Opera: Insipid Water Torture

Cultural traditions die hard in history-conscious China. But they do die, as devotees of the highly stylized form of music drama called Peking opera are beginning to learn. The death is especially painful when the executioner is China's cultural queen, Chiang Ching, the wife of Communist Party Chairman Mao Tse-tung.

For 200 years, Peking opera has been not only the most popular of all the Chinese operatic styles but practically a national pastime. The plots are familiar tales about kings and concubines, scholars and lute-playing ladies. The performers, in elaborate costumes and makeup, convey their characterizations through a series of...

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