Musical Theatre Hong Kong Presents

The Legend of Zhang Baozai (Hong Kong)

Chamber Opera | Music: Lo Hau-man | Lyrics: Chris Shum | Script: Mandu

  • 10 September (Fri), 8PM
  • 11 September (Sat), 8PM
  • 12 September (Sun), 8PM

Patrons can enjoy only one of the above discount schemes for each purchase. Please inform the box office staff at the time of purchase.

Half-price tickets available for senior citizens aged 60 or above, people with disabilities and the minder, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) recipients (limited tickets for CSSA recipients available on a first-come-first-served basis).

10% off for every purchase of 10 – 19 standard tickets; 15% off for 20 or more standard tickets.

Language: Cantonese| Surtitle: Chinese / English
Triumphant success at Shanghai Expo 2010 in a new staging for Hong Kong



Having escorted the coffin of his beloved Madam Shi back home, Zhang Baozai could not help but lament over how immensely things have changed in his hometown. Only the scenery looks familiar to him.

Scene I

In the twelfth year of Qing Jiaqing (1807), Zheng Yi, leader of the Red Flag Pirates, was drowned at sea during a typhoon. His wife, Madam Shi stepped in and led the gang. One year later, Shi wants to abdicate her position and make either Zhange Baozai or Master Xiao her successor. She performs a divination, and Zhang turns out to be the chosen one. Although Zhang feels inadequate due to his lack of experience, Shi believes in Zhang’s ability as well as the result of the divination. Zhang reveals his love for Shi, and their relationship becomes rather ambiguous. With Shi’s assistance, Zhang gradually replaces Zheng Yi, leading the Red Flag Pirates

Scene II

In the residence of Admiral Sun in Fujian, Lady Duanmu is preparing Chinese herbal medicine for her husband, who constantly devotes all his time and energy to serve the Court. Her father, a Chinese herbal doctor, died in prison years ago for healing Madam Shi. Admiral Sun has received an order from the Governor of Guangzhou, Bai Ling, to exterminate the Red Flag Pirates. Lady Duanmu suggests him convincing Zhang Baozai to capitulate. And she is willing to go with him and share his burdens.

Scene III

The army provisions are ready by the time of the Lantern Festival. Lady Duanmu and Admiral Sun are watching puppetry in front of a temple in Foshan. As the show approaches its climax, all of a sudden they find themselves surrounded by Zhang Baozai and his gangs. Master Xiao wants to execute the two, but Madam Shi opposes as she knows that the Admiral is one of the few in the Court who is loyal to the country. Desperate to save her husband, Lady Duanmu tells Shi about her father, and offers herself as the hostage to heal Shi.

Scene IV

In the fourteenth year of Qing Jiaqing, leader of the Black Flag Pirates finally surrendered, leaving the Red Flag Pirates to fight on their own. Although Master Xiao tries to reorganize his troops, they are already surrounded by Admiral Sun’s army, and are induced to capitulate. Zhang Baozai refuses, preparing to be executed. However, he releases Lady Duanmu first, who has been treated well during her captivity. Grateful to Zhang, Sun spares Zhang his life, and Zhang stopped Master Xiao from launching another attack in return. The two ladies bid farewell to each other, and both men show respect for one another.

Scene V

Frustrated by the precarious lives of pirates, Madam Shi and Zhang Baozai are considering capitulation. Lady Duanmu comes and tells them that Admiral Sun is arrested for liberating the pirates, hoping they can rescue him. Infuriated, Shi wants to raid the prison to save Sun, but Zhang worries that they will ruin Sun’s future in doing so. He decides to offer Governor Bai Ling a deal: the Red Flag Pirates will surrender if the credit for their capitulation goes to Sun. Master Xiao disapproves of his decision and leaves with unsettled grievance, never to see them again.

Scene VI

An imperial edict is transmitted to them by Governor Bai Ling: Sun is reappointed the Admiral of Fujian for his meritorious contribution to the security of the South China Coast. The Emperor appoints Zhang Baozai as navy commander of Penghu and confers the name Zhang Bao on him. By the time the dance of the Dragon begins, all the pirates have repented and the ocean is now safe.

Scene VII

Feeling melancholy, Zhang recalls his life at the Chek Lap Kok beachhead while scattering Shi’s ashes into the sea.


