Yang Li-hua (楊麗花), superstar of Taiwanese opera who is credited as a "living national treasure", is a famous face among fans of Taiwanese opera on the island, whether in everyday dress or elaborate stage costume.
Throughout Taiwan, people young and old alike know her. Yang Li hua is a household name. She entranced her fans with her exquisite voice and top-notch performance. Speak her name and people in Taiwan conjure images of heroic men squashing evil and doing righteous deeds. A generation of island residents have sat before their television sets transfixed by Yang's performances, forgetting for an hour's entertainment that a woman is playing the lead male role.
With her distinctive eyes, Yang could make herself at turns commanding and tender. She had a sophisticated air about her, and her voice sounded honest and full of emotion. Since her first appearance more than 40 years ago at age 22, she has been in nearly 170 productions on TTV. She specializes in male roles, playing everything from emperors and aristocrats to warriors and beggars. She has become a favorite of young and old Taiwanese, and many women have come to think of her as the ideal lover. Female fans crowd around the TV studio bearing fancy gifts and creating traffic jams. Thousands of letters swamped the Taiwan TV station, and supplies of pictures of her in traditional dress could not meet demand. People followed her wherever she went, and many female overseas Chinese asked her permission to become her godmother or godsister. In 1996, Yang was voted one of the ten hottest idols by a gay and lesbian organization-despite being over fifty!
In the theatric establishment, an iota of stigma is magnified into a world of scandal. But Yang, scrupulous in behavior, has never been involved. Ending a 8-years love marathon, Yang married Dr Hong Wen-tung on 26 Mar 1983.
The marriage drew thousands of uninvited fans to the Grand Hotel. Had the bride, Yang Li-hua not been wearing her wedding gown, the scene could easily have been mistaken for another performance of Taiwanese opera, except Yang, this time was not playing the leading "male" role. Spiffily- dressed middle-aged housewives and nimble school girls squeezed in and out of the crowd, trying desperately to get a clear look at the bride. Some women even put their children on their shoulders so that at least the younger generation could get a good look at the couple. The wedding master had to plead with the crowd to allow the newlyweds to make their way through the immense tidal wave of people.
Though somewhat disturbed by the impassioned attendance of so many uninvited guests, Yang laughed it away. After all, her name has been a byword with local audiences for 20 years, and she is aware that she is the symbol of the chivalrous spirit of China-past to the citizens of today.
◆ Unprecedented Prestige
Many scholars who studied drama said that Taiwanese opera would have died out several decades ago had it not been for Yang's efforts. While this may be a bit of an exaggeration, her prestige is indeed unprecedented. In 1982, under arrangements made by the Taiwan Provincial Government, Yang led a touring troupe around Taiwan to provide encouragement to fishermen and miners. Many of her fans went to see and support her, thereby attaching more importance and significance to Taiwanese opera.
◆A Happy Off-Stage Life
Having left the opera world, Yang was lucky to have the loving environment of the home she'd made with the renowned orthopedic surgeon Hung Wen-tung. But she has never forgotten the theater. Whenever there is the right script and the right opportunity, she is ready to return to the stage.
Whether on stage or not, Yang always speaks in a low, sonorous voice.
"Taiwanese opera is the treasure of our native culture. As long as the audiences like this traditional art, I will continue performing it," she said
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