleasure is exhausting
But if pleasure makes you stronger, then keep on enjoying
Stay young forever no matter what
Don’t forget those who come to life during the night
Big Spider likes to look inside things when they break
It’s a shame when things break
But once you possess the freedom it brings, it’s amusing no matter who you are
A woman who appears to be dirty has given everything to Big Spider,
Everything she has to give
But more than anything, Big Spider loves his stars
Big Spider looks up at the vultures in the sky
The vultures look down at him from above
Sometimes Big Spider pretends to be dead, and a vulture hurls itself down to him
And Big Spider, without a sound, makes the vulture his dinner
In the dark valley by night
Big Spider consumes the plant life
Once all has been devoured, Big Spider runs off singing
Returning to the eternal forest to rest
In the dark depths of the womb, once sucked dry,
Big Spider understands the meaning of life
The cosmos beneath his eyelids is vaster than death
Knowing he possesses his sky is enough for him
In the dark depths of the universe
Big Spider begins to decompose
The sky so vast, tranquil, and pale
So pure, naked, and surprisingly strange
Just as he always loved it
Just as when he still existed

SCENE 7: Sophie’s Monologue

Ensemble with Sophie at lower left. Photo: Meng Jinghui Studio.

Big Spider: You can’t do this to her. This girl may be ugly, but she’s pregnant. With your baby. For four months already. She is the mother of your child. She is a woman, think about that.

Sophie: I can give birth on the ground, you don’t have to look at her.

Little Spider: No no no. Have it in the river.

Big Spider: Do you still love this asshole?

Sophie: I love this asshole. I love his fist. I love his corpse.

Big Spider: Then do you still love me too? If you do, I’ll stay here with you.

Little Spider: No, she loves me. I’m the one she loves.

Big Spider: You’re such an asshole. Kneel down and beg forgiveness. I’m telling you, if you dare leave her… Do you dare leave her?

Little Spider: I dare leave her.

Big Spider: I dare stay with her.

Sophie: Please, I beg you, take me away from here.

Big Spider: Maybe this is too much for me.

Sophie: Don’t leave me here alone. I’m scared of the dark, I’m afraid to be alone.

Big Spider: Maybe I should leave her too.

Little Spider: Great, let’s both leave her.

Big Spider: I still want to smack you.

Sophie: Don’t leave me here by myself.

Big Spider: I hate myself.

Sophie: I’m scared of the dark, please don’t leave me here alone.

Big Spider: What makes the world turn? The fist is the law of the land.

Sophie: Abandon me, pity me, revile me, you’re so charming, so talented, I will love you, I will love you even more! You are a beast, a bastard; you’re heartless and ungrateful. You think you’re the greatest poet in the world, such an affectionate man, but you are the kind of wine made with grapes that never saw the sun. The sky above you is dust and garbage. You are a cigarette filled with shit, a dumpling with nothing inside. You think you are God on His throne, but you are just shitting on a toilet. I truly thought you were different, different from the other men, from those British, French, Japanese, Americans, and those Russians, all the other men who were here before you, who used to love me. But you’re all the same. You think only of yourselves. You think only about earning money, snatching it where you can. The only thing that scares you is not turning a profit. You all jump on top of me, choke me, then dump me like garbage. And what do you say, you proud genius, when I stop following your orders? Don’t be afraid of your enemies. Look them in the eye. Eliminate them all without fear or regret. That is the only way to write your name in the history books of China. People will tremble at the mention of your name. You jumped on me, stifled me, left your baby inside me, drained the last drop of my blood that could be of use to you, then dumped me like garbage. Go ahead and burn me, the filth that I am. We will rise up and start to build the new world ourselves.

SCENE 8: Teahouse Memories

Wang Shufen: Master Li, with our “reformed” teahouse, don’t you think it’s time you get rid of that pigtail?

Li San: Reform indeed! The more you reform the worse things get!

Wang Shufen: That’s not true. You must have heard, the Detai Teahouse at Xizhimen, the Guangtai Teahouse at Beixinqiao and the Tiantai Teahouse in front of the Drum Tower have all closed down. Of all the large teahouses, our Yutai is the only one still in business! Tell me why.

Li San: Why?

Wang Shufen: Because my husband is good at reform.

Li San: Isn’t getting rid of the emperor a big enough reform? Even with all that reforming, Yuan Shikai still wanted to be emperor. After he died, what a mess! Guns firing away today, the city gates closed tomorrow! I’ll keep my pigtail where it is. What if they reform the reform and bring the emperor back?

Wang Shufen: Since the country’s been reformed and a republic set up for us, we’d better conform, hadn’t we? You’ve been with us since the days of the old manager. You’re our old friend, our old partner!

Li San: Old partner, old partner. I haven’t been paid a penny for twenty years of work. I’ve worked for him for a lifetime. A teahouse in the front, a boarding house in the back, and only the manager and me to staff them. No matter what he said, he was always too busy. Twenty rooms to clean and twenty mouths to feed. Plus making tea, fetching hot water, doing the shopping and delivering letters, sleeping only four or five hours a night. No one’s made of iron. He has reformed everything except my wages. I’m quitting if I don’t get a raise.

Wang Shufen: I was sitting on a chair in the room watching you all along, but you didn’t see me even when light flooded the room. Perhaps that’s for the best—in your eyes I will always look as I did your first day.

SCENE 9: Refugee, Policeman, Liu Mazi, and Tang the Oracle

Refugee: Manager, I am here because I fled. Can you spare a bowl of noodles with meat scraps?

Wang Lifa: We’re not open yet, I can’t do anything for you.

Refugee: Just a small bowl…

Wang Lifa: Leave.

Policeman: Damn foreign stuff is back in style. Master Wang.

Wang Lifa: Is the fighting bad out there?

Policeman: It’s bad. It’s terrible. Otherwise there wouldn’t be so many refugees. Under the new rules, you’ll have to provide 80 pounds of bread before midnight to feed the soldiers who are going out to fight.

Wang Lifa: I can’t even hand over one pound of bread, let alone eighty!

Policeman: You have your troubles, I have my orders. See what you can do.

Wang Lifa: Put in a good word for me and I’ll be most grateful!

Policeman: I can put in a good word, but I can’t promise anything. Damnit. Hey!

Pockmark Liu: Tang the Oracle.

Tang the Oracle: Pock-Mark Liu.

Pockmark Liu: Damn it’s you!

Tang the Oracle: Manager Wang! We came to congratulate you!

Pockmark Liu: Manager Wang, don’t go out there, they’re arresting people in the streets. Scared me half to death.

Tang the Oracle: I’m doing better than before, thanks to the times.

Pockmark Liu: What do you mean, thanks to the times—I’m down and out.

Tang the Oracle: The more chaos, the better my business. Nowadays life and death are a matter of luck. Everyone wants me to tell their fortunes.

Pockmark Liu: Before, I had connections with the Manchu nobles and ladies of the court. But now with the damn revolution, there are generals and directors and commanders taking concubines and looking for sing-song girls and Beijing opera stars. They’ll pay thousands of silver dollars for them. I can’t even get my foot in the door. Li San, a pot of tea.

Tang the Oracle: Li San left here a long time ago. I hear you’ve opened a boarding house out back. How about renting me a room?

Pockmark Liu: Don’t just rent one, rent them all since you’re doing so well.

Tang the Oracle: You’re insulting me. You think I won’t pay the rent.

Pockmark Liu: Not at all! I think you smoked too much opium today.

Tang the Oracle: I’ve given up opium. I’ve taken up heroin instead.

Pockmark Liu: That’s bullshit.

Tang the Oracle: You know that “Hatamen” brand of cigarettes. They’re long and the tobacoo is loosely packed. By knocking one end gently you get an empty space, just right for heroin. British imperial cigarettes and Japanese heroin! Two great powers looking after poor little me. Aren’t I lucky?

Pockmark Liu: You sure are.

Tang the Oracle: I sure am.

Pockmark Liu: Who is that gentleman poking around there?

Song Enzi: Pockmark Liu, for you living means buying and selling a few more girls.

Pockmark Liu: People buy and people sell. I’m just in the middle helping out. It’s not a crime.

Tang the Oracle: They should thank you.

Song Enzi: I’m warning you. During the Qing empire I handled revolutionaries. I didn’t bother much with human traffickers and pimps like you. But if I catch you at it again, I won’t turn a blind eye. And—

Pockmark Liu: And what?

Song Enzi: And I’ll lock you in the latrine.

Pockmark Liu: You’re scaring me. My petty business is nothing but a little fart.

Tang the Oracle: You’re the fart.

Song Enzi: You must be doing a hot business today. Otherwise you wouldn’t be out in this war-zone chaos.

Pockmark Liu: No, no, I’m not, I’m really not. The Oracle is though, he’s doing really well.

Tang the Oracle: (in English) Just so so

Pockmark Liu: Gentlemen, gentlemen! We’ve nothing to offer you today, but one of these days, I promise you something worthwhile. Let’s go, Oracle!

Tang the Oracle: Let’s go.

Pockmark Liu: Manager Wang, two bowls of noodles with meat scraps, and put it on Oracle’s tab!

Tang the Oracle: My treat.

SCENE 10: An Encounter Delivering a Chicken

Master Chang: Manager Wang! Long time no see, my dear friend.

Wang Lifa: Who’s that? Why, Master Chang! What are you doing these days?

Master Chang: Selling vegetables! Earning my own living. I’m not going to fall apart. Today there was such a pandemonium outside the city. I couldn’t pick up any vegetables. All I could get were these two chickens and some pickled turnips. I heard you’re opening tomorrow. Thought these might come in handy, so I brought them along.

Wang Lifa: Thanks a lot! I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage.

