Date
20 July 2017
Gregory Charles Rivers (inset) is facing criticism for participating in an opera that deals with Mao Zedong's life. The background picture shows a billboard advertising the upcoming production. Credits: Facebook/Sunbeam Chinese Opera, Gregory Rivers
Gregory Charles Rivers (inset) is facing criticism for participating in an opera that deals with Mao Zedong's life. The background picture shows a billboard advertising the upcoming production. Credits: Facebook/Sunbeam Chinese Opera, Gregory Rivers

Cantonese opera on Mao Zedong draws scrutiny and criticism

Sunbeam Theatre, one of the last few dedicated Cantonese Opera houses in Hong Kong, is facing criticism over an upcoming original production that deals with some aspects of Mao Zedong’s life.

The opera tends to glorify Mao, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, as it touches upon the former leader’s romantic dalliances with various women, critics said.

Online forums have been abuzz with chatter about the opera, which will open in October, as organizers put up huge advertisement billboards in prominent locations, including at the entrance of the Cross Harbor Tunnel in Tsim Sha Tsui.

The promotional poster has gone viral after someone captured it on camera and uploaded it on to the Web, Apple Daily reports.

As debate raged about the opera, which has been written by Li Kui-ming, several people accused the production house of needlessly portraying Mao as a hero. 

Apart from criticizing the writer, commentators took to task the artists who are performing in the opera. 

Among those facing the ire of netizens is Gregory Charles Rivers, a Hong Kong-based Australian actor who plays a small but significant part in the play. 

Netizens wondered why a person who has been widely acclaimed as a “true Hongkonger” has accepted a part in a show that seeks to glorify Mao.

Responding to the criticism, Rivers told Apple Daily that the public might be over-reacting.

Mao is just a historical figure, he said, also pointing out that the opera deals with the former Chinese leader’s private life, not his politics.

Rivers said that he agreed to perform as he was keen on Cantonese Opera.

However, he admitted that he hasn’t seen the script yet and so he has no idea of the content or style of the so-called the New Wave epic opera.

According to information on the poster, Rivers will play Edgar Snow, an American journalist who has interviewed and spoken highly of Mao.

Online platform 852 Post reports that the opera playwright Li, who is also a feng shui master, is considered to be highly popular among the political and commercial circles in mainland China.

Many politicians and influential people are said to be his clients for feng shui advice.

The opera on Mao is scheduled to open on Oct.1, which marks China’s National Day, and run for five days.

Critics say Li is using the opera to show his loyalty and patriotism toward Beijing.

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