Lao She’s Teahouse:
Commitment to Social Visions Lead to Funerals in Corrupt States
Lao She’s play Teahouse portrays the impact of three historical periods on the lives of the frequent guests of a traditional Chinese Tea House, called Yu Tai Tea House. The historical periods include the Qing Dynasty where the Manchus ruled China; the Republic of China (1912-1949); and the post world War II period of the Kuomintang’s cruel government in Beijing after the victory of the War of Resistance against Japan. Without a plot to unify his play, Lao She achieves continuity through characters and a single location that endures even as history moves on. The play hosts more than 60 characters, reflecting a variety of the personages peopling the historical periods. Three characters endure throughout the play and age with the change in governments, the teahouse manager Wang Lifa, the patriotic Manchu Fourth Elder Chang, and the industrialist Qin Zhongyi. Despite the world crumbling around them, and the corrupt government officials impinging upon their presence in the teahouse, these three characters remain committed to their visions of society and their faith that their way will lead to a better world. Their fate, like the fate of the three periods of history, is reflected in the funeral, which serves as a climax in the play.
A teahouse is an appropriate place to show the absurdity of the march of history played against the backdrop of a variety of characters because, as Lao She says at the beginning of his play to set the scene: In sum, the teahouse was an important institution of those times, a place where people came to transact business or simply to while away the time. In the teahouses, one could hear the most absurd stories, such as how in a certain place a huge spider had turned into a demon and was then struck by lightning. One could also come in contact with the strangest views; for example, the foreign troops could be prevented from landing by building a...
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