I have the fortune to give a talk about the power of reading at the TED2013 conference. In it I told the story of how my childhood dream of becoming a Chinese opera singer got crushed, and how reading saved me from becoming cynical of life.
Almost 40 years after the death of that childhood dream, I've long assumed that Chinese opera and my life would never cross. To my surprise, while visiting my college professor Lv Xiaoping in Nanjing in 2018, I found myself get connected to the circle of Chinese opera. At that time he had already promised Mao Weitao, a famous Yue opera actress specialized in playing men onstage, that he would write another academic paper about her art in 2019, the 40th anniversary of Mao's career. The 2014 paper by Prof. Lv, The Meaning of Mao Weitao to Modern Chinese Opera, has made him one of most trusted and respected opera researchers for Mao.
During our conversation, Prof. Lv mentioned a dilemma he as facing -- He had no time to research and write that promised paper, while his graduate students, who had time, had difficulty taking on the project because they seldom go to Chinese opera. Something must have got to my mind that I immediately volunteered to work on the project: I love Yue opera since childhood and have been listening to Mao's performance since her debut; Even though my doctorate in mass communication bears no direct association to Chinese opera, the media psychology theories I'm trained to use are completely suitable for analyzing the content communicated by Chinese opera.
Prof. Lv was intrigued by my proposal and called Mao's team for their thoughts right there. A few days later, we were in Hangzhou talking face to face with Mao and called it a deal. During the following 16 months, I spent most of my free time on watching operas, interviewing people, reading research, discussing ideas, and writing the paper. The only break I took was when my father passed away. All that work paid off. My paper, "Adapting Traditional Opera for Modern Audience: Using the Identification Theory to Review Mao Weitao's Yue Opera Reform," was published in the journal of "Stage and Screen Reviews" in Jan 2020.
Mao Weitao and Prof. Lv, thanks for giving me this opportunity and your trust. Fate can be truly magical at times. It has unexpectedly given me a chance to pacify my inside teenager's obsession with opera. Fate can be brutal or gentle, depending on who we meet and how we respond.