Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Red Cliff battle in “Romance of Three Kingdoms” inspires fascinating art and literature now on exhibit

By Nancy T. Lu
Legendary figures, emerging all at once during a fascinating period in Chinese history and participating in the crucial Battle of the Red Cliff in 208 A.D., paved the way for the establishment of the Three Kingdoms of Wu, Shu and Wei. But eventually China went through reunification as an empire.

Existing accounts have not always been faithful to the history of what exactly happened. But the Battle of the Red Cliff, a dramatic turning point, inspired art and literature starting in the Song Dynasty.

From the Ming Dynasty to the present, the legendary tales of war and strategy involving heroes Cao Cao, Liu Bei and Sun Quan have contributed to the scenarios of operas, movies, television drama series, and even comic books, firing the imagination of generations. Handscroll with painting and calligraphy like Wu Yuanzhi’s “Chibitu (Red Cliff)”(see picture above) in the Jin Dynasty calls particular attention to the rendering of the waves.

"A Thousand, Thousand Churning Waves: The Legendary Red Cliff Heritage” amazes as an exhibition showing how much of the artifacts related to this particular period in Chinese history can be found in the permanent collections of the National Palace Museum.

Chinese tourists, who turn up in groups nowadays at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, tend to linger long in front of the Ming Dynasty imprint of Luo Quanzhong’s illustrated “Sanguozhi tongsuyanyi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms).” Novelist Luo dexterously combined fact and fiction in his much-read literature (refer to picture above).

Screen of red lacquer incised with Red Cliff landscape, likewise on view at the museum, dates back to the 18th century during the Qing Dynasty reign of Qianlong. Brush holder of bamboo features carved Red Cliff scene, circa 17th or 18th century.

Even Westerners, especially moviegoers, have been introduced to the Battle of the Red Cliff through John Woo’s “Red Cliff 1 & 2.”

The National Guoguang Opera Company will present stories from “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms” at the National Palace Museum on June 13 to help the public relive the drama of the era. Huang Chun-hsiung will do the storytelling in Taiwanese with glove puppets on June 20.

The National Palace Museum will be reaching out to the young by bringing in the Musou Band composed of cheongsam-wearing female performers. They appear, gracefully coaxing notes out of Chinese musical instruments with seductive flair (see video below) and conjuring visions of scenes from "Red Cliff," the historical epic movie starring Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Chang Chen.
Eight lectures have been lined up. Related online games are being introduced on the website of the museum as part of its educational efforts. At least three schools in the museum's neighborhood are using teaching materials designed to enable the students learn more about history. Guided tours at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. will start on July 1.

The exhibit "A Thousand, Thousand Churning Waves: The Legendary Red Cliff Heritage" at the National Palace Musem will run until August this year.

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