2016 is the Year of the Monkey in the Chinese Lunar Calendar. In classic Chinese literature and traditional folklore, there are many images of the monkey, amongst which the most popular is Sun Wukong, who, as depicted in the classic novel Journey to the West, is known as “Qitian Dasheng” (“Great Sage, Equal of Heaven”) and “Mei Houwang” (“Handsome Monkey King”). He is full of wit and has the capacity of seventy-two metamorphoses. He can travel thousands of miles with a single jump. On the journey to the west, he helped fight evil spirits and vanquish monsters. He was tenacious and strong, a perfect image of idealism. So the images of this Monkey King have been performed by many Chinese players in both stage and film. Liu Xiao Ling Tong (stage name Zhang Jinlai) is the most popular actor, who played the part of Sun Wukong in the TV series Journey to the West.
Liu Xiao Ling Tong (Zhang Jinlai) was born on April 12th, 1959 in Shanghai. His ancestral home is in Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province. He is a national actor of CCTV and CTPC and also a part-time professor of the School of Humanities of Zhejiang University.
Liu Xiao Ling Tong’s fame was mainly brought to him by his role as Sun Wukong. In 1982, he played the leading role of Sun Wukong (“The Monkey King”) in the TV series Journey to the West. People loved the show so much that Sun Wukong became deeply rooted in people’s hearts and a national icon on the screen. The famous line from the show “Here I come!” has accompanied generations of Chinese audiences. The super-witted Wukong who hates evil as his deadly foes, as depicted in the show, has always been a symbol of hero for Chinese audience.
The great capacity of vivid performance of Liu Xiao Ling Tong comes partly from his family tradition. He was born in “the family of the Monkey King”, a family in which male members play the stage image of “the Monkey King” for generations. He started learning the performance both as a kid and the youngest child of the great traditional Shaoxing Opera actor Zhang Zongyi (his stage name is “Liu Ling Tong”), the inheritor of this family tradition for the fourth generation.
From Liu Xiao Ling Tong’s great grandfather, the family tradition has been inherited by his grandfather, his father, brother, and himself. His father started learning the performance at the age of six, hence the stage name “Liu Ling Tong” (literally meaning “six-year old opera kid”). When his brother got on the stage, his father named him “Xiao Liu Ling Tong” (“Liu Ling Tong Jr.”). Unfortunately, his brother Zhang Jinxing died of leukaemia in 1966. When Mr. Zhang Jinlai performed the part of “the Monkey King” for Journey to the West in 1982, his father thought about it and decided to change the stage name “Xiao Liu” to “Liu Xiao,” hence the name “Liu Xiao Ling Tong.”
For most of the Chinese audience, the part Sun Wukong played by Liu Xiao Ling Tong is the most unforgettable version of the Monkey King. Every facial expression and every posture of Wukong is derived from certain genres of traditional operas. Liu Xiao Ling Tong successfully combined traditional Shaoxing Opera with the southern monkey-imitation genre of Peking opera. He has also carried down the artistic skills of stage performance from many great artists, including Zheng Faxiang and Gai Jiaotian (two great masters of Peking Opera). To practice with his eyes and make them look brighter, he often stared at the sun and the movements of flying Ping Pong balls.
Many people may think that Sun Wukong was the only role that Liu Xiao Ling Tong has ever played. The fact is that he has also performed as famous historical figures, such as Hu Shih (a famous scho;ar of moder China), Lu Xun (a great writer and thinker of Moder China), and Zhou Enlai. The image of Monkey King that Liu Xiao Ling Tong created in the TV film, however, is the most famous. “Sun Wukong undoubtedly is the Mount Everest in my whole career as an actor. None of the other roles I’ve played could compete with the role of Monkey King for both influence and popularity.” Said Liu Xiao Ling Tong.
In June, 2007, Liu Xiao Ling Tong played two parts in the first 3D TV series in the world: he played both Wu Cheng’en (the writer of the classic novel Journey to the West), and Sun Wukong in Wu Cheng’en & Journey to the West. This year, the 3D fantasy epic film Journey to the West, co-produced by China and the U.S., is about to release. In this film, he starred as Sun Wukong again. The film tells the story about how Sun Wukong, Zhu Bajie, and Sha Wujing (three disciples of Tang Sanzang, a great budhhist pilgrim who travells thousands of miles to seek for Buddhist sutras) accompanied Tang Sanzang on the journey to the West during which they encountered many trials and endured much sufferings, fought evil spirits and monstrous beings, lived through eighty-one hardships, brought back Buddhist sutras to Chang’an, the capital of the Tang Empire, and finally became Bodhisattvas themselves.
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