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Raise the Red Lantern

A Ballet in Three Acts

Based on Su Tong's novel Wives and Concubines

Adapted from Zhang Yimou's movie of the same name

Librettist/Director/Artistic Director: Zhang Yimou

Producer: Zhao Ruheng

Music by Qigang Chen

Choreographers: Xinpeng Wang(Original) and Wang Yuanyuan

Stage Designer: Zeng Li

Costume Designer: Jérôme Kaplan

Lighting Designer: Zhang Yimou

World Premiere: National Ballet of China, Tianqiao Theater, May 2nd,2001

National Ballet of China

Artistic Director: Feng Ying

Guest Performers: China National Peking Opera Company

Synopsis by Zhang Yimou


1920s, China. In a quiet courtyard a young girl is forced into abridal palanquin. She is going to be the second concubine of the Master of the house.Before getting into the palanquin, she remembers her childhood lover – a youngactor from a Peking Opera group (Xi Ban).

Act I

In the happy and joyful atmosphere of the wedding, the wife andthe first concubine welcome the second concubine of the master of the houseinto the family with complex emotional undertones.  The wedding night,despite her desperate resistance, the bride is finally overcome by her tragicdestiny.

Act II

The master passes time with his wives by watching Peking Operasand playing mah-jong. The second concubine sneaks out for a while to meet herformer lover. But their secret is discovered by the first concubine who hasulterior motives.


The two lovers continue their love affair in secret. The firstconcubine tells the master about their affair. The master catches the twolovers who bravely confess without hesitation. The first concubine tries to usethis occasion to renew her favor of the master. However, instead of that shereceives a heavy slap on the face from the master who is beyond himself. Drivenby depression, she grabs the lighting stick, which symbolized the master'spower over his household and lights all the red lanterns hanging in her yard.In great fury, the master orders his minions to execute the first concubine whodares to break his house law.


The two lovers and the first concubine are taken to the executionground. Facing death, they forget their hostilities, and reconcile with eachother.  In tolerance and affection, they embrace together. Feudalismstrangles their young lives and beautiful love.

The world is our stage. Chinese ballet is where we are!

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