Master Chang: You’ve done a nice job here! All the large teahouses have closed down. You were the only one sharp enough to make the most of the changes and reforms.

Wang Lifa: Don’t flatter me! I’ve done my best, but if the country carries on in this mess, it’ll all be wasted.

Master Chang: Someone like me can’t afford to sit in such a fancy teahouse!

Wang Lifa: Don’t say that. Let me get you a pot of tea!

Master Chang: (Alternately addressing himself, Wang, and Song) Manager Wang, I heard about your opening tomorrow, I’ve come to congratulate you! Oh, Master Chang, you’ve missed me haven’t you! How are you, brother Song? How have you been? How are your wife and kids? And your business? Master Chang, how are you? You’re selling vegetables! Earning your own living since the Bannerman’s subsidy was abolished? Master Song, how are you? How is life treating you? Brings tears to my eyes! Do you see my clothes? Do I even look like a person anymore? Brother Song, you can write and do accounting, can’t you find work? No one wants to starve! But no one wants a Bannerman either! Looking back, the Great Qing Empire wasn’t so great, but now in the Republic I’m starving!

Wang Lifa: Master Chang, come drink some tea. Take your time.

Master Chang: Someone like me can’t afford to sit in teahouses anymore.

Wang Lifa: This tea is on the house, enjoy it. Who cares about money between old friends? How much should I give you for the chicken you brought?

Master Chang: Whatever you think is fair.

Wang Lifa: This little bit for now, and more later.

Master Chang: No need.

Wang Lifa: Master Song, you still have your oriole? Singing well? You mustn’t talk of dying, one of these days your luck will change!

Master Chang: Yup the same oriole, singing well. I may go hungry, but I won’t allow my bird to go hungry. As long as I have him, I’m not ready to die. Brother, stop talking about dying all the time, your luck is going to change again too. Those up above us are watching, they’ve been hiding there without saying a word.

Song Enzi: What are you still kneeling down for. We’ve been a republic for years now. Don’t you know how to bow in the new style?

Master Chang: Seeing your grey gown, I feel like it’s still the Qing Dynasty and I can’t help kneeling!

Song Enzi: Master Chang, your Bannerman’s subsidy is gone now. But my grey gown turned out to do okay. How you getting by, old man?

Master Chang: In 1898 I said the Qing empire is done for.

Wang Lifa: Aiya, enough.

Master Chang: And you locked me up for a year.

Song Enzi: Your memory’s not bad. I guess you’re getting by just fine.

Master Chang: I got out of prison the year of the Boxer Rebellion and joined in battles against the foreigners like Yihetuan. It turned out the Great Qing Empire was done for after all. I’m a Bannerman, I say it like it is. Now every morning I lug vegetables to the city and I’m sold out by ten o’clock. I’m stronger than ever. If foreigners start stirring up trouble again, I can still fight them. Bannermen are Chinese too! And you, how’s life treating you?

Song Enzi: I’m getting by. When there was an emperor, I served him. And then President Yuan Shikai. I serve whoever puts rice in my bowl.

Master Chang: And if it’s foreigners who fill your bowl?

Song Enzi: Let me tell you, Master Chang, everyone we serve is backed by some foreign power. How can anyone make war without foreign arms and guns?

Master Chang: You were right before. Let’s get going. After you, Master Song. Don’t be angry, be careful not to fall from your new heights. I’m sure good things lie ahead for you. Manager Wang, I’m heading out.

Wang Lifa: No!

Master Chang: Someone like me can’t afford to sit in such a fine teahouse. Master Song and I are headed elsewhere to get a drink, we’ll leave you here. Stay strong.

Wang Lifa: I’m still alive!

Master Chang: Farewell.

Wang Lifa: Farewell, old friend.

SCENE 11: Song Enzi and Wang Lifa

Song Enzi: Wang Lifa.

Wang Lifa: He died.

Song Enzi: Who are the people living in the back?

Wang Lifa: There is nothing in the back, no one lives there.

Song Enzi: I’ll go take a look back there.

Wang Lifa: Don’t get mad. Master Chang has always been stubborn, don’t haggle with him. Anyone who gets mad at him is a dumbass… not you, I’m not talking about you, of course.

Wang Lifa: They’re all students.

Song Enzi: Why do you like renting to students? They’re not very honest types.

Wang Lifa: Merchants and officials have no money these days. Only students can afford to pay the rent. Those who become officials are in today and out tomorrow. I’m not talking about you, of course. And those who do business are opening today and closing tomorrow. I bet I’m talking about myself there. Only students can go to college, and it takes money to go to college, if I didn’t take their money, wouldn’t that be disrespectful to their parents?

Song Enzi: You’ve got it all worked out! You’re quite right. Nowadays even we don’t always get our salaries. So we arrest people and hold them if they have committed a crime and release them if they haven’t. As long as we make arrests, we get our bonus. I’m gonna go take a look in the back.

Wang Lifa: No need. Everyone back there is a good person.

Song Enzi: Manager Wang won’t let me look. Manager Wang does things his own way. I have to make sure Manager Wang looks good. So I have an idea. It’s pretty basic. On the first day of each month on the new solar calendar, you hand over a little something. No trouble for you, no trouble for me.

Wang Lifa: As I basked in the sun on the hillside, my mind blank, pearls of poetry welled up in my heart, falling noiselessly into that sea of green in my chest, while faint smiles curved my lips then faded, like ripples, soundless but for the smile of a few ripples. But never did I write a single line. I squeezed and squeezed, but couldn’t squeeze a single line out.

Song Enzi: Hand a little something over. Don’t worry and I won’t worry either. Take everything away!

Wang Lifa: Why are you still so upset? Out with it—what do you mean by that? How many little somethings are you talking about?

Song Enzi: We’re old friends. You wouldn’t turn that little something into nothing, would you?

Wang Lifa: I’m not a cultured person. I’m a manager who keeps accounts, and I want to write poems. In a poetic universe, I’m just a tiny symbol of some spot where a poem was written. I am totally broke. If you can squeeze even a penny out of this place, then do it… do it… what are you doing…do you dare? Just do whatever you want. Clouds, earth, grass, white clouds in blue sky, little swallows fly by, smallness, fastness, blueness… like a black scorpion in the blueness, my soul wants to fly over there.

SCENE 12: Weishen[7]

Wang Lifa: And presently, I closed my eyes to enjoy the sunshine and the joy in my heart. I was not asleep, but close to the land of dreams. Strangely enough, in that state, between sleeping and waking, I always saw the same scene. Let’s call it the borderland of dreams. It is not large, has no hills or sea, it is like a garden with no clear boundaries.

A tapeworm father and son lived in an anus. One day they left the anus and went outside. The son asked his dad, “What is that blueness?” His dad said, “That blueness is the sky.” The son asked, “What is that greenness?” His dad said, “That greenness is the grass.” The son asked, “Daddy, then why are we still living in this muddy ass?” His dad replied earnestly, “Because this is our fatherland.”[8]

I had seen the little cottage so many times, but I had never gone inside. This time I decided to take the risk and enter. Everything inside the house belonged to the human world, while outside felt like the spirit world—a large room with a table, chairs, and a bed. On the floor was a rectangular mat, and beside it lay a pair of small green slippers embroidered with white flowers. My heart skipped a beat because I recognized those slippers with embroidered white flowers. Strange to say, but I never dreamed of any other woman but her. To me, she was still as she had been at seventeen. A basket of fresh roses with my heart’s blood on their petals was the end of my first love and the start of a futile existence. How had she fallen into this condition? She never answered me. But still I heard her voice, and in that small room, I whispered in her ear, “Do you live here alone?”

Weishen: I don’t live here. I live in your heart.

Wang Lifa: She said, pointing at my heart. I took hold of her hand. “So you did not forget me after all?”

Weishen: When others kissed me, I saw a vision of you.

Wang Lifa: “But why let others kiss you?” I felt no jealousy.

Weishen: With love in my heart, my lips could not stay cold. Why didn’t you come and kiss me?

Wang Lifa: “Didn’t I fear offending your parents? Didn’t I go off to the South Seas?” She nodded.

Weishen: You lost everything through fear, and in love separation leads to despair. I hid my love in my heart, and kept it alive by what I earned with my flesh. I dreaded the death of the body, thinking it would mean the end of love.

Wang Lifa: I was still in her thoughts, but the flesh is less patient than love—not all love is as pure as the plum blossom. She took a young man as her lover because he resembled me.

Weishen: My parents went bankrupt. Marriage was the only way out. I sold myself to a rich man.

Wang Lifa: Couldn’t you make a living by teaching?

Weishen: How come you never smile? I love seeing you smile. It warms my heart. I have a lovely smile: I used to practice it in front of the mirror. Under the circumstances I preferred this type of retail sale to being under the thumb of a rich husband. Although plenty of lewd remarks were made about me in the streets, at least I was free. I had four abortions, but once the pain was over, I could smile again. Because I had been a rich man’s plaything and had some education, men of the old school as well as the new all came to me as patrons.  Before long, I couldn’t sustain that lifestyle. My father’s opium ran away with my money and abortions were costly too. I had never put any money aside, I had to find a way to make money, even if I had to steal. If people jeered behind my back, I just smiled back at them. Each abortion added three years to my age—the mirror doesn’t lie. I had lost my looks but tried recklessly to make up for it by doing all I could to attract customers. My doors were open even when I slept: my body was on sale at any hour of the day. My obsession with money took the place of thinking—calculations how to make an extra fifty cents. I never cried because crying makes a woman ugly.

Wang Lifa: You sank deeper and deeper into a sea of lust.

Weishen: I don’t exist in the real world.

Wang Lifa: I’m back.

