Liu San Jie in JB

Wang Yee Jia [Back Row Right] as Liu San Jie,
singing her eloquent responses to the rhymes
presented by the landlord's three hired singers 
For two nights, the audience at the Liu San Jie musical show presented at the Southern University College was transported back to the Tang dynasty as they were mesmerised by live performances of the classic legend and music of the Zhuang people in China.  Since it was created in 1960, this show has been performed more than 2000 times in China and abroad and made into a movie in 1961.  In 2006, the Liu San Jie show was recognized as a National Cultural Heritage in China. 

As the movie version of the musical helped to spread the popularity of Liu San Jie to Chinese-speaking communities outside of China, in 2003 movie director Zhang Yimou created “The Impressions of Liu San Jie”, an outdoor live show which has become the most lucrative cultural income for the city of Guilin.  Presented live every night, beside the Li River to a backdrop of mountains, the one hour show with more than 600 actors, is a popular tourist attraction in this region.

A section of the appreciative audience at the show
The stage presentation of Liu San Jie in Johor Baru was the result of a partnership among the Malaysia-China Arts & Cultural Association, Southern University College and the generous sponsorship of the Country Garden Group, one of China’s leading integrated property developers.  A cast of 28 artistes were hosted by the Country Garden Group while all the proceeds from the charity shows went towards the building fund and international education fund in Southern University College.

Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Malaysia, Chai Xi, who was among the audience for the first show in Johor Baru, praised the Country Garden Group for their contribution to the community and encouraged other Chinese investors in Malaysia to emulate their example to do something for the community as they do business here.  At the end of the second show, Datuk Tan Liang Soon, Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors, Southern University College, announced that the proceeds from the two shows combined with other contributions totaled in the sum of RM350,000.

The landlord's three hired singers tried to outwit Liu San Jie
with their poems but they failed miserably!
“The Country Garden Group is the first Chinese company to support local arts and culture in Johor Baru,” said Tan Chai Puan, Head of the Arts & Cultural Development Department of Southern University College who is also Advisor to the Malaysia-China Arts & Cultural Association. 

This Group recently had the sales launch of their flagship project of prestigious serviced apartments and condominiums at Country Garden @ Danga Bay in Iskandar Malaysia.

Wang Yee Jia [Right] was welcomed to JB by
Tan Chai Puan [Left]
When she was aged 18, Wang Yee Jia, the lead singer who plays the role of Liu San Jie, was selected from more than a thousand candidates who auditioned to be one of the lead singers for “The Impressions of Liu San Jie.”  After performing successfully in the outdoor show for a few years, she returned to the stage version of Liu San Jie.  It was the first time, Liu San Jie was presented in Johor Baru but for Wang, the two nights were the 80th and 81st show in her career!

In China, the Zhuang people believe that the legendary Liu San Jie or “Third Sister in the Liu family” was not mythical but truly existed and her birthplace was Yizhou town in Guangxi province.  She was a farmer’s daughter named Liu Shanhua but as she was the third child in her family, she was nicknamed, “Liu (family surname) San (third) Jie (sister).”  She was gifted in reciting traditional poems from a very young age and when she was inspired by beautiful scenery she had the talent to create and sing folk songs!

Colourful costumes add to the pleasure of
watching the performances of the matchmaker [Left]
and the greedy landlord [Right] who wanted to take
Liu San Jie as his concubine

The Zhuang people is one of the 56 ethnic groups in China, second only to the Han people who account for more than 91 percent of the nation’s population.  The legend of Liu San Jie was originally an oral tradition and was later found in romance, drama scripts and county annals in Guangxi. 

However, studies showed that the legend was not exclusively of the Zhuang people but similar stories can be found among other ethnic groups like the Miao, Yao, Buyi, Mulao and Han in Guangdong, Hunan, Yuannan and Guizhou provinces. 

The cast of Liu San Jie in the finale

There are various versions of the legend but the storyline presented in Johor Baru featured Liu San Jie as a talented folk singer with exquisite vocals who beat three hired singers with her witty and eloquent responses in antiphonal singing to avoid becoming a concubine to a greedy landlord.  It was typical of ethnic people of South China, particularly in the Guangxi province, to practice antiphonal singing, an ancient art form quite similar to our dondang sayang type of pantun, where two or more singers talk to each other in poetic songs to challenge and out-wit the other.  Another interesting scene depicted the Zhuang custom in courtship where Liu San Jie showed interest in her suitor by giving him an embroidered ball!

As the cast gave their final bow, the audience could not help but rushed forward to capture photo mementoes!

“The way Liu San Jie opposed the landlord’s unfairness by using arts and culture is an inspiration to us because very often things can be worked out through non-violent methods,” said Y. C. Yap, Vice-President of the Malaysia-China Arts & Cultural Association, who was very pleased with the strong support and success in the staging of the shows in Johor Baru.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 29 July 2013

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