• Zhang Hong

  • Mathias Woo

  • Chi Lingyun

  • Shi Xiaomei

  • Li Hongliang

  • Kao Jo-shan

  • Dai Peide

  • Xu Jianmin

  • Chiu Kwong-chiu

  • Diana Liao

    • Zhang Hong is a National Class One playwright. His adaptation works include: The White Silk Shirt, The Peach Blossom Fan, The Legend of Tang Bohu, Xi Shi, and The Peony Pavilion (abridged version), Dream of The Red Chamber excerpt series, Tang Xianzhu’s Dream on Dreams, My Story of Laundering the Silken Yarn, A Memorial to the Palace, etc. Zhang has also created new pieces in local dialects, Xiqu and Yuequ. He is honoured as Distinguished Kunqu Artist by the Ministry of Culture.

    • A director, a scriptwriter and a designer, Mathias Woo is a forerunner of cross-boundary and multimedia theatre. His works include Eighteen Springs, Hua-yen Sūtra, 1587, A Year of No Significance, and the East Wing West Wing series, with topics covering literature, history, current affairs, architecture, religion, etc.

    • National Class One Instrumentalist at the Jiangsu Performing Arts Group Kun Opera House, Chi Lingyun has composed the music and designed the singing styles for the large-scale production Leifeng Tower, and for numerous short-length pieces and Kunqu concerts. Chi often plays as the lead musician in performances of 1699 Peach Blossom Fan and The Peony Pavilion. He has received Jiangsu Province Xiqu Red Plum Silver Award.

    • A famed Kunqu artist, Shi Xiaomei is a National Class One performer. Shi has been included twice in Who’s Who In The World and is the winner of the Plum Blossom Award and Wen Hua Award. In 2002, Shi was jointly recognised by the UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture as the devoted outstanding Kunqu artist. In 2009, Shi was named National Maestro of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

    • Currently, Li Hongliang is the president of Jiangsu Performing Arts Group Kun Opera House. Li is a National Class One Performer in chou (clown) role. His mentors included Zhou Chuancang, Fan Jixin, Yao Jisun, Liu Yilong and Wang Shiyai and Zhang Jidie. Li has played major roles in The Butcher and Copper Coins and is acclaimed for his roles in Coming down the Mountain from Ocean of Sin and A Drunken Mission from The Red Pear. His artistry has been recognized with the performing prize of the National Kunqu Opera Festival and the UNESCO award for his contribution in Kunqu promotion, along with many other awards including the Plum Blossom Award.

    • Kao Jo-shan graduated from the School of Theatre Arts in Taipei National University of the Arts. Her performances include Zuni’s Remembrance of Karaoke Past and One Hundred Years of Chinese Architecture, and Edward Lam Dance Theatre’s Design of Living (2010). Kao frequently participates in the productions of Shakespeare’s Wild Sisters Group, 4Chairs Theatre and Tainaner Ensemble.

    • Dai Peide is a famous percussionist in the field of Kunqu and a National Class One Musician. Dai is not only an exponent of the traditional percussion techniques of the genre, but also constantly seeks breakthroughs. A versatile musician, Dai writes, arranges and conducts. His creation, Zhao Wuniang, won a Music Award at the Purple Gold Award of Jiangsu. The Peony Pavilion, another creation of his, won the Innovation Award at the Kong San Chuan Awards for Chinese Operatic Music. He was honored the title of Distinguished Kunqu Artist by the Ministry of Culture in 2005.

    • Xu Jianmin is a National Class Two Accompaniment Performer of the PRC. The Kunqu pieces, The Peach Blossom Fan and The Miser, which Xu performed, were awarded Distinguished Accompaniment Award in the 2nd and 3rd Jiangsu Drama Festival.

    • Chiu Kwong-chiu was born in Hong Kong, and he studied in France.

      He returned to Hong Kong in the 1990s, and started a career in art and design education, teaching at the Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts, the Shatin Technical Institute, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University School of Design and the University of Hong Kong (SPACE) during 1987-2003, where he taught Art of East and West, Criticism and Theory of Design and Culture.

      Chiu is the director of Design and Cultural Studies Workshop to research and promote the understanding of traditional and contemporary arts and design.

      With the support of the Beijing Forbidden City Publishing House, Mr. Chiu was appointed Editorial Committee Member of Forbidden City Magazine and Director of the “Heritage and Creative Design Program”. In 2009, he was appointed art consultant of Information Department in the Palace Museum.