Weishen: You’re back. You’re over 30 now. I remember you as a student of seventeen. Why is it that you never smile?

Wang Lifa: I still dream of that first love.

Weishen: You haven’t changed all this time, but I died a long time ago, I can’t dream anymore.

Wang Lifa: I don’t regret anything, if I had another chance, I would want you all over again.

Weishen: I lost myself, what could I possibly give you? While you were away, I didn’t deny to anyone that I loved you. But now that you’re back, all I can do is laugh wildly. It seemed like a cruel trick to play—not coming back till I had sunk so low. If you’d stayed away I could have gone on dreaming of you in a faraway land, and gone on living in your heart. But, no, you had to come back, and so late—.

Wang Lifa: Late doesn’t have to mean too late.

Weishen: You’re too late. That’s why I killed myself. With you near, I couldn’t smile anymore. Without smiling I couldn’t make money. The only way out for me was to die. You had come back too late, but I mustn’t die too late. Any more delay and I had no hope of living on in your heart. I live here, here in your heart.

Wang Lifa: At last I found her. Her hair was short. The elbow-length sleeves of her long pink gown betrayed the fact that her arms had lost their softness, nor could heavy powder hide her wrinkles and crow’s feet. If not for paint and powder, she would have looked like a woman just after childbirth. Lighting a cigarette, she exhaled smoke, leaning back with crossed legs to watch the smoke wreaths. She talked and laughed, but her heart was not really in it. I kept hoping she would tell me to do something for her, but she never did, and I felt like I should leave. When she thought I had gone, although I was still in the doorway, she turned and for a second our eyes met—but instantly she looked away again.

The sun was sinking, a cold wind was rising. There were dark clouds forming to the east. Spring had become much gloomier while I had been dreaming. Yes, there are dead to bury in the spring too. A handful of paper money was scattered like butterflies over the wheat field. In my heart, I thought of that pair of small green slippers, like the leaves on some eternal tree.

SCENE 13: Noodles with Meat Scraps

Tang the Oracle: (sings)

The cannons are ready to fire,
I don’t move an inch.
Bombers and armored vehicles,
I feel so alive.
Your tank goes into combat,
Bombs explode everywhere.
A ragged old man is at my door,
With a young girl,
Whose name is Ah Shun.
Only fourteen or fifteen years old,
She is very attractive,
With the eyes of Sophie,
And the mouth of the Mona Lisa.
The old man tells me she is very pure,
Not dirtied by anyone yet.

Kang Shunzi: Noodles with meat scraps are a common specialty in large teahouses. They are cheap and easy to prepare, and a good value for poor folks. They don’t just have pork in them, but also scraps of beef, mutton, dog meat, donkey meat—any low grade bits of meat can go into the sauce. Discussions about fighting or making peace always happened over bowls of these noodles. Noodles were always consumed first, whether donkey or horse, before divisive topics were tackled.

I only remember that on that day, my dad said he was taking me into the city, and gave me half a bowl of vegetable soup before we left. I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten. The soup was delicious. I wore the red coat my mom had made for me. She had died of starvation. My dad walked with me holding my hand for a long time until we were finally there. He told me the city was so great that being reincarnated as a dog would be okay if he could live in the city. He pointed at a mule and said it was worth five taels of silver, he pointed at a boy with sores on his head and said he was worth five catties of flour. What about me? Ten taels of silver. A guy named Pockmark Liu gave my dad ten taels of silver, and I never saw my dad again. Then Pockmark Liu sold me to Eunuch Pang for 200 taels of silvers. Eunuch Pang served in the imperial court, even his vinegar bottle is made of agate. He told me to lie down by his side, he liked hearing me cry, and poking me with his pipe cleaner. He bit me and pinched me, but I wouldn’t cry, I was worth 200 taels of silver. My name is Ah Shun. I was fifteen that year, and still a virgin. Have you met a virgin before? All you have to do is pay—for two pieces of silver you can touch, and for three you can stick the tip of your finger inside. Now Eunuch Pang is dead of starvation too.

Tang the Oracle: (sings)

For ten pieces she’s yours,
You can take her to the playground or take her home.
Remember she loves to eat fennel dumplings,
And loves to drink shaved ice.
Make sure she does as she is told before going to sleep.
The old teahouse is falling apart,
My good intentions can’t save it
Little girl, don’t be sad,
Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.[9]
My little girl, don’t worry,
The water from the western mountains flows eastward.
Bitter water flows out, sweet water flows in,
All can see what the future holds.

SCENE 14: Lao Lin and Lao Chen[10]

Pockmark Liu: Lin and Chen, come on in and let’s talk.

Chen: We can’t even share the same girl at a brothel, how can we share the same wife?

Lin: This is all the money we have; it’s not enough to get a wife for each of us.

Chen: Where are those few silver dollars, bracelets, and watches we had when we came back from the front?

Lin: We spent the money faster than the army could set off. We didn’t save any.

Chen: How about if one of us marries, and the other stays a bachelor?

Lin: Which one is stuck being the bachelor?

Chen: Then let’s find a loose woman, it’s cheaper.

Lin: We need to find a good one who can cook and do laundry and can be buried with us at the end.

Chen: Right! A loose woman won’t work out.

Pockmark Liu: Okay let’s talk.

Lin: You say it!

Chen: You say it!

Pockmark Liu: What’s the difference who speaks?

Chen: You say it, you’re the older brother!

Lin: Well, you see, we’re sworn brothers!

Chen: That’s right! Sworn brothers—so close we’d share the same pair of trousers.

Lin: He’s got a few silver dollars!

Chen: My older brother also has a few.

Pockmark Liu: How much altogether?

Lin: We can’t tell you that until the deal is made!

Pockmark Liu: Any deal can be made with silver dollars!

Chen and Lin: Really?

Pockmark Liu: I’ll be damned if I lied to you.

Chen and Lin: Really?

Pockmark Liu: Really!

Chen: Well, you say it then, brother!

Lin: You should say it, second brother.

Chen: You should say it.

Lin: You see, there are two of us.

Chen: We are so close we can share the same pair of pants, right?

Lin: No one would laugh at the two of us, would they?

Pockmark Liu: No one!

Chen: No one would laugh at three of us, would they?

Pockmark Liu: No one!

Lin: Do you know what we mean by three of us?

Chen: Explain what it means.

Pockmark Liu: It means two of you, plus me.

Lin: I’m talking about three in a friendship.

Chen: Do you get what three means?

Pockmark Liu: Then what do you mean by a friendship of three?

Lin: It includes a woman!

Pockmark Liu: I get it! Add a woman! Three surnames, one contract, eternal union, a match of equals. Peach blossoms blooming, a family forming. A joyful day, a joyful celebration, respectful partners. Fish wriggling in water, mutually supportive and loyal; mandarin ducks swearing allegiance into old age. The ceremony is hereby completed!

Lin and Pockmark Liu: (Singing together) A drop of blood and a pound of flesh. We walk to the cliff and can’t help going to the edge. Before insomnia, after a coma, we thirst for truth, but settle for lies. Don’t try to express things you can’t say. Seventy years of self-trust, self-fear, self-hate. You are old now, without the inspiration of youth. Seeing that you are old, there is no inspiration from the youth. I walk with you, help you, push you to edge of the cliff. A drop of blood and a pound of flesh.

SCENE 15: Revolutionary Party meeting[11]

Live video projection of backstage action on screen above the ensemble on stage. Photo: Meng Jinghui Studio.

Qin Boren: Hello everyone. How are you? If you are not doing well, you will be doing great soon. I’m not doing so well either. That’s why I’m here. I am the one you’ve been waiting for. You have not waited in vain. You have waited for me. I am not your friend, not your teacher, or doctor, or family member. But does that mean we are not connected? Of course we are. I am you yourselves, I am deep inside your minds, it is your sincerity that calls me forth. Don’t you recognize me? Don’t you recognize yourselves? Don’t you look in the mirror at a time like this? We are already old friends. I’ve been in your hearts for a long time. Who am I? I am a revolutionary, and will be one forever. Why am I here? Not to redeem you. As I have said before, I am not your god, and I am not your hope or your glory. Who is then? You. Yourselves. You must help yourselves. What can I do for you? What can I be for you? I can only give you a hug. Come, who will come forward first? Or everyone come forward together, I’ll reach out my hands—I’m stretching out my open hands, look at them, now touch your pockets, there is money in them, nothing is too little or too much, come put the money in my hands. I join my hands to receive it… Is it mine? No, it belongs to the revolution. Do you not believe me? Do you think I am a beggar looking for a hand out? Lick your own chops. Ridiculous. Look into your own eyes, don’t you know what revolution is? Well, what we just did explains revolution. You’re not to blame. I remind you that revolutions are filled with suspicions and doubts, darkness, sacrifice, and bloodshed. You all fear death—I fear it too—but not anymore, because my soul will live forever. I have been given the highest task, but you all still do not understand. Why are you still looking at me this way? When I look into your cold empty eyes, it’s a good thing I have a gun.

It’s you who made me desperate; I lost my confidence when I saw your eyes. I will put this gun to my temple and put the bullet in my own head. Of course this bullet can kill a revolutionary or an enemy. Whatever you do, don’t become my enemy. Be careful then, because of course this bullet will go to an enemy. I am facing you, my colleagues, my future compatriots, why should I doubt you? I need to be more patient. I will examine myself and take notes. You will become mine. There was a time when I was just as numb and irresponsible as all of you, and I wrote it all down. What day is it today?? The year is 1912…what are you looking at? It’s not polite to read other people’s journals. I’ll read it for you, I’ll read it for everyone. Maybe you will all understand after I read it. Did you start a revolution? Can you start one today? Can you start one before the sun comes up? Let’s start a revolution together. Let’s get on the path to revolution together. Let’s start a revolution standing shoulder to shoulder and hand in hand. It has been too long coming, too long. How can you be so indifferent? I’ll take a sip of water and continue reading—how am I doing? Why are you looking at me like that? When you look towards revolution, revolution looks toward you. I can’t drink this water, it’s dangerous. You are all dangerous people. I must leave you now, I can see animosity in your eyes. But no worries, I’ll be back again. Right now I want to go somewhere up high because the air here is stale, and up there it’s cold and crisp. I’m ready, I’m leaving. See, steady as a rock. I’ve been down this road many times before.

