Playwright Wen Fangyi blows the candles on her 23rd birthday cake.
The youngest of famous Chinese playwrights, Wen Fangyi (Wen is her family name based on the surname-first Chinese tradition) celebrated her 23rd birthday in Silicon Valley last Friday.
Wen is here with her popular historical comedy "The Face of Chiang Kai-Shek" on tour. The play will take the stage at Foothill College this Friday evening (the 22nd) and at Chabot College in Hayward this weekend.
Though with the name Chiang Kai-Shek in its title, the play actually doesn't include the generalissimo as one of its characters, according to Wen.
At last Friday's press conference, Wen said the three main characters of the play are all professors at China's National Central University in 1943. They talk to one another about whether to accept a dinner invitation from Chiang Kai-Shek. In Chinese culture, to turn down someone's dinner invitation will make the host lose face. This explains the namesake of the play's title.
"To go, or not to go?" As the three professors on stage satirically share their inner struggle with living under Chiang's dictatorship, audience members laugh with tears in their eyes, according to Chinese web sources.The play was originally Wen's junior year term paper in 2011, when she was a drama major at Nanjing University, which was called National Central University during World War II, the era in which the play is set.
Wen said the three National Central University professors in the play are in fact part of a story that has been passed around at Nanjing University for decades, and that's why her professor asked her to turn the legend into a play for Nanjing University's upcoming 110th anniversary.
The play was an instant hit on campus. Within the past two years, it has become a nationwide sensation in China, according to various Chinese web sources, some of which say the audience can relate to the three main characters because Chiang's dictatorship in the play mirrors the lack of democracy in today's China.
About the satirical elements of the play, Wen said she didn't mean to specifically target today's politics. Instead, she said what she had in mind was "the eternal dilemma of Chinese intellectuals."
"Chinese intellectuals have always been in an awkward position," said Wen. "They believe in saving the world, but don't have the power to do so. They cherish their reputation so much that they can't play along with dirty politics. They are idealists who want to help working class people but look down upon less educated people at the same time."
Wen's insight deeply impressed Chi Tai, president of Chinese Ticket Box, the sponsor of Wen's American tour.
"Miss Wen's depth is incredible for a 23-year-old, actually a 21-year-old when she wrote the play," said Tai. "One of the best Chinese playwrights in history, Cao Yu, became famous overnight at 23. Miss Wen broke his record."
Wen appears nonchalant about her overnight fame. She said it brings her more opportunities but doesn't change the way she is as a person. About her future, she said she will study hard in graduate school in the hope of earning a Ph.D and staying at Nanjing University to teach.