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You Benchang, Live Ji Gong
    2009-04-15 17:11:43     CRIENGLISH.com

24 years ago, he was known for his role as Ji Gong in a TV series of the same name. He acted as the hero Ji Gong, a mad but kind monk who spent his whole life helping the poor.

24 years later, at the age of 76, he is still enjoying wide fame and respect due to his impressive performance and continuing acting efforts.

Our champion today is 'Live Ji Gong' You Benchang, one of China's distinguished performing artists. He Fei has more.


You Benchang [Photo: cribeyondbeijing.com]

75-year-old You Benchang is singing the theme song from 'Ji Gong', joyfully and vigorously. Unfolding the legend of a mad but kind monk involved in helping the poor, 'Ji Gong' appeared on television screens in 1985 and was so popular that it has been replayed many times in the years since. You Benchang explains the reasons behind its success.

"First it is very humorous and comedic. Secondly it sincerely advocates sincerity, kindness and beauty. However, it does not ruthlessly beat the false and the evil but instead educates them, making them realize their faults and helping them to amend them. It is full of love and mercy, not only to human beings but to all creatures. It shows that everything can be taught to be good."

You Benchang's acting of Ji Gong was so vivid that he won the best actor prize at the "Golden Eagle Awards". Everybody called him 'Live Ji Gong'.

Ji Gong (Right) Acted by You Benchang [Photo: baidu.com]

You Benchang says it's Charlie Chaplin, the British silent film maestro, who helped him become 'Live Ji Gong'. A mime master, You Benchang thinks mime and silent film have much in common. Though not a mime production, 'Ji Gong' contains many vivid imitations of Charlie Chaplin's plays.

"For example, a monk named Guangliang saw Ji Gong eating the leg of a dog, which was a great sin for monks, so he took him before their head monk. He pointed to Ji Gong, who was sitting with his back against him and shouted: 'look, he is still eating it!' However, when Ji Gong turned around, he was seen patting rather than eating. This acting of mine is an imitation of Chaplin's. He was acting as a drunken man punished by his wife. He sat back against her, lowering his head and quivering his shoulders. His wife thought he was crying sadly, regretting his faults and failures. However, he was actually happily nursing a beer bottle."

You Benchang says he admires Chaplin very much as he has taught him a lot about mime. For him, mime is a very precious theatre although it has not brought him the same degree of fame as 'Ji Gong' has.

"Mime is actually a very rich world. It exists in acrobatics, magic shows, silent films or farces. We can also find mime in Chinese traditional theatre. For example, among the four basic feats, which are singing, speaking, acting and acrobatic fighting, acting and acrobatic fighting are both mimes."

You Benchang was committed to helping boost mime and it's appreciation from the very beginning.

After graduating from the Shanghai Theatre Academy in 1956, he spent much time practicing and perfecting his art despite his tight schedule of drama and TV series performances.

He says mime is a new form of performance in China and can be acceptable for all nations and cultures due to its economy of words. However, his excellent works like Ya Ran Yi Xiao  have not gained the same widespread popularity. You Benchang feels some regret about it as he knows the era of silent films has passed and people nowadays won't spend as much time concentrating on watching a mime.

"I feel very helpless with some things nowadays. People seem to prefer narrow and fickle fun, or prefer to pay to buy fun. They don't want to learn something, just laughing without thinking. This is actually not correct. They will gradually lose their moral sense."

A sincere Buddhist, You Benchang says he does not expect a fast achievement but instead keeps his pace natural and steady. He says mimes or TV series' like 'Ji Gong' are both valuable comedies which promote sincerity, kindness and beauty. This is the very target he has been trying to achieve his whole life.

"Every performer should take promoting sincerity, kindness and beauty as their highest mission. We have a duty to do this. Otherwise, why should we choose to become a performer? We perform just to display beauty and to reflect beauty by unveiling ugliness. We should try, like Karl Marx said, to 'let people say goodbye to yesterday laughingly', to let people say goodbye to the faults happening yesterday laughingly. This is also the mission of comedies."

You Benchang says he is planning to act the role of Ji Gong again in the sequel. He keeps the habit of doing exercising everyday and believes he is still strong enough to perform. He says he is now helping train a group of primary students to perform as he wants to help encourage a happy childhood for these children. He adds with a smile that he is at his happiest when working with these performers of the future.

For Beyond Beijing, I'm He Fei.



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