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Qi Shu Fang

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Qi Shu Fang was a popular Beijing opera performer in China before immigrating to the United States in 1988. Though she did not speak English on her arrival, she formed an opera company in New York City and is a leading actress and prominent *wu-dan*, woman warrior, performer. 2008, photograph by Alan Govenar
Qi Shu Fang, 2008, photograph by Alan Govenar
Qi Shu Fang prepares for her role as Qi Mu Gui Ying in the *Women Generals of the Yang Family*, at the Kaye Playhouse in midtown Manhattan, New York, 2002. Photograph by Alan Govenar
Chairman Mao and Chinese First Premier Zhou En Lai after watching Qi Shu Fang (right) in a performance of 'Taking Tiger Mountain,' 1968, courtesy Qi Shu Fang
Qi Shu Fang (center) as Chang Bao in the movie version of *Taking Tiger Mountain*, ca. late 1960s, courtesy Qi Shu Fang
Qi Shu Fang as Chang Bao in *Taking Tiger Mountain*. 1972, courtesy Qi Shu Fang
Qi Shu Fang, Shanghai, 1983, courtesy  Qi Shu Fang
Qi Shu Fang in 'The Flaming Phoenix,' 1986, courtesy Qi Shu Fang
Qi Shu Fang, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Qi Shu Fang, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Qi Shu Fang, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Qi Shu Fang, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Qi Shu Fang, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Qi Shu Fang, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Qi Shu Fang, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Qi Shu Fang instructing students, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Qi Shu Fang demonstrating traditional movements used in Chinese opera performance, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Qi Shu Fang demonstrating traditional movements used in Chinese opera performance, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Qi Shu Fang, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Qi Shu Fang applying the foundation for her makeup in her dressing room at the Kaye Playhouse in midtown Manhattan, New York, 2002, photograph by Alan Govenar
Qi Shu Fang applying a red color around her eyes in her dressing room at the Kaye Playhouse in midtown Manhattan, New York, 2002, photograph by Alan Govenar
Qi Shu Fang applying black eyebrow liner in her dressing room at the Kaye Playhouse in midtown Manhattan, New York, 2002, photograph by Alan Govenar
Plaits of black hair soaked in yew sap in Qi Shu Fang's dressing room at the Kaye Playhouse in midtown Manhattan, New York, 2002, photograph by Alan Govenar
Qi Shu Fang pastes plaits of hair to create a traditional face line in her dressing room at the Kaye Playhouse in midtown Manhattan, New York, 2002, photograph by Alan Govenar
Qi Shu Fang places a last piece of jewelry on her costume in her dressing room at the Kaye Playhouse in midtown Manhattan, New York, 2002, photograph by Alan Govenar
The finale of the 'Women Generals of the Yang Family' (left to right) Yucheng Ren as Jiao Tinggui, Lianzhi Ma as Seven Wido, Cun Yu as Princess Cai, Qiuwei Zhang as She Tai Jun, Qi Shu Fang as Mu Gui Ying, Xinling Yuan as Yang Wen Guang and Ye Zhang as Meng Huai Yuan, New York, 2002, photograph by Alan Govenar

Qi Shu Fang, a native of Shanghai, China began studying Beijing Opera at age 4. When she got older, she enrolled at the Shanghai Dramatic School and studied with her sister-in-law, a renowned actress and a skilled wu-dan, or woman warrior. Later, she studied with a male teacher and now can play roles of either sex with great skill. Beijing Opera roles are highly defined and stylized, and actors specialize. Qi Shu Fang is unique in mastering both the wu-dan and hua-dan, or vivacious young woman, roles because of her martial arts skills and exceptional voice.

Historically, Beijing Opera had been a masculine art form and female roles were played by males, but after 1949, women began to emerge as performers. Qi Shu Fang was central in that movement. During the Cultural Revolution, at age 18 she was picked by Madame Jiang Qing, Chairman Mao's wife, to play the female lead in one of the eight national "model operas." Overnight, she became a sensation throughout China.

Qi Shu Fang won first prize in a competition for rising actors, then garnered praise from the master female impersonator Mei Lan-Fang for her performance in Fighting Thrice Against Chang Yeuh Wo. Her performance in The Flaming Phoenix won acclaim at Hamburg's International Drama Festival, and she is a favorite performer in Japan.

Her reputation as a performer grew because of her skills in martial arts, singing and acting. Professor Allen Kuharski says, "From a Western perspective, it would be as if one found the voice and acting of Maria Callas and the athleticism of Rudolf Nureyev in one performer's body." She was awarded the title of "National Treasure of China."

In 1988, she relocated to New York City, where she formed her own opera company. Though she did not speak English upon her arrival, she established herself as a star performer in America. The Qi Shu Fang Beijing Opera Company has earned acclaim in the Chinese community and has played to sold-out houses at Symphony Space. For six consecutive years the company took part in Lincoln Center's "From Chinatown With Love." The troupe has performed at many colleges and universities and regularly visits public schools.

Bibliography
Govenar, Alan. Extraordinary Ordinary People: Five American Masters of Traditional Arts. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 2006.
Orenstein, Claudia, and Denise Walen. "Performance Review." Theatre Journal (October 1999), 51, 3: 322.

Filmography
Master Qi and the Monkey King. Directed by Alan Govenar. Produced by Documentary Arts and distributed by First Run Features.

Watch

Qi Shu Fang, 2001 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Qi Shu Fang performance, courtesy Qi Shu Fang


'The Final Scene of The Legend of the White Snake Spirit featuring Qi Shu Fang as Bai Suzhen,' bonus feature from the DVD of Master Qi and the Monkey King, directed by Alan Govenar, produced by Documentary Arts and distributed by First Run Features

Qi Shu Fang demonstrates hand gestures typical of the young maiden character in Beijing Opera, bonus feature from the DVD of Master Qi and the Monkey King, directed by Alan Govenar, produced by Documentary Arts and distributed by First Run Features


Listen

Qi Shu Fang answers the question "How did you become interested in Chinese opera?" Arlington, Virginia, 2001, interview by Alan Govenar

Qi Shu Fang answers the question "How did you learn to sing?" Arlington, Virginia, 2001, interview by Alan Govenar

Qi Shu Fang, Arlington, Virginia, 2001, recorded by Alan Govenar