The stars of the Peking Opera may not be used to the star system back home in China, but give them a few days in the land of the big box office and they can hold their own like pros.
Last night at an embassy reception given by the People's Republic of China, the 74-member troupe had hardly walked in the door before people were mobbing them for autographs.
"My God, you're wonderful," middle-aged opera groupie Evelyn Brady told Li Yuanchun, who hadn't the foggiest notion what she said but smiled anyway and signed her program -- vertically, of course -- with the flourish of one who has been signing autographs all his life.
Li, at age 51, has been playing the cool, crafty, superbly agile title role in "The Monkey King Fights the Eighteen Lo Hans" practically all of his life -- since he was 12. Even now he practices his juggling act an average of two hours a day. His convincing mimicry of a monkey isn't accidental, either; through troupe interpreter Tsao Taping, Li said he went to the Shanghai Zoo to study a monkey.
Stripped of masks and heavy makeup, the Chinese artists are seldom recognized back on the streets of Peking, probably the only thing that saves them from being mobbed. But last night they were doing some polite mobbing of their own by getting Washington's star Chinese -- Ambassador Chai Zemin -- to pose with them in on-the-spot pictures.
Chai welcomed more than 100 other guests, including several ambassadors (Pakistan, Luxembourg and Bangladesh), Deputy Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, the National Endowment of the Art's Livingston Biddle, the Kennedy Center's Marta Istomin. He steered clear of presidential politics but indicated to a reporter that he didn't expect to be closing down the embassy whatever the outcome at the polls. d
Everyone is "very concerned" about Ronald Reagan's comments on Taiwan, he said, but doubted that Reagan would do anything "against the will of the American people."
"The development of Sino-American relations is beneficial to China and America and is essential to maintaining peace and stability," Chai said.
Zhao Yanxia, the actress who plays said American audiences, thus far, have been very "encouraging" with their response to the Peking Opera.
And next to American audiences, what she likes best about America is -- you guessed it, its makeup.