      Major authored works: Beyond Chinese Wooden Architecture, No Mere Chinese Painting, Analysis of “Upper River Bank in Qing Ming Festival”, and The Grand Forbidden City-The Imperial Axis, First Chapter Wooden Chair

    • Born and educated in Hong Kong, Diana Liao graduated from the University of Hong Kong and the Université de Paris V. Liao has a life-long fascination with words in various languages and their relationship with perceived realities. Passionate for Chinese and English literature, then branching out to French, Russian, Spanish and Italian.

      Liao divided her time for 32 years between her day-time work as a simultaneous interpreter at the United Nations and her own writing projects at night. Her works include collaborations with composer Tan Dun on the English libretto for Tea: A Mirror of Soul (2002) and lyrics for 2000 Today: A World Symphony for the Millennium (2000). She also worked closely with the playwright Xu Ying to produce the bilingual opera Wenji (2001) with music by Bun Ching Lam, and Poet Li Bai by Guo Wenjing. Since 2004, she has devoted herself full-time to writing. Her projects include assisting Dutch filmmaker Frank Scheffer in translating for Tea, a documentary film; working with choreographer Shen Wei on his Second Visit to the Empress, a modern dance based on a Peking opera, and working with Ang Lee on the script for Lust, Caution.

Forbidden City Kunqu

A Tale of the Forbidden City

  • Director’s Note
  • Scriptwriter's Note
Introduction & Credit List

15 . 09

[ Fri ] 8:15PM

16 . 09

[ Sat ] 3:00PM
Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Running time approximately 100 minutes with no intermission
Performed in Kunqu & Putonghua, with Chinese & English surtitles
No latecomers will be admitted, until a suitable break in the performance.
Zuni Icosahedron reserves the right to add, withdraw or substitute artists and/ or vary advertised programmes and seating arrangements.

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Chongzhen Emperor Meets the Spirit of the Architect who Designed the Forbidden City Palace “Two Kunqu actors, one on drum, one on gong, an empty stage – and that created all the sadness and melancholy of an era going towards the end…This is an alternative architecture drama.” — Liu Wai Tong (Hong Kong Writer) "Kunqu's professional demands merged with the beauty of Zuni's stage art. It can be as perfect as that!" — Opera Preview


A Tale of the Forbidden City is an original Kunqu performance commissioned by Zuni in 2009 and was invited to “The 5th Chinese Kunqu Opera Art Festival” in Suzhou three years later. In 2017, the show returns to the stage for the fifth time. Chongzhen Emperor, the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty, meets the spirit of Kuai Xiang, the architect who designed the Forbidden City Palace more than 200 years ago. They sang as they strolled along the north-south central axis upon which the Forbidden City was built. They passed through the Meridian Gate, headed north and got out of the Forbidden City. The emperor climbed up Meishan (Coal Hill) and came to the last part of his life’s journey. That was also the end of the Ming Dynasty which lasted 300 years. Under the guide of the architect, Chongzhen reviewed the intention of building the world’s largest wooden-structure palace city. He sighed upon the fleeting changes between the material palace and the spiritual concept of home and country. The emperor eventually completed the last rites of his departure from home, from country, from his ancestors and gave offering to and bade farewell to the palace.

Creative Team

Scriptwriter:Zhang Hong
Producer, Director & Designer:Mathias Woo
Creative Advisor: Chiu Kwong-chiu (Author of The Grand Forbidden City)
Transcript:Chi Lingyun
English Translation (Surtitle): Diana Liao, Moyung Yuk Lin


Shi Xiaomei as The Chongzhen Emperor
Li Hongliang as Kuai Xiang
Kao Jo-shan (Prologue)

Production Team

Production Manager: Lawrence Lee
Production Coordinator: Chow Chun Yin
Sound Designer: Candog Ha
Lighting Designer: Zoe Cheung
Assistant Set Designer: Isaac Wong
Deputy Stage Manager: Carmen Hung
Assistant Stage Manager & Surtitle Operator: Chan On-ki
Video Operation: Johnny Sze
Make-up: Jiang Shuhong
Wardrobe: Bonnie Chan
Stagehands: Ray Chan, Chim Man Lung, Chung Ka Wah, Wong Sai Tsun
Stage Interns#: Lee Tin Lap, Sin Man Kit, Chow Ka Lok, Kwok Hiu Ying, Chan Wai Ho, Mak Hoi Chun, Wong Tsz Fung, Tang Yee Nga, So Chun Ho

#Students of Higher Diploma in Stage and Live Entertainment Technology, Department of Information Technology, IVE (Lee Wai Lee)