Hey, here I am again.

Hey everyone, I’m a revolutionary.

Hey, here I am again, I’ve popped up in a higher place, much higher than you all.

Hey, there’s an even higher spot, with a dead horse lying there that becomes a horse doctor. That’s what’s possible today, it’s the creed of our revolution. I want to take you to the moon to start a revolution there and liberate the universe. Let’s…

Actor Chen Minghao playing Wang Lifa raises a horse carcass (upper right) on a rope. Photo: Claire Conceison.

Qin Zhongyi: Bravo. Okay, let’s go to the moon. First, thank you all for attending the Qin Moon press conference. Thank you for your longstanding support of Qin Corp’s moon landing project. Special thanks to our sponsor Qing Empire Pills for their unwavering support. This moon landing operation is a small step for Qin Corp, but a giant leap for mankind. I will give great returns on your investment that other companies can’t give. Our success is your success. Some say I am a fraud, that is because they have no ideals. Let us fight together for our dream until our last breath.

Qin Boren: Little brother.

Qin Zhongyi: Big brother.

Qin Boren: I’m back.

Qin Zhongyi: It’s really you. You’re a fraud. My brother joined the revolution and died on the battlefield years ago!

Qin Boren: Little Turnip!

Qin Zhongyi: Let him go. Big Toothpick. It really is you.

Qin Boren: Little brother, I didn’t die in the revolution. I came back to discuss urgent business with you.

Qin Zhongyi: You don’t have to tell me, I already know.

Qin Boren: You know? Then tell me.

Qin Zhongyi: When you joined the revolution three years ago, you signed a contract renouncing your inheritance in order to protect our family.

Qin Boren: I regret it.

Qin Zhongyi: The contract is right here. Burn it, and you’ll still have half of the Qin estate.

Qin Boren: Burn it. Burn burn burn burn. Who has a light?

Ensemble. Photo: Meng Jinghui Studio.

Qin Zhongyi: I don’t.

Qin Boren: Who has a light?

Qin Zhongyi: No one. Big brother, now that you’re back we can revive the family business.

Qin Boren: The flame of revolution is ignited!

Qin Zhongyi: We are planning a moon landing project, let’s go together.

Qin Boren: I want to start a revolution. I will sell off my property and set off. If you have money, go… don’t extinguish the flame. Do whatever you want! Otherwise, it’s dirty. What are you doing, you stinking fat ass, you weakling, you rat. You waste your energy and allow the enemy to mock you. Let me ask you all this, leave your hair alone, I’m asking you: raise your hand if you will start the revolution with me,

Qin Zhongyi: Raise your hand if you want to stay home and live a common life.

Qin Boren: Perhaps I was not clear and you did not understand. I’ll say it again. Raise your hand if you want to join the revolution and then come home and before live a common life!

Qin Zhongyi: Raise your hand if you don’t want to get involved in the commotion and just want to stay home and live a common life.

Qin Boren: Don’t raise your hands. Listen to me. Whoever is ready to join the revolution raise your hands, one, two, three.

Qin Zhongyi: Get out of here.

Qin Boren: Humanity. It’s a revolution for humanity. Give up your lives, don’t just carelessly live for yourselves, existing like ants. Mark this earth with our blood. At dawn, before the light rises from the horizon, burst forth from the dawn and raise our glorious hands, let all of humanity stand up for ourselves.

Qin Zhongyi: Get out of here, there is nothing for you here. Get the hell out.

Qin Boren: Watch what you say.

Qin Zhongyi: Come back some other time. Goodbye.

Qin Boren: It’s not just that I have no money, and you don’t simply depise me for not having money. Just give me some money, that’s all I’m asking.

Qin Zhongyi: I don’t have any money.

Qin Boren: I just want a little money.

Qin Zhongyi: You signed a contract and have nothing left.

Qin Boren: Just give me a little money and I can move on.

Qin Zhongyi: We need every penny we have.

Qin Boren: Just give me a little money and I’ll be one step closer to victory.

Qin Zhongyi: Go somewhere else looking for money.

Qin Boren: You won’t give me any money at all.

Qin Zhongyi: Go look somewhere else. We don’t have any.

Qin Boren: Don’t push me. Will you give me some or not, yes or no, give me some money, give it to me, give me my property okay, I don’t want yours, I just want what’s mine, okay.

Qin Zhongyi: What about all those people you killed, those people are the humanity you want to save. Go ahead and fire your guns. I’m going to the moon. I’m going to see Chang’E and the Jade Rabbit. I want to see if the trees smell as fragrant as here. I want to see the view of home from there. I want to build a huge factory there, and people will look up at the moon and see its chimneys. Come on, come on.

Qin Boren: 1961. An African nation, Algeria, became independent. The first human, Yuri Gagarin, went into space. The United States severed diplomatic ties with Cuba, and the U.S army entered Vietnam. The Lunar New Year started on February 15th.

The golden age ended. A new generation came on the scene, which changed the issue. With unbelievable patience, its writers and poets tried to explain to us that our values and the true facts of their lives did not hang together, and that they could neither reject them completely nor assimilate them. Awkward, no? They wanted to turn us into heartless beings, so that our country would lose its former meaning. All they cared about was putting their ideas into practice, leaving us to bawl our heads off in the street, thinking it would relieve our feelings, since dogs that bark don’t bite.

There are 7.2 billion people on earth, most of whom are oppressed, with a small minority in power. Between the two there were businessmen, capitalists and group of sham elite artists that served as go-betweens. Greed for money exposes the truth. Capitalists like to cover up the truth; they force people to love them, in the way mothers are loved. The European elite undertook to manufacture a native elite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of Western culture; they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth. After a brief stay in Europe they were sent home, brainwashed. We have lost interest in these vivid lies.

Our nation, our land, our islands still remain under the yoke of imperialism. If the bourgeoisie seizes power over a new country, it appears to be a sovereign state but is actually under the control of imperialism. We either practice our revolutionary ideas together, or we fall victim to our past tyrants. I hide nothing and wish to hide nothing. In one place, the movement started poorly. In another it was a success and then failed. Elsewhere, the movement came to a halt. If we hope to restart the movement, we must unite the peasants and throw the bourgeoisie overboard. We must warn against the most dangerous restraints: and those are leaders, cult of personality, and Western culture.

The tactics of our oppressors can delay liberation, but they cannot stop it from happening. The invaders’ paws reach our continent; we must scratch at their paws until they retreat. Listen: Let us waste no time in sterile litanies and nauseating mimicry. Westerners are never done talking of Man, yet murder men everywhere they find them, at the corner of every one of their own streets, in all the corners of the globe. For centuries they have stifled almost the whole of humanity in the name of a so-called spiritual experience. Who dares to speak thus? A man from the third world, who was once oppressed, starts to cry out: if mankind lives at such a mad, reckless pace, it will run headlong into the abyss. We would do well to keep away from the abyss. In other words, you’re done for.

Let us start fighting; and if we’ve no other arms, the waiting knife is enough.[12]

SCENE 16: Tang the Oracle Rap[13]

Grand Theater, open door, step onto the teahouse floor.
Big teahouse, Old Yutai, business always booms inside.
Bustling place, guests galore, old and young and many more.
Some they talk, some they sing, wearing styles of everything.
Bird cages, birds in hand, healthy crickets chirp so grand.
People drank, people ate, the broke did not participate.
Men played chess, gamblers all, betting plates of fried meatballs.
Instead of cash ‘cause in this place, a foreign win means losing face.
Lots of rules, coughing was, like singing opera in the buzz.
Signs on walls, say it straight: Do Not Discuss Affairs of State.
Yellow Dragon Banner done, officials flee when foreigners come.
Foreign products piled high, opium sold on the side.
Rural folks had it worst, selling kids to quench their thirst.
Officials rich, the poor forlorn, in the middle Tan Sitong.
Reforms came, progress now, Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao.
All these things caused a fuss, made the Empress furious.
Some she killed, some she chopped, they were rebels so she thought.
Speaking less was so wise, with executions on the rise.
The Qing Dynasty ended under a clear Beijing sky. Six men were executed who did not wish to die.
The 1898 coup lasted 103 days. Emperor Guangxu was taken away.
Wang Lifa’s father was born into tea. With his own shop at last and customers plenty.
But he suddenly met the end of his days. His son was left to run the place.

Young Wang Lifa was a capable dude, on good terms with all whatever their mood.
Even monsters in his presence would be subdued.
He said to speak kindly, welcome peace; flatter folks with greatest ease; then walk the streets as you please.
“Brothers, we’re friends from the same street, say what you have to say.”
“You’re slicker than your pa.”
“Your slicker than us all.”

