The headline of the Global edition of Xinhua on February 11, 2011 said, “Met celebrates Nixon in China.”
Xinhua said, “John Adams’ musical masterpiece has made its long-awaited debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, and a prominent feature of it is the revolutionary ballet The Red Detachment of Women.”
A scene from Red Detachment of Women where the lead character has been rescued by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from an evil landlord that raped her and ordered that she be killed. In fact, the PLA was support by China’s peasants due to harsh treatment from the ruling class. After the Communists won the Civil War, almost a million landowners were executed for crimes against the people.
Nixon arrived in Beijing on February 21, 1972.
On February 27, he left China with a pledge from both nations to normalize relations and that neither should seek hegemony in the Asia Pacific region while opposing the efforts of any other country that attempted such an action.
Thirty-nine years later, on February 12, I sat in an audience in California and watched the opera televised in a local, stuffy theater. The house was not packed but it was crowded.
During a break between acts, director Peter Sellars said the play had been restaged and rewritten since more is now known of what happened in China before and after the historic meeting between Nixon, Kissinger, Mao and Zhou Enlai.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Adams, said, “The meeting of Nixon and Mao is a mythological moment in world history, particularly American history.”
Nixon’s visit to China lasted less than a week but the opera covers years.
The demon in the opera is Mao’s wife. Soon after she appears on stage, it is clear she is responsible for the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. Several times, the Nixon character casts suspicious glances at her as if she is crazy.
At the time of Nixon’s visit, Mao’s wife was grooming herself to become China’s leader after Mao died and to continue the horrors of the Cultural Revolution.
Mao believed that to save China he had to erase China’s ancient culture and reinvent the country.
To reinforce this fact, there is a scene where Mao denounces Confucius.
Mao blamed Confucianism for making China weak and the victim of Western Imperialism and Japan between 1839 when the British and French started the Opium Wars until the end of World War II after Japan was defeated. During that time, almost a hundred million Chinese would die due to famines, rebellions, wars, and civil war.
Little did Mao’s wife know at the time of Nixon’s visit that a few years later fate had something else in store for her when Deng Xiaoping appears from the shadows and has her arrested for crimes against the people.
In fact, at her trial after Mao’s death, which wasn’t covered in the opera, she shouted, “I was Mao’s dog. When Mao told me to bite, I bit.”
Sellars or Adams should have mentioned the revelations that run through the play covering years of Chinese history revealing the role of each major Chinese character.
Near the end while Zhou Enlai is in pain and slowly dying from pancreatic cancer, it is obvious that the people loved him. There is a moment where it appears he has died and his bed is surrounded with flowers and a communist flag is carefully draped over him.
In fact, near the end of the Cultural Revolution, Zhou Enlai protested the horrors that were happening in China and protected many Chinese from Mao’s teenage Red Guard responsible for much of the crimes that took place during the last decade of Mao’s life.
For this risky act, the people of China honored and loved Zhou Enlai. Almost every other Chinese leader that spoke out against Mao died or went to prison. Few escaped Mao’s wrath. Even Deng Xiaoping had his son tossed off a three-story building to survive but be paralyzed from the neck down.
Meanwhile, in another bed, Mao is having a tryst with his wife soon after having his crotch fondled by one of the women that cares for him.
When Mao rests on a bed at the end, the Communist flag is dropped over him without much ceremony and there were no flowers.
Zhou Enlai would die eight months before Mao in 1976.
Discover more of Nixon’s Trip to China
The world premiere of Nixon in China took place at the Houston Grand Opera in 1987. I have embedded a seventeen-part series discovered on You Tube of the original. If interested, scroll down and enjoy.
Nixon in China -– Part 1/17
Nixon in China – Part 2/17
Nixon in China – Part 3/17
Nixon in China – Part 4/17
Nixon in China – Part 5/17
Nixon in China – Part 6/17
Nixon in China – Part 7/17
Nixon in China – Part 8/17
Nixon in China – Part 9/17
Nixon in China – Part 10/17
Nixon in China – Part 11/17
Nixon in China – Part 12/17
Nixon in China – Part 13/17
Nixon in China – Part 14/17
Nixon in China – Part 15/17
Nixon in China – Part 16/17
Nixon in China – Part 17/17
If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.