₍₁₎ 10-11/9, 8PM | ₍₂₎ 12/9, 8PM

Creative Team

Programme Notes

On Creating Music for The Legend of Zhang Baozai – Lo Hau-man

The Legend of Zhang Baozai is set in the Qing Dynasty in the 19th Century. The first idea, during the early stage of composition, was to incorporate some elements of the music of the time. But such efforts proved to be unsuccessful, despite numerous attempts. So the decision was finally taken to use the pentatonic scale in the main, with the addition of modern tonalities, in order to create the impression that this is a work with Oriental flavours but with a touch of modernism. There is of course the risk that invites such criticism as it being neither here nor there, and neither an eastern nor a western work. There are six characters in the opera but no chorus. In order that strong contrasts may be achieved, I have typecast the six and given each of them distinct personalities through music, to the extent that each of them exists in a sharp profile: Zhang Baozai is a man of passion and faith, Zheng Yi”s Wife is judicious and clear-cut, Xiao Xilan is forthright, Sun Quanmou is a man of integrity, and Duanmu Xianghe is clever and lively. On this basis the numbers sung by each would all have their respective, unique personal traits to create dramatic contrast. An important element in art and much more so in the performing arts, ‘contrast’ propels the work and guides the audience. Without this, the play would be as stagnant as still water.

Another characteristic of The Legend of Zhang Baozai is the absence of a chorus, which means singing can only be done by the five principal players, and it would be impossible to rely on harmony and a grand chorus to create awe-inspiring drama. To take the place of the chorus are the dancers. As for crowd scenes such as the Latern Festival and the dragon dance, they are represented in mood by music of a prominent rhythm.

The Legend of Zhang Baozai is accompanied by a small orchestra which, it goes without saying, is neither here nor there, and neither Chinese nor western in composition, as befitting the overall creative concept. The instrumentation involves four Chinese instruments – the dizi, the sheng, the pipa and the zheng, supplemented by a string quartet and the percussions. The atmosphere thus created is therefore both Chinese and western at the same time, which greatly augments the colour of the drama.

Each One to His Own – Chris Shum

‘Zhang Baozai’, or ‘Cheung Po Tsai’ in the Cantonese dialect, is very much a legend in Hong Kong. The Cheung Po Tsai Cave on a small island in Hong Kong may look ordinary, but it has been made a scenic spot and a piece of local folklore by its namesake. As a Hong Kong resident for many years, I have gone on walks to the Cave, but have never bothered to find out more about the person who gave it the name and his exploits. Thanks to The Legend of Zhang Baozai, I had the opportunity to read Jing Hai Fen Ji (Quelling a Rebellion at Sea), an ancient chronicle that has proven to be both informative and inspiring – and a gratifying experience for me, as well.

Artistic creations such as operas and musicals have always put the musical element first, probably due to the lack of good stories and having little to tell. The Legend of Zhang Baozai is inspired by a historical figure, but it does not emulate history. It is very much ‘history freely retold’ by Mandu Cheung, sculpted into drama by Professor Lo King-man, and with music and lyrics from Lo Hau-man and myself to add pace and rhythm to the narration, to externalise inner thoughts, sentiments and moods of the characters etc., with the dynamics thus achieved. The inter-dependency of all these elements is integral to the work. In this production, the focus is on the events leading to his surrender to the Qing court. Zhang Bao is long dead, and Jing Hai Fen Ji (Quelling a Rebellion at Sea) is but an official document that would not have contained too many descriptions of Zhang himself. To give the character credible dimensionality, we can only glean whatever there is in the official archives and add whatever humanistic elements we can think of. After Professor Lo had revised the structure of Mandu’s script, Lo Hau-man and I worked from that point on in collaboration. Where Mandu had left off, music came in as another dimension, and the arias became my literary canvas. It was not my aim to depict a pirate hero, nor crown the Qing court with a halo. Rather, I went back to the basics, and depicted a Zhang Bao under a particular set of circumstances and his likely thinking processes. I have not wanted to make judgements. The existence of pirates at the time can be traced to its social roots, and the quelling by the Qing court of the flag under Zhang Bao and his eventual surrender must also have been a product of inevitable historical developments. Seen in a different light, the pirates of the Six Flags in the play may curse and insult Zhang Bao as they like; Zhang may surrender to the Qing court as his one and only choice; and Admiral Sun may look like, in contemporary eyes, a runner for the Manchu court. But in the play, all in all, one cannot help feeling hopeful that Zhang’s surrender would do more good than harm, as he would be able to serve the country well. The essence of drama is to present the truth, goodness and beauty as perceived by the characters in their respective circumstances. It is only with this thrust that we, as dramatist, would not fall into the rut of ‘make-believers’.