In the early days of the Republic, warlords ruled, Wang Lifa’s old Yutai was in trouble.
Customers told him, “NEVER GIVE IT UP.” (English in original)
And he’s reply, “LIKE I GIVE A FUCK.” (English in original)
In the new Republic now, cutting pigtails not allowed.
Master Wang thought it through, and knew reform was what to do.
But his thinking was in vain, nothing worked in this terrain.
Warring lords waging wars, all reversed from times before.
People selling guns, half-laughing half-crying.
Scrambling for cash to damn foreigners supplying.
Wang’s teahouse survived by being versatile.
Adding a dormitory in back: “UNIVERSITY STYLE.” (English in original)

Don’t call me Tang the Oracle, that’s not my name.
A long-repressed soul needs no form or shape.
But I can see through this situation with a glance at your ass.
My name is Majestic Master Tang, and I’m the “SKERR”IEST.[14] (English in original)

OK Old Wang, I read stars at night, the Polaris glowed and a dragon took flight.
Mind your own business, I’m here with Dingbao.
We’re having fun doing nothing, she’s the cat’s meow.

I kick ass in martial arts, I’m a hot peppercorn. Like a fish in water, I was destined to be born, so FUCK OFF MOTHERFUCKER. (English in original)
Wang Lifa, TELL ME, WHAT YOU GOT. (English in original) You drink bitter green tea by yourself from a pot. I see you smoking when you get depressed at your lot. Everything seems fake and I’m the only fool you got. You speak of reform, but the more change, the more it’s the norm. You’re looking onward to a new morn, but there are walls to climb with lots of thorns, there’s resistance and scorn, your eyes are worn, you’re discouraged and torn.

Do Not Discuss Affairs of State.

SCENE 17: The Library

Brecht, “Song of the Stimulating Effect of Cash”[15]

Qin Zhongyi:

People keep on saying cash is sordid
Yet this world’s a cold place if you’re short.
Not so once you can afford it
And have ample cash support.
No need then to feel you’ve been defrauded
Everything is bathed in rosy light
Warming all you set your eyes on
Giving each what’s his by right.
Sunshine spreads to the horizon.
Just watch the smoke; the fire’s alight.
Then things soon become as different as they can.
Longer views are taken. Hearts beat harder.
Proper food to eat. Looking much smarter.
And your man is quite a different man.

I’m not a politician, and I’m not a scientist. I’m an entrepreneur.[16]

I talk about a lot of things every day, and I drink a lot of water, I wake up about five or six times a night.

Some people are worried about machines controlling humans. I believe people should be more confident, because machines do not possess human intelligence. Of course many scientists now are trying to find ways to make machines think like humans, but we don’t even understand ten percent of the human brain. If we make machines think like humans, we’re in big trouble folks.

As an entrepreneur, it is crystal clear to me that if we lose leadership and creativity, our business will have no future. In this world, most people believe what they see—it is only a select few great leaders who are able to see the truth about the future.

Our company slogan is “Fight to the First.”

We don’t have all the answers about the future in our hands, but the future does have all the answers. We must transform ourselves and embrace the future, especially those of us who are always anxious about tomorrow, those of us over fifty, and those of us who are successful. The hardest thing in the world is changing someone who has achieved success, it is so incredibly difficult.

We really hope to get your help, and I guarantee we will give you a huge return on your investment that other companies simply cannot offer. Our success is your success and our achievements are your achievements!

OUR COMPANY SLOGAN IS “FIGHT TO THE FIRST, FF!” [17]  (English in original)

Some self-satisfied people say, “I may not have money, but that does not keep me from being civilized. I have my job, my friends, my family, my health. I will never lose my dignity.” Ha ha. Principally, only two groups of people would say this kind of thing. One is those who have never experienced hardships, every day their palms are greased with money. For them these empty words come easy, and the other group is the truly destitute. They are compelled to hide behind rhetoric. In their words, you can hear their jealousy towards the wealthy and their hopelessness towards themselves.

Who are people who can’t feed and clothe themselves to talk about being civilized, let alone discuss aspirations? First they need to solve their own problem of survival, that is most essential. Poor people can’t be civilized—they see stuff they want and just grab it. Only when people have more money does their level of education improve. And that’s the only way the quality of people improves.

As a person, I’m a pessimist, but as a businessman, I’m an optimist.

This is my pen, it has my name on it. I use it to sign checks and write business plans. I will open a huge factory, that’s the way to save poor people.

Some people say I don’t know right from wrong, but what I want to say is that people who don’t make money are at fault.

“Song of the Stimulating Effect of Cash, Part II” [18]

O you’re all so hopelessly mistaken
If you think cash flow has no effect.
Fertile farms produce no bacon
When the water-pump’s been wrecked.
Now men grab as much as they can collect.
Once they’d standards they used not to flout.
If your belly’s full you don’t start shooting.
Now there’s so much violence about.
Father, mother, brothers put the boot in.
Look, no more smoke now: the fire’s gone out.
Everything explodes, incendiaries are hurled
Smash-and-grab’s the rule; it’s a disaster.
Every little servant thinks he’s master
And the world’s a very bitter world.

That’s the fate of all that’s noble and splendid
People quickly write it off as trash
Since with empty stomach and unmended
Footwear nobody’s equipped to cut a dash.
They don’t want what’s good, they want the cash
And their instinct’s to be mean and tight.
But when Right has got the cash to back it
It’s got what it takes to see it right.
Never mind your dirty little racket
Just watch the smoke now: the fire’s alight.
Then you start believing in humanity once more:
Everyone’s a saint, as white as plaster.
Principles grow stronger. Just like before.
Wider views are taken. Hearts beat faster.
You can tell the servant from the master.
So the law is once again the law.

SCENE 18: Old Matches[19]

Weishen: There was a street in Beijing’s Sanlitun area, everyone called it the Filthy Street of Sanlitun. There were all kinds of bars on Filthy Street, and all kinds of people selling all kinds of things. Cigarettes, wine, flowers, songs. What I remember most is the old man selling dragonflies.

The dragonflies he sold were made from lotus leaves, they were light green in color, with two round red eyes, really beautiful. I’ve always liked dragonflies, so as soon as I saw them, I would buy one. The old man often wore dark blue overalls and a dark blue cap.

His skin was very dark, and his face had lines so deep that even when he was making no expression at all, it looked like he was smiling. He was an excellent businessman. He always sold his dragonflies with a welcoming smile and never rushed anyone, so as soon as I saw him, I would buy one.

I bought so many that I thought for sure the old man recognized me and probably would stop selling them to me. But no, not even once. Every time he saw me it was as if he was meeting me for the first time. He sold me his dragonflies with that welcoming smile.

I’m a renter in Beijing, so I move around a lot, and I lose a few things every time I move. There aren’t any handmade items like that in my home anymore. Filthy Street was torn down and isn’t filthy anymore. Most of the bars are gone, and I rarely go out for a drink with friends anymore. And I have no idea if that old man selling dragonflies is still in business.

SCENE 19: Splashing Blood

Actor Liu Chang as Pockmark Liu pours blood on a mannequin. Photo: Claire Conceison.

Tape Recording:

My plan…
Last night…
He’s gets it…
A lifetime…
Look at my plan…
Don’t be sad…
A lifetime squandered.
I already urged her! She gets it!
A lifetime squandered.
Look at my plan!
They are leaving
Don’t be sad
Last night
Don’t be sad
My plan
She gets it


I am a database, stifling between two layers of glass, spying on people.
I am a typewriter. One foot crashed off the footstool, and it broke its own neck.
I am my own prisoner.
Hail to Coca-Cola
Hail to Durex
Hail to The Internet
Hail to Michael Jackson
Hail to the sock on my left foot
Hail to us
Hail to the monument
Hail to Socrates
Hail to spaceships
Hail to flush toilets
Hail to Brecht
Hail to performance art
Hail to Marilyn Monroe and Einstein
Hail to the heart
Hail to money
Hail to the sky
Hail to alcohol and tobacco
Hail to ideals
Hail to fists
Hail to creativity and climax
Hail to Shakespeare

Ensemble. Photo: Claire Conceison.

Pockmark Liu: Aren’t you looking for me to get revenge? Come on!

Ensemble covered in blood. Photo: Meng Jinghui Studio.

Kang Shunzi: I want to turn breast milk into poison. I want to take back this world and put her back in my womb. Down with the joy of obedience. Long live hatred, long live rebellion. When I walk into your bedroom holding a butcher’s knife , then you’ll know what truth is.

SCENE 20: Minghao’s Monologue[20]

The Actor:

Hey? I’m looking for John Lennon. Lennon. Not Lenin, but Lennon. Your signal is cutting out, can you hear what I’m saying? The singer Lennon? Not Lenin. “–non.” Can you hear me ok? Who is this? Who? Leo Tolstoy? I’ve read your novels. Old Man and the Sea? It was… pretty good. Isn’t writing a lonely process? Yeah. I can definitely understand that, because at the moment, I am quite lonely myself. I shut everyone out, and they all left. They all went away, and I was left alone, entirely alone, and I didn’t know what to do. I tried to leave but couldn’t, if the audience doesn’t leave, I can’t leave. Them? They think the play is still going. They think… they don’t believe anything I say, they won’t believe that the play is over. They think what I am saying right now is lines from the play. But…no, they… not fools.

Them? They are the ones who gave me respect, put me on a pedestal. I don’t want to stay here. I don’t want to be like a child anymore. All this hustle and bustle to draw their attention to me. What if I want to leave? But I don’t know, because…this past year, 2018, so many people left already. So many of my good friends left, just in the past few days. And an old guy left too. With him, he took my youth, my outlook on life, my vision of love. He went looking for you. All the interesting people are there with you. What about me then? I really can’t get myself to leave, though I would like to come find you too. But no one believes this play is over already. They truly won’t believe anything I say, I say I say, I say that I messed up my lines on purpose. Do they believe me? No. Hey, I just want to talk to you, listen to me, don’t hang up ok?

I think you still…you get what I mean. I just don’t understand audiences, they seem to understand the play, they sit there blindly. And they applaud.

