Reed marsh in Shajiabang in Changshu (常熟), Jiangsu Province, near Changzhou, Wuxi, Suzhou and Shanghai

Fire Seeds In A Reed Marsh (芦荡火种) is one of the most popular repertoires of Shanghai Opera (沪剧), later it was adapted by Beijing Opera and became one of the Eight Model Operas under the name Shajiabang (沙家浜).

The opera was largely based on a true historical event.

In 1937, Japan launched a full-scale military attack on China, and soon Chinese resistance force New Forth Army (新四军) led by CPC became active in the Southern Yangtze region. Two years later in September, when the main troops of the NFA were forced to retreat westward, 36 injured and sick soldiers were left behind at a mobile hospital in Shajiabang to continue their treatment.

The news about the secret hospital was somehow leaked and the Japanese raided the Shajiabang for three days. They found nothing.

It was the time when the aliens realized it’d be better for their local collaborators to do the job.

Old Hu was initially the commander of a small but high-profile resistance force under KMT. One day when he was chased by Japanese soldiers, he rang into a teahouse and was saved by hiding in the owner’s water vat.

But things changed after he met Little Diao.

Little Diao presented himself as an expert in the military and many other fields, and told Old Hu that the Chinese had no choice but to co-exist with the Japanese imperial armies because the invaders expressed their strong will to live together with the Chinese in China.

Shanghai Opera: Fire Seeds In A Reed Marsh, which was much more interesting and engaging than its Beijing Opera adaptation, partly contributed by the similarity in the localized cultural background between the story setting and the opera form. 

Beijing Opera: Fire Seeds In A Reed Marsh (later renamed Shajiabang).
This is an early adaptation with many beautiful arias that are missing in the film version due to over-editing.

“Look around the world, sir,” Little Diao urged, “Fascists are now spreading everywhere like viruses, keep resisting is pointless. After all, even if China has been wiped out from the face of the planet by the Japanese, so what? Big deal! An ancient civilization with 5,000 years of history? Bullshit!”

Old Hu was an opportunist by nature and immediately saw the point. “Yep, if you can’t beat them join them. Count me in, mate!”

So the pair signed a contract with the Japanese to hunt down the sick and injured Chinese soldiers and destroy the mobile hospital.

Shanghai Opera: Fire Seeds In A Reed Marsh – A Medical Consultation

Mrs Arqing, the teahouse owner and underground resistance fighter, thus began her near-impossible mission to save the hospital and to rescue the injured and the sick.

Shanghai Opera: Fire Seeds In A Reed Marsh – A Wedding Preparation

The local collaborators of the Japanese force in Shajiabang headed by Expert Diao and Old Hu happily celebrated the union of a powerful marriage.
Yet 乐极生悲 (extreme joy begets sorrow) …

The injured and the sick were locked down in the mobile hospital deep in the reed marshes then at secluded Red Rock village for months but none of them gave up.

The majority of them later recovered and returned to the battleground to fight against fascist Japan. Some fell and never stood up again but many lived to see China liberate from the Japanese occupation and then from the partial Western rule via KMT. The youngest among the 36 passed away in 2016 at the age of 94.

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