Our friendship will last forever. In another life, we shall be friends once more, and you must remember the gravity of our words.
Wu Zhaoqian, a scholar in Emperor Shunzhi’s reign in Qing Dynasty, wrongfully accused in the Scandal of the Jiangnan Provincial Examination, was exiled to Ningguta (now Ning’an, Heilongjiang). His close friend Gu Zhenquan tried everything in his power to rescue him, but to no avail. In the 15th year of Emperor Kangxi’s reign, Wu had been exiled for 18 years, and Gu was still attempting rescue. His remembrance of Wu was immortalized in the “Jin Lu Qu” (Ballad of the Golden Threads) titled “Is Ji Safe?” Nalan Xingde, son of Grand Mentor Ming Zhu was deeply moved by it, thus writing another “Jin Lu Qu” in honor of their friendship.
Nalan Xingde brought Gu to his home and treated him as an honored guest while offering all his help to rescue Wu. Five years later, Wu was released back to the capital. According to the lyrics, this was one of the rare instances where the exiled were pardoned. However, right after Wu Zhaoqian returned, he and Gu Zhenguan had an argument, and Gu left the capital for his hometown to farm and read for the rest of his life.
For twenty years of hardship, he was devoted to the rescue of his friend. What deep bond could theirs have been! How would he leave so suddenly because of one argument? Playwright Guo Qihong of the Beijing People’s Art Theatre, who is expert in the nuances of stories, believes that their argument resulted from the fact that Gu found that Wu had changed from his old, earnest self into a person who was false. Simply, Gu found his old “confidant” was no more. He rescued a stranger who feared death. He was disappointed and chose self-exile.
History does not tell us much about what happened to Wu Zhaoqian as he stayed in the capital. He was five years older than Gu Zhenguan. The twenty years of Ningguta’s freezing winters of minus 14 degrees Celsius with the floods, droughts, and winds should have destroyed not only his spirit, but also his health. As we would put it today, he should feel lucky he got his life back.
Wu Zhaoqian’s change was not a choice but the course of his circumstances and his fate. When friendships fall apart, it is destiny. No one is to blame. There is another kind of “confidants,” those who know that the other person did everything for someone else, but never gave up, offering themselves every step of the way, even sacrificing their own happiness and dignity, only to help that person in achieving their dreams.
The one Gu Zhenguan was trying to save was who he believed to be the earnest and talented perfect idol, not a “person” with flaws. When the idol he had been pursuing failed the test of reality, Gu Zhenguan chose self-exile, retaining his spirit as an idealist. However, did he ever consider that Wu Zhaoqian could have survived only to see him? On the day of his exile, they were supposed to meet at a tavern, but before Gu could make it, he was forced to embark. Did he not want to keep his promise?More importantly, if the disillusioned Gu Zhenguan looks around him, there was Nalan Xingde, who worked tirelessly and selflessly to help him. (In the play there is also his attentive companion Lady Yun.) He would find that in his life, he has a dear friend, one who knows him and asks nothing of him. Nalan Xingde did not ask him to be perfect as he did Wu Zhaoqian, only that they weather through it all together. That way he would be happy. Happiness had hidden in plain sight, but he only aimed high, and as disillusionment came, he could only choose to leave it all behind, failing the sincerity and devotion of those at his side.
“The Confidants” is premiered at the Novel Hall, Taipei, in May, 2013. Immediately afterwards, it was presented in the Shanghai International Arts Festival and the China Chinese Opera Festival, following a 5 weeks tour in China in November of 2014. The performance is about 165 minutes long, with one intermission.
The opera is about to arrive! We hope to have you stay your busy steps at the theater for us to treasure a precious encounter.