I think this is—maybe their lives are too dull. I don’t even understand the play and I’m acting in it. If I spout bullshit, that they understand. All they want is to post on social media. See them all taking photos? Snap photos and off they go. Even when they get caught taking photos, they don’t stop, they take more.

Really, I really don’t get it, what the hell? What a mess. I don’t know what to do, I’m really stuck, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. They didn’t tell me what to perform, they just left me out here. I think I’m just a… a prop no different than a table or a chair. What should I do, just keep waiting? I’m totally stuck here, do you get what I mean, do you understand? Do you understand loneliness, do you know what loneliness is? Get Hawking on the phone. Hawking? Is Hawking there? Hello? Say something, is this Hawking? Is this Hawking or not? Hey, I know you don’t speak, so you must be Hawking. Don’t say a word. I want to chat with you for a while about this matter of their lack of understanding.

Loneliness? Loneliness travels across time and space. People these days are more and more lonely, and they don’t know what to do with themselves, I think. Maybe I… I think my loneliness is because I don’t think there is anyone who would be a good match for me.

Maybe at this point, the people I miss are too important to me. It would be better if my dad were here. If he were sitting there below the stage, perhaps I would understand what I am doing up here on the stage. At the moment, I don’t know. My dad usually has a lot to say, but when he left, he didn’t say a word. And my grandma. I…I feel a bit hopeless, I’m over here, you know what I mean? Loneliness doesn’t mean just being all alone. Real loneliness is when you feel lonely even with everyone around you—like in an audience, people can be super lonely. It’s almost like they fled to the theater, flocked here together, because it’s something they need, to not feel lonely. Are their thoughts not constantly torturing them? But what is the purpose of us all being together like this?

I don’t want…to keep going back and forth like this. I really don’t have any options. A moment ago I went on line to look up a bunch of things to say, and I forgot them all, so I have no idea what to say, no idea what to do, I just feel kinda hopeless. I feel… I’m settling down a bit, let’s chat. Isn’t it true that people feel their existence most when they suffer? It’s like how you never think about how your stomach exists, until it aches and then you are aware of it.

Your heads ache now, you’ve just seen a play you didn’t understand and your head expanded, and that’s why you are now aware of its existence, isn’t that right? Like when a beam of light shines on an object, you are suddenly aware of the light source. And water, when waves splash against rocks, you realize, hey, that’s water.

I feel so hopeless—am I only going to find my meaning by saying despairing things like this?

Were things easier during your time? Living was just making sure people were clothed and fed, people just doing what needed to be done. But now we feel we must attach to an identity. We feel compelled to prove our identity. Why don’t they just go out and buy a car or a house, or a limited edition bag. It’s not enough to have your intrinsic value, have you proven your identity?

Why see this play or not see it? Does seeing a play here prove you are cultured? I’m a little frazzled, I don’t know what I’m saying. They put me out here, I’m here blindly “freestyling.” The fucking rapper didn’t even freestyle, what kinda free am I supposed to style out here?

What am I supposed to do? I know. It’s terrible, I really can’t stand it. The director of this play. He absolutely hates the US, but he ends up sending his kid to school there. And the Russians, the Russians give him the Pushkin Prize. [21] I don’t get it, no one seems to care, what the hell are they thinking? What is this world coming to? I know it’s hard for everyone who worked on this play: the designers had to design a huge wheel, but what for? It just rolls. We just… we just stand here every day… I can’t stand it.

Why can’t I be a plant? Out in the prairie, with the wind blowing me around. Not having to decide anything, just growing there, drinking a little water when it rains, and drying myself in the sun when it shines. Animals drying themselves off in the sun under my leaves, living in the shade. Some living inside my body, feeding on me. It’s ecstasy, I don’t have to make any choices whatsoever.

But now I don’t know, what should I do?

I know, perhaps the suffering of humans and animals is the same. The burdens they suffer are alike, it’s just that we humans love to dwell on our troubles and we get too emotional. But then we don’t express our emotions, we keep them bottled up inside, which makes us suffer even more, and in the end we get desperate, even suicidal—is that what this will come to?

SCENE 21: The Dream of a Ridiculous Man[22]

Actor Chen Minghao on rotating sphere during improvised direct monologue to audience. Photo: Meng Jinghui Studio.

Wang Lifa: These days, whenever I look up at the stars, there is a little star that makes me think I should kill myself that night. Why is it me the star chooses? And why is it prompting me to do that? I don’t know. So, I go home and sit on my sofa, not thinking about anything and not wanting to think about anything. Holding the gun, I ask myself, “Is it to be then?” And I reply with complete certainty, “It is!” I am pointing the gun straight at my heart—at my heart and not at my head. For I had firmly resolved to shoot myself through the head, but I’ve changed my mind and it must be my heart. Having aimed the gun at my chest, I pause for a second or two, and suddenly my candle, the table and the wall begin moving and swaying before me. I decide I must pull the trigger.

It is a dream I am having! In the dream, people buried me in the earth. Then they all went away, and I was left alone, entirely alone. Whenever before I imagined how I should be buried in a grave, there was only one sensation I actually associated with the grave, namely, that of damp and cold, and so it was now. I don’t know how long a time passed, whether an hour, or several days, or many days. But suddenly a drop of water, which had seeped through the lid of the coffin, fell on my closed left eye. It was followed by another drop a minute later, then after another minute by another drop, and so on. One drop every minute. I knew that everything would change immediately. And then my grave was opened and I was seized by a small strange being and we found ourselves in space. Who? Who are you? What are you doing here?

Ding Bao: Wang Lifa, I am Little Ding Bao. Pockmark Liu Jr. told me to come. He says the old manager here asked him to find a hostess. Is that you?

Wang Lifa: That’s me. How old are you miss?

Ding Bao: I’m seventeen.

Wang Lifa: Only seventeen? I don’t go near girls of seventeen. Tell your mom to come get you.

Ding Bao: My mother was a widow, and tried to raise me. After the war, the government insisted that the little house my father left us was illegally owned property and took it away from us. The shock killed my mother. So I became a waitress. Old manager, I haven’t a clue what “illegally owned property” means. Do you know?

Wang Lifa: Better watch your tongue, miss. One wrong word can make anything illegally owned property. Take the place behind here. Used to be a warehouse of Master Qin’s. Then someone who was disgruntled said it was illegally owned property and it was confiscated! Should have listened to me, sold it and joined the revolution…

Ding Bao: You’re right! Even illegally owned property. I have to suck up to whoever’s the boss. Fuck, I’m only seventeen but I often wish I were dead! At least my body would be in one piece! Living this kind of life rots it away.

Wang Lifa: This is a dream. Is it a dream or isn’t it? Dreams are strange and curious things: certain incidents in them are presented with quite uncanny vividness, each detail executed with the finishing touch of a jeweler, while others flash by, as if crossing time and space. Dreams are induced not by reason but by desire, not by the head but by the heart, and yet what clever tricks my reason has sometimes played on me in dreams! And what incomprehensible things happen to it in dreams.

I was looking up at a little star in the night sky when suddenly this little girl, Little Ding Bao, grasped me by the sleeve. The street was already deserted and there was scarcely a soul to be seen. You were about seventeen. You had a kerchief on your head, and you wore a short jacket, but you were soaking wet. What stuck in my memory were your worn wet boots. They caught my eye especially. You were not crying, but yelling something in a loud, jerky sort of voice, something that did not make sense, for you were trembling all over and her teeth were chattering from the cold. You seemed to be terrified of something and you were crying desperately, “Mommy! Mommy!”

I realized that your mother must be dying somewhere, or that something similar was happening, and that you had to run out to call someone, to find someone who would help your mother. I turned away from you, said nothing, and went on walking. But you ran up to me and tugged at me.

Ding Bao: I was always running to your side back then, and clasping my hands and praying to you. Whimpering and gasping for breath, but you stomped your foot and drove me away. I had the same dream.

Wang Lifa: Little Ding Bao, I was going to kill myself, but you saved my life. I didn’t die, I’m still alive, not a child, not a spirit. I’m alive. I was going to do away with myself tonight. But I’m still alive. If I had died, this world and all its shame— including you, Little Ding Bao—would mean nothing to me anymore. If I was going to die, everything in the world should have been more indifferent to me than ever. I am angry because I am about to die, within two hours I might kill myself. Why then should I suddenly feel that I am not indifferent and feel sorry for you, Little Ding Bao. Why do I pity you so?

Ding Bao: Wang Lifa, this means you are crossing into the second level of your dream, you have reached the second level.

Ding Bao: [23]

The first time your face I did see

(Wang Lifa: This isn’t the right music!)

You were at the teahouse smiling at me

(Wang Lifa: This isn’t the right way)

I told you I performed in a Tin Tin scene
And that you can call me Ding Bao, baby.

(Wang Lifa: This sounds terrible!)

You said it was odd, and I laughed, hee hee

(Wang Lifa: What are these lyrics you are singing?!)

Old manager in the candlelight lookin’ at me

(Wang Lifa: You’re insulting me)

I could never love you, cuz you’re an old flea
I said let’s go to the land of eternal beauty

(Wang Lifa: Stop singing!)

You went to get your luggage while I had some tea

(Wang Lifa: That’s it, I’m done for, it’s over.)