Live Music Performance
Zuni Team

Co-Artistic Director: Danny Yung
Co-Artistic Director cum Executive Director: Mathias Woo
Assistant Artistic Director: Cedric Chan
Performers-in-Residence: David Yeung, Carson Chung
Artist-in-Residence: Lai Tat-wing
Senior Researcher: Theresa Leung
Creative Assistant (Video and Multimedia): Wing Chan
Company Manager (Administration and Finance): Jacky Chan
Company Manager (Programme): Doris Kan
Senior Programme Manager: Bowie Chow
Manager (PR and Partnership Development): Luka Wong
Stage Manager: Gavin Chow
Assistant Programme Manager: Rachel Chak, Ricky Cheng, Ho Yin-hei
Programme and Art Administration Trainee: Kason Chi, Stephanie Loo
International Exchange Director: Wong Yuewai
Research Director (Archive): Chan Pik-yu
Project Assistant Manager (Archive and Video): Wong Sze-mei
Project Assistant (Culture Exchange): Orchid Hu
Administrative Trainee: Dan Tse


English Translation (Publicity): Vicky Leong
Graphic Design: Pollux Kwok, Racheal Chak
Promotional Video: Wong Sze-mei, Wing Chan
Stage Photography: Yvonne Chan, Cheung Wai-lok
Graphic Design Assistant: Coco Cheung


Joint Publishing (HK) Company Ltd., Jiangsu Performing Arts Group Kun Opera House, Tung Lin Kok Yuen, Sing Lo @PLOTZ

  • Kunqu, With A Sense of Mission
    Mathias Woo

    In this age, both ‘mission’ and ‘sense of mission’ are a taboo. In the past one hundred years, China has over-exhausted both ‘mission’ and ‘sense of mission’. Now, we have reached the extreme of total egoism. “Preservation and development of Chinese culture is a mission of our generation” – this motto sounds right and proper, and is something we should uphold. But, it might only be the wishful thinking of some of us. We have all heard of the Renaissance in the western world, and we might have read or heard about the Chinese Renaissance of our generation. The question is how to achieve this, meaning we lack the specific plans and the details of how to carry out the mission. Cultural development and the preservation of traditional culture are only but an issue of our sense of values. The attempt to abolish Chinese traditions that started in the May Fourth Movement was only a kind of deconstruction. It was not a kind of comprehensive westernisation as found in the Meiji Restoration. Till today, this problem of ‘substance and function’ (Chinese learning being the essence, and Western learning being the way to carry things out) still exists – a thorough vulgarism is what all Chinese embrace as our common cultural value. Under this value system, neither the Chinese nor the Western traditional arts and culture could take root, grow and flourish. What could be found is only some mutated culture, something we call ‘market behaviour’. If this vulgarism remains unchanged in our sense of value, culture could never enjoy a full and diverse development. And, we in Hong Kong, would not have any space to do something cultural, and we would not be able to bring something different, something from outside our market, to the culture of Hong Kong. We love Kunqu (Kun opera), thus, we do not want to commercialise it. We want ‘more’ people to experience the beauty and aesthetics of Kunqu. And when we say ‘more’, we don’t mean ‘most’. As long as there is a small increase in the number of people who want to know more about the art, it would be fine. What is important is that, there would be people interested in watching, learning, creating and experimenting Kunqu, generation after generation. Kunqu is an art one acquires with gradual learning and patience. There are no elaborate scenes in Kunqu, as in Peking opera. What we have is only the poetics as found in the intentional blank spaces in Chinese literati paintings. There is a lot of knowledge in Kunqu, such as the skills of gestures, movements, singing and recitation. All these are fine details of expressive arts; and Kunqu is exactly the thing we need in our present society to generate balance and harmony.

    (Translated by Vicky Leong)

  • A Memorial To The Palace: “The Old Tree Alone Mourns The Lord”
    Zhang Hong

    How It All Started

    I was invited by Director Mathias Woo of Zuni Icosahedron in Hong Kong to write about architecture in the format of Kunqu opera, with reference to the book The Grand Forbidden City by Chiu Kwong-chiu. It was part of the programme of “Architecture Is Art Festival” 2009, the first ever festival with architecture as the central topic. And thus, there was A Tale of the Forbidden City – A Memorial to the Palace.

    How “Architecture” Turns into Drama

    To me, the theme of drama can only be “people”. When “people” get involved with the construction of “objects” in watching, then the “objects” would get a taste of “people”. With this in mind, the unconscious Forbidden City and the theoretical culture of architecture would fall into place with the possibility of drama.

    The Forbidden City is carrying at least two “human aspects”, one is the wisdom of the craftsman, that is the architect of the Palace, and the other one is the desire of the Palace’s owner. If we were to write on engineering, our concern would be on the building process; and if we were to write on creating drama, our concern would be on “people”. The Forbidden City is the creativity and skill of the craftsman, as well as the demands of the emperor.

