Published: 14:15, June 17, 2024
PDF View
Shining a light on history's heroes
By Chen Nan

Stage adaptation of novel about unknown wartime revolutionaries to mark CPC's 103rd anniversary, Chen Nan reports.

Creative team members of The Unknown Heroes pose during a news conference on Wednesday at the NCPA in Beijing. The group includes director Li Bonan (third from right) and scriptwriter Hai Fei (fourth from left). (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

A stage adaptation of Hai Fei's award-winning novel, The Unknown Heroes, will make its debut at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing between June 28 and July 1 with four shows in honor of the 103rd anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China, which falls on July 1.

Set against the backdrop of the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45), the play follows young revolutionaries in Shanghai fighting for the nation. Liu Zhiyang from the Beijing People's Art Theatre plays the lead role as Xiang Jinxi, a cook who is born into a wealthy family and who secretly works for the CPC. He dreams of going to Yan'an in Shaanxi province, where the CPC Central Committee was based at the time. His life undergoes a series of changes after his family falls apart due to the war, his friends turn against each other, and his romance fails.

Produced by the Shanghai Oriental Art Center and directed by Li Bonan, the play premiered in Shanghai between May 27 and 31, marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Shanghai, which fell on May 27.

READ MORE: Treasures continue their journey

"I still remember vividly that when I wrote The Unknown Heroes, I was writing a script for a TV drama, which was also a spy thriller. Though the stories were quite different, they shared one thing in common, their portrayal of a group of young people who, with determination and ambition, fought for the nation," Hai Fei said at the NCPA on Wednesday. "The scenes I included in both works were inspired by many articles I read about China during the 1930s. During wartime, hundreds of thousands of young people went to Yan'an, the revolutionary base, to fulfill their revolutionary dream. Their faith deeply touches me. For them, Yan'an was more than just the name of a place, it represented their belief."

Scenes from the play The Unknown Heroes, which follows young revolutionaries in Shanghai fighting for the nation during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45). (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Working with the Shanghai Oriental Art Center, the writer adapted his award-winning novel, which was released in 2011, into a three-hour play. It not only portrays Shanghai's pivotal role in history but also celebrates the virtues of courage, sacrifice, and the young people's undying pursuit of their dreams.

For Li, who is known for his stage productions, especially romantic comedies such as How Can We Fool With Love and Mr and Mrs Single, this was his first time directing a spy thriller.

"I was intrigued by the novel, and when we turned it into a play, we lent the production some of the artistic expression of cinema, in the hopes of attracting a younger audience," Li says.

He says that in recent years, there has been a notable resurgence in patriotic spirit among the youth, characterized by a growing young audience for movies, TV dramas and plays themed around the CPC, such as The Age of Awakening, a phenomenal hit in 2021, which depicts pioneering intellectuals and young people in the early 20th century striving to save the nation, and reviews the bumpy road they traversed to establish the CPC in 1921.

"Unlike those revolutionary martyrs who are portrayed vividly in the TV drama (The Age of Awakening), we show ordinary young people who also had courage and determination, and even sacrificed their lives for the country," says the director.

According to Lei Wen, the general manager of the Shanghai Oriental Art Center, the company has produced several plays with revolutionary themes, such as The Road to Victory, which was also staged at the NCPA with four sold-out shows in July last year.

Scenes from the play The Unknown Heroes, which follows young revolutionaries in Shanghai fighting for the nation during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45). (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

With a lineup of young star actors and actresses, such as Selena Li from Hong Kong and Xu Kaicheng, Lei says that The Unknown Heroes also attracted many fans during its Shanghai premiere.

"My grandmother is from Shanghai and lived there since 1937. My mother was also born in Shanghai. My grandmother passed away when I was in elementary school, and I miss her a lot," says Selena Li, who was born in Hong Kong in 1981, and who rose to fame by appearing in Hong Kong TV dramas, such as The Queen of News.

ALSO READ: Dance shows poetry in motion

Growing up by speaking Cantonese and English, she also learned to speak Mandarin and the Shanghai dialect for her role in The Unknown Heroes as a teacher who works as a secret agent for the CPC.

"Drama can bring people closer together. Through the script, the rehearsals, and the performances, it feels like I can travel through time and see my grandmother in Shanghai during that period, experiencing her life firsthand," she says, adding that because of the play, she discovered that her mother could speak the Shanghai dialect.

"One day, I called her and spoke to her in the Shanghai dialect, and she understood what I said, which was a big surprise."

Contact the writer at