An Opera on A True Event in the Korean War

Welcome to 71 years ago when a Lee-led South Korean puppet government and its masters in the White House and Pentagon advanced their troops deep into North Korean territory with an apparent attempt to further its military action towards the border of a newly established People’s Republic of China.

Chinese leader Chiarman Mao, the creator of the theories of the “paper tiger” (美帝国主义是纸老虎: American Imperialists are paper tigers) and “dust broom” (扫帚不到灰尘不会自己跑掉: Dust won’t be automatically cleaned off without being swept by a broom), decided to “打得一拳开,防得百拳来” (to obtain long-term peace through short term conflict), and sent the People’s Volunteer Armies across the Yalv River to push the US-South Korea infantry armies back to the south of the Military Demarcation Line and their warships back to the south of the Byeongnyeong Island.

Beijing Opera repertoire Raid On The White Tiger Regiment is based on a true event during this relatively short-term military conflict in which South Korea’s best elite troop the White Tiger Regiment, which was a mechanized force fully equipped by the United States and boasted of being invincible (in a typical South Korean manner of bragging and fabricating), was destroyed in a raid.

The incident occurred on a night in July 1953, at the beginning of the summer counter-offensive campaign by Chinese and North Korean forces, known as the Kumsong Campaign which was one of the last battles of the Korean War. Lieutenant Yang Yucai (杨育才), a PLA officer from Henan, the home province of terra cotta warriors, led a scout squad of 12 men, including two North Korean officers, disguised as South Korean soldiers with Yang in U.S. military advisor’s uniform, entering the tiger den. By the time they approached 415 Highland where the head of the White Tiger was located, Yang found his squad was boosted from 12 to 13 members. Upon investigation, he learned that the extra one in the tail of the rank was a genuine South Korean soldier who pathetically identified the squad as his unit.

From that poor loser, Yang Yucai got the password of the night and with the password his squad successfully entered the headquarters of the White Tiger. It only took them 14 minutes to smash the tiger head into pieces and render South Korea’s most formidable war machine immobile. 97 human-shaped White Tigers, including the regimental commander, were killed, and another 19 were captured.

White Tiger Regiment banner, now displayed in the Beijing Military Museum

All 12 men returned in one piece with the banner of the White Tiger given by South Korean President Lee, which has been displayed as a first-grade war relic in China’s Military Museum in Beijing ever since, serving as proof of Chairman Mao’s theory that the American weapons and their collaborators are just paper tigers (帝国主义和一切反动派都是纸老虎).

The Tiger Beating feat was later made into film and kuaibanshu (快板书), a storytelling art punctuated by bamboo clappers. And the Beijing opera Raid On The White Tiger Regiment performed by the Shandong Beijing Opera Troupe further became one of eight Model Operas that are still passionately cherished today by many Chinese, old and young, and are considered as the ones that have rejuvenated the ancient art form with refreshing modern storylines, more enriched melodies and a spiritually uplifting connotation.

Two Arias from the Opera

Wolves will always be wolves




The debate among the comrades,
Enlightened our minds,
Which helps us to see through
America’s tricks.
Some Yankees are warmongers,
Harbouring an ambition
To impose world hegemony
Over all of the nations.

When facing setbacks,
America waves olive branches
Talking about truce and peace;
But as soon as it recovers,
America waves its claws
Trying to tear you into pieces.

Wolves will always be wolves,
Even in sheepskin clothes.
We must not hold our breath
Waiting for miracles,
But hold tight to our guns
Stand up to the warmongers
If they ever dare to challenge us!

Chinese and North Koreans Are Watching Each Other’s Shoulders


We Chinese and North Koreans,
Together we go through thick and thin,
Watching each other’s shoulders.
For our rights and independence,
We are not afraid to sacrifice.
You Yankees and bandits in the South
Headed by President Lee,
Trying to make your last-ditch attempts
Before your final demise
I, the lieutenant,
Represent my squad
Request for a battle assignment
In a fight to destroy
South Korean’s crack unit
The U.S.-equipped White Tiger Regiment.

Lieutenant Yang (played by Song Yuqing 宋玉庆) in an American military advisor’s uniform seizes a White Tiger head and finds it is made of paper (not literally).

A Group of Real-Life Heroes

12 heroes of the Scout Squad that raid the White Tiger Regiment. The third man from the left in the front row is Lieutenant Yang Yucai.
Lieutenant Yang Yucai during the Korean War (杨育才 1926~1999)
Division commander of the PLA Yang Yucai in his late years
A memoir book on the Korean War compiled by PVA soldiers’ descendants

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