    The Characters of A Memorial to the Palace

    Master carpenter Kuai Xiang:

    In A Memorial to the Palace, Kuai Xiang is a ghost. With this phantom, what we experience is not only that life is short, but also the communication of life and death; not only the glory of monarchy, but also the gloominess of the underworld; not only the grandeur of dynasties, but also the fickleness of fortune. Is Kuai Xiang really a visitor from the underworld, or is he a devil in the Emperor’s deep corner of the heart? Does he represent the low and the dreary in contrary to the regal state of the emperor?

    Emperor Chongzhen:

    Emperor Chongzhen sounded the bell in Wumen (the Meridian Gate) and measured his steps to Meishan (Coal Hill) where he hanged himself. The distance between the two places along the kingly axis was only about a thousand steps, yet it was a very long journey for him, with memories of his past, memories of things that he cherished, things that brought him joy and delight, things that gave him sorrows and remorse. He tossed them all behind him, and embraced the fate of death…

    Love in A Memorial to the Palace

    The form of the drama is a “visit”, yet the core and nature of the play is a “memorial”. The Forbidden City is only the background, it is a special prop; and on its surface are “people”, with all sorts of different faces.

    A Memorial to the Palace is a ceremony of farewell for a man with nowhere to turn. This ceremony is a solemn one with desolation, the burial rite of a dynasty, the funeral procession by a successor of a bloodline to honour his ancestors. No matter how majestic this ritual is, it is still a dirge, a funeral song; it might carry some happy memories occasionally, still they are just a few small notes, rendering the people involved even sadder by contrast, and the sense of tragedy more immense.

    The Structure of A Memorial to the Palace

    What the eye could see, from the Meridian Gate to the three main halls, and then to the three palaces and Meishan, is an architectural structure with a beginning, middle and end.

    From Wumen which symbolises the beginning of power; to the three main halls that represent the peak of power, as well as the three palaces that turn to seclusion and privacy; till Meishan with three feet of white silk from the sky (for hanging) that marks the end of power, one could see the process of decay and collapse, with all glory turned to dust. This is the entire course of transformation of power.

    From the “memorial to the palace” in the Wumen, to the “ancestral rituals” in the main halls and the “farewell to family” in the three palaces, till the “fall of a nation” in Meishan – these are the beginning, middle and end of Emperor Chongzhen’s emotional rise and fall.

    Architecture, power and the ups and downs of feelings correspond and help build the structure of our drama at the same time. Their beginnings, middles and ends echo and complement each other, and so our drama is made whole.

    Qupai (Names of the Tunes)

    In A Memorial to the Palace, the tunes we use are from Xin Shui Ling of Nanbeihetao (combination of north and south verses); and the names in order are Bei Xin Shui Ling, Nan Bu Bu Jiao, Bei Zhe Gui Ling, Nan Jiang Er Shui, Bei Yan Er Luo Dai De Sheng Ling, Nan Yao Yao Ling, Bei Shou Jiang Nan, Nan Yuan Lin Hao, Bei Gu Mei Jiu Dai Tai Ping Ling and epilogue. They are a combination of strong and soft music from both north and south, including sadness in high pitches, and whispering in low sounds.

    Role Types

    Emperor Chongzhen is played by the role type of a xiaoguansheng (small hat role – a type of young male role), and Kuai Xiang the carpenter by a chou (clown role). The emperor is highly distinguished, while the carpenter is very humble, and the disparity of these two figures sets a very strong contrast on stage. The young male is serious and complicated, while the clown is funny and simple; and they balance and complement each other. Chongzhen is full of grievances, but he has the company of Kuai Xiang to entertain him. Kuai Xiang is existing in an intangible and illusory world, but he still has Chongzhen stringing along with him. In this way, suffering would not be too overbearing, and the phantom would not be too ethereal, and the dramatic nature of the play would not be too simple.


    The stage of A Memorial to the Palace is an empty stage, and in fact, we never considered using sets or sceneries. What kind of sceneries could we use to reflect accurately what Emperor Chongzhen saw along his way? Where was the Forbidden City that night? Was it in Chongzhen’s eyes or on his body?

    I rather put the emphasis on the artistic aspect than the technical; and instead of colourful high technology, I’d rather put my trust and appreciation on the flesh and blood of the performers; and instead of dazzling or impressing the audience, I’d rather touch their hearts.

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A Tale of the Forbidden City


Tickets available on June 30 at URBTIX