Farewell My Concubine Characters
Marshall Aoki of the Kwantung Army is a Japanese official and opera aficionado from whom Dieyi win’s Xiaolou’s freedom by staging a private performance.
Cheng Dieyi is an opera singer who performs with his partner and childhood friend Duan Xiaolou, a man whom Dieyi loves. At the beginning of the book, Dieyi is known by the nickname of Xiao Douzi, or Little Bean. His mother Yanhong is an unlicensed prostitute who cannot afford to raise him, so she enrolls him as an apprentice at Master Guan’s opera school. Douzi and Xiao Shitou become friends shortly after Douzi arrives at the school, and Shitou often steps in to save his friend from teasing or punishment. Due in part to his delicate, girlish features, Douzi is assigned to the lifelong role of dan, or female lead, while Shitou is assigned to be his sheng, or male lead. This professional pairing makes the two grow even closer. When they graduate, Douzi is given the adult name of Cheng Dieyi by his opera company manager, while Shitou becomes Duan Xiaolou. Early in his career, as he is gaining fame for his singing—most notably in the role of Yu Ji in the opera Farewell My Concubine—Dieyi’s life is changed when Xiaolou agrees to marry a prostitute, Juxian. Jealous that Juxian has taken Xiaolou away from him both professionally and personally, and hoping to get even with his friend, Dieyi allows himself to be seduced by a wealthy patron of the opera, Yuan Siye, who gets Dieyi drunk and rapes him. In exchange for sexual favors, Dieyi gets a sword from Siye—which he gives to Xiaolou as a wedding present.
Xiaolou’s marriage affects Dieyi’s theater career by forcing him to perform solo. Dieyi and Xiaolou grow apart, but reunite on stage at the request of the Japanese military. When Xiaolou is arrested by the military for offending them, Juxian comes to Dieyi, who agrees to intervene on Xiaolou’s behalf if Juxian will divorce him. Dieyi sings for a Japanese official, who releases Xiaolou, but Juxian breaks her divorce promise. Worse, Xiaolou is upset that Dieyi groveled for the Japanese on his behalf. Dieyi is heartbroken, and retreats into an opium addiction to cope. Dieyi and Xiaolou eventually reunite and begin performing together again, and Dieyi is secretly pleased when Juxian has a miscarriage during an audience fight in the theater. Dieyi is arrested as a traitor— for the performance that he gave to the Japanese official to save Xiaolou. Dieyi wins his freedom through another performance, and he and Xiaolou perform together off and on for decades, as the political climate changes constantly and theater becomes a propaganda tool for the Communist Party. When Dieyi and Xiaolou are targeted as counterrevolutionaries, Dieyi tries to protect Xiaolou during their trial, but ends up revealing incriminating evidence about his friend. Dieyi is sent to a labor camp in Jiuquan. After the Gang of Four is overthrown, the new Chinese government rehabilitates him to remove the brainwashing of Chairman Mao’s regime, and Dieyi resumes his stage career by acting as a senior art advisor. During a show in Hong Kong, Xiaolou comes to see him, and the two catch up on old times, apologize to each other, and put on their makeup and costumes one last time to perform the opera Farewell My Concubine.
Uncle Ding is an old violin player from the Peking opera who works with Master Guan and Master Shi to inspect Cheng Dieyi, Duan Xiaolou, and the other apprentices and help assign them their lifelong opera roles.
Duan Xiaolou is an opera singer who marries Juxian and who performs with his partner and childhood friend Cheng Dieyi. At the beginning of the book, when Xiaolou is an apprentice at Master Guan’s school, he is known by the nickname of Xiao Shitou, or Little Rock, because he has such a hard head. Shitou and Xiao Douzi become friends shortly after the latter arrives at the school, and Shitou often steps in to save his friend from teasing or...
(The entire section is 2,528 words.)