A nearly 20-year cultural pilgrimage of Chinese monk depicted on US stage

China 24

A special show has hit the stage in the United States. It hails from China and is making its American debut.

And, the tale from the past holds lessons for our present.

CGTN’s Frances Kuo reports.

It’s a show from China that seems to leap from the stage – a stunning display for the eyes and ears.

“This is the Chinese National Traditional Orchestra’s first concert drama. This has never happened in its history,” said Xi Qiang, CPC Secretary of the China National Traditional Orchestra.

The performance is China Arts and Entertainment Group’s “Image China: Xuanzang’s Pilgrimage.”

The musical drama recently made its U.S. debut, both at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center and in the state of New Jersey.

The show depicts a true story dating back to the 600s about a Buddhist monk named Xuanzang. 

He traveled for nearly 20 years along the Silk Road, visiting several countries to learn about Buddhism.

Xuanzang then returned to China with Buddhist scriptures which he later translated into Chinese.

Ding Xiaokui plays the lead role.

“It’s not just a story about Xuanzang himself but a symbol of culture, connecting different cultures along the Silk Road,” said Ding.

“Xuanzang is a very important figure in Chinese history,” said Xi.  “One famous writer once said there are two very influential figures in China — one is Confucius, the other Xuanzang.”

Helping bring his life to center stage are 24 performers and an 80-piece orchestra of traditional Chinese instruments.

“We see this performance as an opportunity to expose Americans to Chinese instruments and culture and provide a cultural bridge,” said Xi.

For inspiration, composer Jiang Ying made her own journey along the Silk Road.

“I did research in Xinjiang and other cultures along the Silk Road,” she said.  “I started in Xi’an, then Xinjiang. In Xinjiang, I met some instrumentalists from a minority group, and I incorporated some of that on the stage.”

Elements of the past are mixed with contemporary, high-tech projections to bring Xuanzang’s voyage to life.

“We added stage designs, sound effects and other elements to tell the story in a special way,” said Ding.

“How he pursued his dream and his persistence -we can all learn from his spirit,” said Xi.

“He is a cultural symbol in China, representing peace and unity,” said Jiang Ying.

It’s a lesson in cultural openness that reverberates beyond the stage.