The Online GBA Universities Drama Festival Explores Five Constant Virtues in Confucianism

Text: Debby Seng, UM Reporter Matt Liao │ Photo: Provided by the interviewees

A team of student theatre performers from the University of Macau (UM) and their counterparts in seven universities across the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA) have presented exciting shows at the first-ever Greater Bay Area Universities Drama Festival. During the event, the students explored traditional Chinese wisdom, promoted arts and culture, and conveyed the core values of the Chinese nation, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of UM and the 5th anniversary of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao University Alliance.

The Greater Bay Area Universities Drama Festival 2021 kicked off on 5 December 2021 online.

Young People From Across the GBA Pursue Dreams Together

The Drama Society of the UM Students’ Union (UMSU) presented ‘After the Bitter Comes the Sweet’, which was previously on tour in mainland China. It is a story between a father and daughter and explores humanity, the first component of the five constant virtues of Confucianism ‘Humanity, Integrity, Propriety, Wisdom, and Sincerity, which is also UM’s motto.

Anita Seak, a fourth-year student of the UM Faculty of Law and president of the Drama Society, was delighted that the university brought together theatre enthusiasts from several universities to perform online. ‘I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore the UM’s motto on its 40th anniversary. It’s exciting to have students from all over the GBA to pass on Chinese virtues through performance and help Macao’s young people become part of the GBA’s development.’ Seak hopes that the festival will bring together the youth of the GBA in unity and set the course for the new horizon together on stage.

After the Bitter Comes the Sweet, presented by students from the University of Macau

Heroes in the Fight Against Coronavirus

The drama society of Guangdong Foreign Studies University presented ‘Translation in the Time of Pandemic’, a story about university students who volunteer to translate for travellers at Baiyun Airport in Guangzhou during the pandemic. Fu Milu, president of the university’s drama society, says that at every rehearsal, the actors and actresses had to wear face shields, gloves and hazmat suits, which left deep marks on their faces and made them sweat. ‘They come to appreciate the sacrifices and invaluable dedication of frontline health workers,’ says Fu.

According to Fu, the festival not only enhanced exchanges between GBA universities, but also helped the students improve their theatre productions, enabled them to learn from each other, and raised the profile of performing arts in the GBA.

Translation in the time of Pandemic, presented by students from the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies

Wisdom of the Sages

Students from Beijing Normal University, Zhuhai Normal University and the Beijing Normal University’s Zhuhai campus presented ‘The Teacher’, which tells the story of a new language teacher trying to change his students’ rigid writing style. In the show, the teacher hopes to encourage the students to record their lives and express their feelings through writing, but the children are unwilling to do so. Shi Huiying, a student of the university’s drama society, says their play highlights the duty of teachers as advocated by the ancient Chinese writer Han Yu in his piece ‘On Teachers’, hoping to guide the audience into the immortal wisdom of the ancient sages.

The actors encountered many difficulties during their rehearsals, and some of them played two roles, be they children or teachers in their 50s, in the same play, Shi Huiying says. ‘Some actors made breakthroughs playing two characters in the same play. We were also happy to exchange ideas with students from other universities at the festival, where we could learn more about their ideas on theatre and broaden our horizons.’

The Teacher, presented by students from Beijing Normal University, Zhuhai and Beijing Normal University Zhuhai Campus

A Reflection of Integrity

Lin Lisha from Shenzhen University is the president of her university’s drama society. She has fond memories of the 2019 tour of ‘After the Bitter Comes the Sweet’, a show which she praised as excellent. She has since hoped to have more exchanges with the UM and other university theatre groups in the GBA. ‘It’s amazing to play drama online and learn with so many students across the GBA!’

Students from Shenzhen University presented ‘A Bounden Duty’, which tells the story of a girl who was praised for her kindness in helping others. But once the girl grows up, she no longer helps others without any hesitation. Through this show, Lin’s team hopes to encourage the audience to think about integrity, a traditional virtue that we all value and do not necessarily have a deep understanding of.

A Bounden Duty, presented by students from Shenzhen University

Tribute to Martyrs

Meanwhile, Wuyi University presented a performance of ‘Kapok Flowers in Bloom’, which tells the love story between Zhou Wenyong and Chen Tiejun, revolutionary martyrs in Wuyi. Huang Yulin, a member of the university’s drama society, says his team hopes to pay tribute to the two martyrs and present ‘integrity’, one of the five Confucian constant virtues. ‘We hope to show how a revolutionary-minded couple made important decisions about their lives and loved ones at a time when the nation’s survival is threatened, in order to portray the Chinese people’s awakening,’ he says.

According to Huang, he and his drama colleagues always rehearsed until late at night to bring the best performance to the festival, which they see as an excellent opportunity to work and learn with other GBA university students.

Kapok Flowers in Bloom, presented by students from Wuyi University

Drama and Philosophy

Furthermore, students from the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUST) presented ‘Captive Audience’ to explore ‘wisdom’. Their play is about a couple who always turn on the television at home afterwards without realising that their lives and emotions are dominated by their TV set.

Zhao Jiajun, a SUST student, says that the twist ending of ‘Captive Audience’ reminds the audience that in this era of instant access to entertainment, everyone should remain calm to appreciate the true beauty of life and not be blinded by the fragmented entertainment presented to them.

Captive Audience, presented by students from the Southern University of Science and Technology

GBA University Drama Festival 2021 Online

The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao University Alliance was established in late 2016, with UM, Sun Yat-sen University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong as co-directors, and a total of 41 member institutions. The ‘2021 Guangdong, Hong Kong, Macao and Greater Bay Area University Drama Festival’ is organised by the Alliance, hosted by the UMSU Drama Society, co-hosted by Frost Ice Snow Creative Experimental Theatre, co-organised by UM and the UM Students’ Union, and supported by the Alliance for Technological Innovation and Talent Development in Western Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. Scheduled to be held in June 2021, the festival was postponed due to trade-related developments and took place online. Members of the public are welcome to experience GBA university students’ creativity and their exploration of traditional Chinese values via drama performances. For more information about the festival, please visit the UMSU Drama Society’s Facebook page.