We boarded an airplane for our journey
So many people that it kinda scared me
I held onto you while you told secrets to me
I play shy so you’ll keep talking to me
The sky is a blanket of stars to see
The stars rush at us blindingly
You say you have to go
A buddy of yours to meet
I say then you should go
It doesn’t bother me
You’re a badass and turn your back on me
And I recall the first time we met suddenly
People say how you know
Do Not Discuss Affairs of State
You listened to the radio
Dripping all that news of victory
You say how good business makes you happy
You’re such a badass, badass, badass, gee

Ding Bao: Without being fully aware of it, everything suddenly became clear, and we were far away in the utopia of Peach Blossom Land.[24] It was a brightly lit sunny day, fair and beautiful as paradise. Perhaps it was one of the islands that form the Greek archipelago, or somewhere on the coast close to the archipelago. Everything was just as it is with us, except that everything seemed to be bathed in the radiance of some kind of public festival and of some great and holy triumph attained at last. Tall, beautiful trees stood in all the glory of their green luxuriant foliage, and their innumerable leaves welcomed me with their soft, tender rustle, and seemed to utter sweet words of love. And at last I saw and came to know the people of this blessed earth. They lined up to hug me and kiss me, and wanted to take me to their homes. They asked me no questions, but seemed to know everything already and they longed to remove every trace of suffering from my face as soon as possible.

Ah, with one glance it was clear they were at peace with themselves. They did not strive to gain knowledge of life as we strive to understand it because their lives were full. Ah, these people were not concerned whether I understood them or didn’t understand them; they loved me without it. But I also knew that they would never be able to understand me. At times I asked myself in amazement how they had managed never to offend a person like me and not once arouse in a person like me a feeling of jealousy and envy. They knew love and they begot children, but I never noticed in them those outbursts of cruel sensuality which overtake almost everybody on our earth, whether man or woman, and are the only source of almost every sin of our human race. There was death; but their old people died peacefully, as though falling asleep, surrounded by the people who took leave of them, blessing them and smiling at them, and themselves receiving with bright smiles the farewell wishes of their friends. I never saw grief or tears on those occasions. They had no places of worship, but they had a certain awareness of a constant, uninterrupted, and living union with the Universe at large. They had no specific religions, but instead they had a certain knowledge that when their earthly joy had reached the limits imposed upon it by nature, they—both the living and the dead—would reach a state of still closer communion with the Universe at large.

Wang Lifa: Never have I ceased to love the earth. Is there suffering on this new earth? Don’t stir up any trouble between me and this earth. I kiss the one and only earth I have left behind. I don’t want and won’t accept life on any other! …

You all laughed at me, every one of you said it was just a ridiculous dream. But to me, the most important thing is that I have beheld the Truth with my own eyes. I have beheld it and I know that people can be happy and beautiful without losing their ability to live on earth. I will not and I cannot believe that evil is the normal condition among men. As long as one person believes in this Truth, then this is not just a dream. It’s time I tell you the whole truth—I was the cause of your Fall.

Often on our earth I could not look at the setting sun without tears… That there always was a sharp pang of anguish in my hatred of the men of our earth; why could I not hate you all without loving you too? Why could I not forgive you? Why could I not love all of you without hating you? I can tell that all of you here don’t know what I’m talking about, but I am not sorry to have spoken to you of it. For when you look at me with your dear eyes full of love, my heart, too, becomes as innocent and truthful as yours. I don’t regret my inability to understand you, either. The sensation of the fullness of life leaves me breathless, and I can only bless you in silence. But now I will speak the whole truth. The fact is, I corrupted you all! Yes, yes, I corrupted all of you! How it could have happened I do not know, but I remember it clearly. The dream encompassed thousands of years and left in me only a vague sensation of the whole. I only know that the cause of the Fall was I. Like mouse droppings, I infected that happy earth that knew no sin before me. You learned to lie, fell in love with hypocrisy, and tasted the sweetness of deceit.

Actor Chen Minghao as Wang Lifa on rotating sphere during monologue based on Dostoyevsky’s “Dream of a Ridiculous Man.” Photo: Claire Conceison.

Perhaps, it all began innocently, with a jest, with a desire to show off, with amorous play, and perhaps indeed only with a germ, but this germ made its way into your hearts and you liked it. Lust was soon born, then lust begot jealousy, and jealousy begot cruelty. Soon the first blood was shed; you were shocked and horrified, and began to separate and to shun one another. It was one against another. Recriminations began, reproaches. You came to know shame, and turned shame into a virtue. You began torturing animals, and the animals ran away into the forests and became your enemies. You came to know disaster, and you loved disaster. You thirsted for suffering, and said that Truth could only be attained through suffering. It was then that learning made its appearance among you. When you became wicked, you began talking of humanity. When you committed crimes, you invented justice, and drew up codes of law, and to carry out your laws you erected a guillotine. You only vaguely remembered what you had lost, and you would not believe that you ever were happy and innocent. You even laughed at the possibility of your former happiness and called it a dream. You forgot your former state of happiness and began offering up prayers to your own “hopes” and at the same time firmly believed that they could not be realized, though you still worshipped them with tears. And yet if you could have in one way or another returned to the state of happy innocence you had lost, you would certainly have refused. You’d say, “What if we are dishonest, cruel, and unjust? We know it and we are sorry for it. But we have learning and with its aid we shall again discover law. Consciousness of life is higher than life. Learning will give us wisdom. Wisdom will reveal to us happiness. Consciousness of happiness is higher than happiness.” Yes, that is what you said, and having uttered those words, you each began to only think about yourselves, striving with might and main to belittle and humble it in others; and therein saw the whole purpose of your lives.

Slavery made its appearance, even voluntary slavery: the weak eagerly submitted themselves to the will of the strong on condition that the strong helped them to oppress those who were weaker than themselves. Sages made their appearance, sages who came to these people with tears and told them of their pride, of their loss of proportion and harmony, of their loss of shame. They were ridiculed and attacked, and blood was spilt on the threshold of the temples. You began to wonder how you could all be united again, so that everybody should, live together in a friendly society. Whole wars were fought over this idea. All the combatants at one and the same time firmly believed that learning, wisdom, and self-preservation would in the end force mankind to unite into a harmonious and intelligent society, and to hasten matters, the “wise” did their best to eradicate as quickly as possible the “foolish” who did not understand their idea, so as to prevent them from interfering with its triumph. At last you people grew weary of your senseless labors and suffering appeared on your faces, but you proclaimed that suffering was pleasure, for in suffering alone was there thought. You glorified suffering in their songs.

I came among you with sorrow, and felt sorry for you, but I loved you more than before when there was no sign of suffering in your faces and when you were innocent and—oh, so beautiful! I loved the earth you had polluted even more than when it had been a Peach Blossom Land paradise. Alas, I always loved sorrow and affliction, but only for myself, only for myself; for you I now wept, for I pitied you. I asked you to forgive me, please forgive my accusing, cursing, and despising myself. I told you that I alone was responsible for it all—I alone had brought you corruption, contamination, and lies! I could not kill myself; I had not the courage to do it; but I longed to accept torture at your hands, I yearned for my blood to be shed to the last drop in torment and suffering. But you laughed at me. You justified me, and said that you had only gotten what you yourselves wanted. At last you said I was becoming dangerous to you and you would lock me up in a lunatic asylum if I did not hold my peace. Then my heart was wrung in pain as if by a knife, and I felt as though I were dying.

I’m not a madman. I am not a madman. I am not…

Li San: Manager, do you really want to hire a hostess?

Wang Lifa: Huh?

Li San: Do you really want to hire a hostess?

Wang Lifa: Li San? You’re still alive.

Li San: I came back to see how you, I know you were worried, we were all worried! But don’t forget, our old Yutai teahouse has had a good reputation for 60 years, why add a hostess?

Ding Bao: Good reputation my foot! The older you get, the more worthless you get! You don’t believe me? If I were twenty-seven years old instead of seventeen, it wouldn’t matter if you call me Tiny Ding Bao or Ding Baby, no one would look at me twice! I have something to tell you, old manager. Liu Mazi’s son has bad intentions, he wants to take over your teahouse! I don’t have any more time to explain to you, just be aware. I gotta go.

Wang Lifa: Little Ding Bao, don’t leave. You’re the only one who understands. I’ll come looking for you. You’re the only one who understands the truth of the matter. I’ll come find you.

SCENE 22: Three People Reunited

Pieces of paper in the air as steel sphere rotates in final scene, echoing the paper funeral money Wang, Qin, and Chang symbolically cast in the air at the end of Lao She’s original play. Photo: Meng Jinghui Studio.

Master Chang: Old Friend.

Wang Lifa: Who is it?

Master Chang: Old Friend.

Wang Lifa: Master Chang! I was looking for someone to talk to. Come in and have some tea.

Qin Zhongyi: Is Manager Wang here?

Master Chang: Yes he is. You’re—

Qin Zhongyi: My name’s Qin.

Master Chang: Master Qin!

Wang Lifa: Master Qin, come in, come in. I reformed the teahouse, come in and have some tea.

Master Chang: I have some peanuts over here, have some peanuts to go with the tea, such a pleasure!

Qin Zhongyi: Who can still chew anymore?

Wang Lifa: It’s ironic. Now that it’s so easy for us to get peanuts, none of us can chew anymore. How have you been, Master Qin?

Qin Zhongyi: No one takes note of me these days, I came to tell you: I went to Tianjin to check on my factory.

Wang Lifa: Wasn’t it confiscated? Was it given back to you? That’s good news!

Qin Zhongyi: It’s been demolished!

Master Chang and Wang Lifa: Demolished?

Qin Zhongyi: Demolished! More than forty years of blood, sweat, and tears. Others may not know it, but you know Manager Wang: I’ve been in the business since my early twenties. And in the end… my factory gets taken away. I’m small-time, I couldn’t compete with them, but just wanted them to make a proper effort to run the business for both the nation and the people. But they torn it down, broke all the machines and sold them for scraps. I ask you, where else in this whole world do you find a government like this one?

Wang Lifa: Back then, I warned you not to invest everything in your factory. You didn’t listen, and look what happened.

