Young playwright embarks on her 'latest odyssey'



When COVID-19 first hit early this year, plans were inevitably put on hold for scriptwriter Yan Xiaoping. Like many people, she stayed at home, which allowed her lots of reading time. One of the books she revisited was Jiu Ge, also known as Nine Songs, which she has enjoyed since she was a teenager.

Scriptwriter Yan Xiaoping (left) talks with veteran artist Zhang Jingxian as Before the Fall, performed by Shanghai Kunqu Opera Troupe, premiered in the city in 2017. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Written by Chinese poet Qu Yuan during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), Nine Songs is his signature work and an important chapter of Chuci, also known as the Songs of Chu. Despite the "nine" in the title, it consists of 11 songs to describe and celebrate the religion, ritual and local culture of the region south of the Yangtze River.

"When I first read it, I was intrigued by the portrayal of the beauty of nature and the mysteries of animals and spirits. Though I didn't know the meanings of some of the words, I still loved reading it over and over again," recalls Yan, 34.

During her days at home, keeping herself safe from the pandemic, Yan gained a different perspective of Nine Songs. Yan's personal emotions, such as fear, anxiety and depression, caused by the COVID-19, led her to consider the communication among spirits and between human beings and ghosts.

"Those conversations inspired me to think about disaster, parting and even death," says Yan.

Within two months, she finished three drafts of a script for a play. In her own words, she had never been so productive and efficient. "I usually write one script a year but I had so much to say with this script," she adds. "I didn't even know if the script would be turned into an actual play one day. I just wanted to write."

On Nov 15, the script came alive onstage with a play, titled The Latest Odyssey. Directed by Shao Zehui, it premiered as the closing play of the Beijing Grand Canal Culture Festival, which celebrates the Grand Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage site with a history of about 2,500 years. As the longest artificial waterway in the world, the Grand Canal consisted of three sections built in different periods to connect Beijing and Hangzhou, in East China's Zhejiang province, unifying the powerful northern and the fertile southern regions in ancient China.