Today is the birthday of Kuang Jianlian (鄺健廉) better known by her stage name Hung Sin-nui (紅線女), but also known as Hong Xian-nu, Hong Sin-lui, Hung Hsien-nu, Hong Sin-loi. She is now considered a national treasure as a Cantonese opera star and movie actress in China and Hong Kong.
She was born in Guangzhou with the name Kuang Jianlian or Kwong Kin-lin in 1924. Her ancestral hometown is Kaiping, Guangdong. With her aunt Ho Fu-lin as her mentor, she began to sing Cantonese opera at the age of 12. She started from Mui Heung and her first stage name was Siu Yin Hung. She took to the stage from 1939, adopting the stage name Hung Sin Nui (Red Line Girl).”Red line” in Chinese signifies important relationships, especially marriage.
She moved to Hong Kong during World War II. She played alongside Ma Shi-tsang, her then husband and well-known Cantonese opera singer and actor in productions including The Spoiled Brat and Her Groom, Bitter Phoenix, Sorrowful Oriole and Wang Zhaojun Marries beyond the Great Wall. She established her official diva status during the period and began her movie career. Her screen debut was Unforgettable Love in 1947. Here’s an example:
Hung made 105 films in her career from 1947 to 2009, but the bulk was during the late 1940s and 1950s.Her notable movies include The Judge Goes to Pieces, A Mother’s Tears, Everlasting Love, Wilderness, The Pretty Tigress, Searching the School and Guan Hanqing.
In 1955, Hung gave up her career in Hong Kong and joined the Guangdong Cantonese Opera Troupe on the mainland on the invitation of premier Zhou En-lai, where she performed until1961. She also founded the Hongdou Cantonese Opera Troupe where she trained and mentored many Cantonese Opera actors and actresses. During the Cultural Revolution Hung’s career halted. She was branded as “Black Line Girl” (disreputable girl) and banished to the countryside as a “street sweeper.” She and her family were sent to labor camps. She recalled she would sing inside her heart at a time when she was forbidden to sing out loud. She would hold a note and practice when she raised chickens, and when no one was looking she would practice, and would sing in high pitch during thunder storms. After the death of Mao Zedong, Hung slowly re-emerged on the renascent Cantonese opera scene. She also appeared in two films in 1990 and 2009 before her career ended.
Hung died on 8 December 2013 of a heart attack at the Guangdong General Hospital in Guangzhou, where she had retired in her last years.
Hung was married twice, first to well-known Cantonese opera actor Ma Shi-tsang from 1944 to 1955 and then to a writer Hua Shan from 1970 to his death in 1985. Hung had two sons and a daughter from her first marriage. Her daughter, Hung Hung, was also a Cantonese opera star. In 1981 she escaped to Taiwan and criticized the Chinese Communist government for what they had done to her mother. She eventually emigrated to Canada and wanted her mother to come with her, but Hung preferred to stay in China.
Hung is regarded as one of the greatest treasures of Cantonese opera and Hong Kong cinema. She is famous for her unique sweet, crisp, smooth and coquettish “Hung tone” (紅腔) of singing which incorporated the techniques of Beijing Opera, Kunqu, and Western opera singing styles. She was invited to leave a handprint at the Avenue of Stars in Hong Kong. Much of Hung’s work and documents of her career are preserved at the Hungxiannu Art Center in Guangzhou, which was opened 1998 by the Guangzhou city government to commemorate and preserve her contribution to the art of Cantonese opera.
Her son Ma Ting-sing said “mother can be described as ‘never abandoning or wavering, with neither complaint nor regret’ toward Cantonese Opera. Whether it was in the midst of war or when the market was light, she still insisted on performing and teaching. Even when she faced 70% empty seats she still performed at will and persisted on that passion for Cantonese Opera.”
Nowadays Chinese traditional opera is in decline in popularity here in China. It is considered old fashioned by young people and is little known in the West. But I love it. Every Sunday in the park near where I live there are performances; the audience is nothing but older people (me included). Hung has a voice that moves my soul. I wish I could have heard her live.
I can’t say that I am enamored of Cantonese cuisine these days even though it is considered one of the eight classic cuisines of China. It was the basis of “Chinese food” in the West for decades (suitably modified for Western tastes). Now I find it rather bland in comparison with the rainbow of tastes I get in Yunnan. But I did cook in that style for many years. It’s hard to replicate in the West mainly because Western stoves don’t get hot enough to stir fry properly. You need to get a wok or frying pan up to about 500°F or more to do a decent job. Here in Kunming they use huge propane jets that could fuel a rocket ship.
What I suggest is that you get some tender beef, onions, mushrooms and bell peppers, cut them all into strips. Heat a wok or frying pan as hot as you can. Just put it on the highest heat and let it heat until it is smoking. Then add a small amount of vegetable oil and dump the ingredients in. Knock them around for a few minutes. They will cook quickly. Then add the savor of your choice. It could be a mix of hoisin sauce and chicken stock, or oyster sauce, or whatever. You can get them at the average supermarket. But this is cook’s choice. Even a mix of soy sauce, stock, and cornstarch will work. Serve with rice of course, and eat with chopsticks !!!