Master Chang: Remember the time I gave a bowl of noodles to that woman and her daughter she was selling, and you gave me a hard time about it?

Qin Zhongyi: I know better now! Manager Wang, the factory is leveled, I have a favor to ask. When they leveled it, I recovered this pen from the rubble, I want you to have it. You can entertain your customers sometime with the story behind it. Just say there was some guy named Qin who didn’t know right from wrong, but loved business, and after decades of doing business, the only thing he had left was this pen! You should tell everyone to spend whatever money they have on food and booze, just have a good time, and don’t bother putting their money to good use! Tell them I failed to learn this til my seventies, I was born a fool.

Wang Lifa: You better keep the pen. We’re going to be moving.

Master Chang: Where to?

Wang Lifa: What difference does it make?! Master Qin, Master Chang, I’m not like you two: Master Qin is wealthy and ambitious, with your business, you were bound to attract attention. Master Chang, you’ve always been a resilient man who stands up for himself and others. And me? I’m just a simple local. Obedient and subervient my whole life. I only wanted my children to have it better than I did, and be fed, clothed, and healthy! When the Japs took over, our son ran away, and my wife missed him so much it killed her. The Japs finally left, but what difference did it make?

Master Chang: I’m no better off than you! I’ve put in an honest day’s work my entire life, and now in my seventies, I end up selling peanuts. But my personal misfortune is nothing compared to that of the nation! Now I just hope our country doesn’t get bullied by foreign powers anymore. Look how things are now.

Qin Zhongyi: When the Japs were here, they spoke of cooperation, then they cooperated by taking over my factories. Now, our government has come back and says the factories are traitor’s property somehow. And everything in the warehouse was taken away.

Wang Lifa: Reform, always trying to reform and never fall behind. Tea was not selling, so I opened a boarding house. That didn’t work, so I added story telling! That didn’t bring people in, fine, I wasn’t embarrassed, I hired a hostess! Didn’t I try everything I could to survive? I didn’t do anything immoral or hurt anyone my whole life. Who did I offend? Who? The emperor and ladies of the court can have theirs, why can’t I have mine? Whose idea was this?

Master Chang: All I hoped was that everything would be fair and there would be no more bullying. But all my old friends either starved or were killed, I wanted to cry but no tears came. Master Song, such a good guy, dead. I had to provide the coffin! I guess he was lucky to have a friend like me to give him four planks. What will become of me? I love our country, but who loves me? This is not my funeral, I’m just giving myself some ritual paper money, haha, just a little. I have no coffin, no shroud, just a little paper money for myself.

Qin Zhongyi: Master Chang, let’s pay a bit of homage to ourselves like the funeral ritual. Let’s toss the paper money in the air for us three old guys.

Wang Lifa: Do the chant according to tradition. Chant, chant!

Qin Zhongyi: Do the chant!

Master Chang: Pall-bearers at the four corners, family members bestow one hundred and twenty strings of cash!

Qin Zhongyi and Wang Lifa: One hundred and twenty strings of cash!



[1] Scenes from Lao She’s Teahouse (茶馆, 1957) are adapted from the English translation by Ying Ruocheng from the American English version edited by Claire Conceison (in Xiaomei Chen, ed., The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Drama (NY: Columbia University Press, 2010), with additional original translations by Claire Conceison. Other material added from sources beyond Lao She’s Teahouse are indicated in this script/translation with footnotes regarding their origins.

[2] This version of the play was performed in France with French and English subtitles at the Avignon Festival 2019 from July 9-20 at L’Opera Confluence theater. It differs in some respects from the original version performed in China at the Wuzhen Theater Festival in October 2018: reduced from three and a half hours to three hours, some material cut or changed, lines added or changed significantly in scenes 10, 11, 12, 20, and 21. The play was performed in Nanjing before proceeding to Avignon—some changes were made prior to and in Nanjing, others during dress rehearsals and performances in Avignon. The show then toured to Russia before being performed in Beijing in November 2019. For notes on the text, production, set, and links to press reception in Avignon, see https://u.osu.edu/mclc/2019/08/12/meng-jinghuis-teahouse-at-avignon/.

[3] Following Chinese convention and consistent with the character names in Lao She’s original Teahouse, surnames precede given names (e.g., the Yutai teahouse owner Wang Lifa’s surname is Wang, the character Kang Liu’s surname is Kang), except for characters like “Master Song,” “Pockmark Liu,” and “Eunuch Pang” for whom a descriptor is part of the character’s name, followed by the surname.

[4] Strange song/music plays in English as curtain lowers to dark. Softer song/music rises during proceeding video of three skeletons projected onto the curtain. Dialogue that follows is projected text representing dialogue of the three skeletons (Wang, Song, Chang: one on stool, one on chair, one in wheelchair). Lines in this segment are adapted from several of Bertolt Brecht’s poems, including “Finland 1940, “1940,” “Memory of Marie A,” “The Legend of the Harlot Evelyn Roe,” “Reader for Those Who Live in Cities,” “Thoughts on the Duration of Exile,” and “Homecoming. It has also been indicated that other influences here and later in the play include Felix Guattari’s 1989 book Les trois écologies (The three ecologies, 2000) and Alain Ehrenberg’s concept of “the exhausted self” from his 1998 book La fatigue être soi (The weariness of the self, 2009). During this video segment, the music gradually gets faster, louder, and darker—with increasingly more percussion and great urgency by the end—then closes with deep ominous sounds as the curtain rises for the next scene.

[5] The character Sophie and other elements in these sections are inspired by Brecht’s first play Baal (1918)

[6] This is a reference to a noodle dish from the original play Teahouse.

[7] “A Vision” (Weishen 微神) is the title of a 1947 short story by Lao She from which parts of this scene are adapted. Text used for reference is a translation by Gladys Yang published in Chinese Literature no. 6 (1962): 81-82.

[8] This story of two tapeworms is borrowed from Two Dogs’ Opinions on Life (两只狗的生活意见), directed by Meng Jinghui and co-created by Meng with actors Chen Minghao 陈明昊 and Liu Xiaoye 刘晓晔. Two Dogs was created in 2007 and has been staged continually since then in China, and has occasionally toured abroad; some aspects of its form and content change according to each city where it is staged and/or local items in the news and popular culture trends. For the script in English, see Meng Jinghui, I Love XXX and Other Plays, edited by Claire Conceison (2018). This story of the two tapeworms does not appear in the original version performed in 2007, but was added later.

[9] From Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.

[10] Lao Lin and Lao Chen are surnamed Lin and Chen—“lao” meaning “old” is a familiarizing and respectful form of address.

[11] One of the source texts for this scene is Lao She’s play The Three Qin Brothers (秦氏三兄弟), the original piece that inspired Teahouse.

[12] Much of this speech by Qin Zhongyi is adapted or quoted directly from Jean-Paul Sartre’s preface to Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth (Les damnés de la terre, 1961).

[13] This rap in English translation replicates similar rhyming and rhythm as the original Chinese.

[14] “Skerr” is slang for surprised or confused. It is also the title of a song/rap that brags about success in selling drugs, by Gucci Mane (featuring Migos and Young Dolph) from The Green Album (2014).

[15] The first verse of “Song of the Stimulating Effect of Cash” from Brecht’s 1936 play Round Heads and Pointed Heads. (Trans. Tom Kuhn) in Brecht Collected Plays: 4 (Bloomsbury, 2003), 64-65.

[16] The speech that follows is inspired by speeches of magnate-entrepreneurs Jia Yueting 贾跃亭 and Jack Ma 马云.

[17] Reference to Faraday Futures (FF), electric vehicle start-up of which Jia Yueting 贾跃亭 is CEO.

[18] Second and third verses of the Brecht song-poem cited above.

[19] This monologue is again the character Weishen from Lao She’s 1947 short story (see note 7).

[20] The 2019 Avignon production featured actor Chen Minghao 陈明昊 in the role of Wang Lifa (thus, “The Actor” refers to the actor who plays the character Wang Lifa). This monologue was largely improvised, and the subtitles projected were an approximation. The title of this scene in the Chinese script is “昊哥独白” (Haoge dubai), referring to actor Chen Minghao by the nickname “Brother Hao” by which he is known by his peers.

[21] Chen Minghao 陈明昊 is poking fun at Meng Jinghui in saying that Meng hates the US (Meng’s son was indeed in high school there in 2019 and subsequently attended college in the US as well). Meng was awarded the Medal of Pushkin in 2018 recognizing his contributions to developing Russian culture in China. His other foreign awards include the Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters (France 2014) and the Knight of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (2017)—both ceremonies were held in 2021.

[22] Wang Lifa’s speeches in this scene are adapted from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1877 short story “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man” (English translations excerpted here are from David Magarshack 1961). Themes, characters, and lines from the two texts (Dream of a Ridiculous Man and Teahouse) are juxtaposed, conflated, and adapted in various ways throughout Scene 21).

[23] This English translation replicates the rhyming endings of Ding Bao’s lines in the original Chinese. Though her lines do not have matching rhythm, most of them end in the sound “ee” (as they do in the Chinese original), with the final syllable sound in the last 12 lines of the rhyming section alternating between “ee” and “oh” (“oo” in the original Chinese). As in the Chinese original, the only line she says that does not have a matching rhyming sound at the end is the line “Do Not Discuss Affairs of State.”

[24] From Tao Yuanming’s 陶渊明 fourth century (Jin Dynasty) essay “The Peach Blossom Spring” (桃花源记) that describes an idyllic land of natural beauty, seclusion, tranquility, and harmony. This reference is added and not in Dostoyevsky’s original “Dream of a Ridiculous Man,” though Ding Bao’s monologue here and Wang Lifa’s that follows are both taken verbatim from Dostoyevsky’s story.