Meet Lan Tianye: 94-year-old CPC member with lifelong passion for performing arts

(Xinhua) 10:46, July 29, 2021

Actor Lan Tianye (C) takes part in the rehearsal of drama "Family" in Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 11, 2020. (Photo by Shi Chunyang/Xinhua)

BEIJING, July 28 (Xinhua) -- Imagine performing on stage in front of thousands. You need to put on heavy makeup and costumes, remember and understand long lines and rehearse many times over so that everything is perfect. Now imagine doing all that at 94.

Not many can do this, but Lan Tianye, 94, can.

Lan started his performing career in 1945. For more than seven decades, he delivered countless iconic performances in a variety of performing arts, including stage plays and TV series, in addition to being a critically acclaimed director.

Late last month, he was among 29 individuals receiving the July 1 Medal, the highest honor in the Communist Party of China (CPC). He was the only person in the theater circle to receive the title.

"I joined the Party at the age of 18, and I will always remember my oath: whatever the Party wants me to do, I will do it," he said.


Drama has been Lan's lifelong passion, but his first love was painting.

In 1945, Lan, who was 18, was studying painting at a national art school in Beijing. His sister, a secret CPC member, came to Beijing, and Lan's home became a secret contact site for Party members in the city.

"She brought a lot of pamphlets promoting revolutionary ideas, which left a deep impression on me," Lan recalled. "I remember an article talking about the destiny of China, which said that we should strive for a path toward light and oppose the path leading to darkness."

Lan began to help her write down useful information broadcast on Communist radio. He also delivered documents and supplies between liberated areas and occupied Beijing, riding a bicycle.

"I grew up in an enemy-occupied area, and I know the tragic life people were leading under the rule of Japanese invaders," Lan said. "I remember seeing people starving to death on the streets on cold winter mornings."

Lan believed that only the CPC could bring hope to China, and he applied to join the Party. On Sept. 23, 1945, his application was approved.

"I can never forget that day, just like people remember their birthday," Lan said. "I told myself that I had become a Party member and I would always be loyal to the Party."


Soon after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the Beijing People's Art Theater was established, in answer to Mao Zedong's call to "let a hundred flowers blossom," a policy aimed at encouraging the development of art. Lan became part of the first batch of actors there.

Actor Lan Tianye prepares to perform in the drama "Family" in Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 15, 2020. (Photo by Shi Chunyang/Xinhua)

Lan did not immediately start performing on stage. Instead, he began doing a variety of work to accumulate enough experience for his future acting career.

In Beijing, he made cement in a factory, did farm work in the suburbs, fed domestic animals with local villagers, visited almost all teahouses, and even conducted an interview with the last eunuch, a castrated official in imperial China.

All the hard work laid a solid ground for his performance in the play, "Teahouse," in which he played the character Qin Zhongyi. The play debuted to much public acclaim in March 1958.

Since then, Lan has embarked on a journey to act in different plays, which made him a big name in the industry.

He retired in the 1980s and began doing some TV series, before getting involved in painting in the 1990s.

In 2011, at the age of 84, Lan returned to stage by performing in a play dedicated to the CPC's 90th founding anniversary. The play was produced by the Beijing People's Art Theater. During practice, he was always the first to arrive and the last one to leave.

During one of the rehearsals, Lan broke his finger in a fall. He struggled to stand without help, and immediately apologized to colleagues for "scaring people with the fall." He arrived for rehearsal early the next day, not willing to waste one moment of practice.

"This is my job," he said. "As long as the Party and the audience need me, I will be there."


Even after retirement, Lan had a passion for plays and cultivating young talent in the industry.

In 2012, the Beijing People's Art Theater produced another play to celebrate the 18th National Congress of the CPC and the 60th anniversary of the founding of the theater. Lan was appointed the play's artistic director.

During hectic rehearsals, Lan taught the young cast how to "feel" and "experience" the characters they were playing.

"As an actor, you need to get rid of all the fakery and just be real," Lan told the young actors. "Art creation should be based on the people and serve them, and young people should experience more in life in order to make their characters more real."

Actor Lan Tianye takes part in the rehearsal of drama "Family" in Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 14, 2020. (Photo by Shi Chunyang/Xinhua)

Under his influence, many seasoned Chinese actors such as Pu Cunxin, Yang Lixin, and Feng Yuanzheng have become major forces in the industry.

In 2015, Lan directed a play by Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt. He explained to every actor every line and move. At one point, he even threw away his walking stick and fell to the ground to show the young cast how to act on stage.

"As long as he is in the rehearsing hall, his strength and his respect for the profession always touch our hearts," one of the cast members said.

"He exudes a respectable quality," said Lan's good friend Su Min.

Lan said he will always have a passion for the performing arts.

"My biggest wish is to direct a play as a gift to the Party, as the CPC celebrates its centenary this year," Lan said. 

(Web editor: Xia Peiyao, Liang Jun)


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