This is perhaps what I would say “each one to his own”. Interpret it whichever way you want.

Zhang Baozai -The ‘One of a Kind’ Pirate – Mandu Cheung

Very few who have grown up in Hong Kong have not heard of the name ‘Cheung Po Tsai’(‘Zhang Baozai’ in pinyin). During the Qing Dynasty in the 19th Century, there were six flags of pirate fleets active on the waters of the Pearl River Delta, namely the Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, White and Black. Zhang was the head of the Red Flag. Legends about him abound, randomly found in the Dongguan and Panyu county chronicles, memoirs of captured British and Portuguese sailors who were released later, and Jing Hai Fen Ji (Quelling a Rebellion at Sea), a document commissioned by the then governor of Guangdong and Guangxi, Bai Ling, to eulogize his contributions to the court. In the county chronicles, there are folklore descriptions of villagers defeating the pirates by worshipping the gods. As for the memoirs, they are only accounts limited to certain individuals’ points of view. These cannot be treated as reliable historical sources, but they do provide a substantial amount of information on our protagonist here.

Zhang Baozai was the youngest son of a fisherman in Jiangmen, Xinhui County of Guangdong Province. He was helping his father fish at sea when he was captured by Zheng Yi at the age of fifteen. Impressed with the boy’s intelligence and agility, Zheng made him his sworn son. Zheng’s wife, at about the same age as the boy, was captured by Zheng and became the female leader of the gang. When Zheng died, she fell in love with Zhang Baozai and married him. As a result of his leadership and brilliant brains, Zhang rose to the top of the Red Flag. He was always victorious, beating not only the Qing navy, but also the much more advanced and better-armed British and Portuguese navies. Zhang exploited the

advantage of his smaller yet more flexible vessels to speed towards the mammoth warships which had to make a full turn to aim a shot, hook up to them and board them, or shoot lit arrows or spears at them to burn them down. At the Battle of Chek Lik Kok, Zhang fought against a combined Qing-Portuguese navy of several hundred warships with only seven vessels. As they were fearful of Zhang, they did not dare to draw too near, resulting in their shots always falling short of the firing range. In a rather restricted area on the seas, the several hundred warships became too crammed to unleash their force. In contrast, whenever Zhang’s vessels drew near, one of their warships would be burnt, which added to the trepidation of the combined naval forces. Coupled with poor cooperation between the two navies, it was total defeat for the combined forces.

As leader of his fleet, Zhang exercised strict discipline: any ship that paid an annual levy would be issued a protection warrant. Believe it or not, some government vessels also paid the levy. If a ship with a warrant was looted, the relevant pirates had to return everything and pay a fine. Bai Ling fought against Zhang on several occasions, all ending in defeat. Hence, to deprive the pirates of supplies, Bai Ling relocated the villagers living along the shore. Zhang responded by paying the villagers several times the market price for their food supplies and goods, and any looting would be punished by death, which explains why Zhang was never short of supplies. His discipline and reforms gave rise to a powerful new breed of pirates. Zhang surrendered to the Qing court at the height of his power, and had risen to the Second Grade in government office when he died.

The Making of a Legend – Bastien Tai

At the beginning of the creative process, I started looking for local elements and materials for the story of the opera in the libraries. At that time, a pirate movie was being shown in Hong Kong, I thought, it would be most apt to use our famous Pirate Zhang Baozai’s life and times as the theme of the story. Not much resulted from the search in the libraries. I found only a novel entitled “Heroes of Chek Lap Kok: A Chronicle of Zhang Baozai’s Ecploits in Hong Kong”. What interested me apart from the name of the Pirate was Chek Lap Kok, which is now well-known as the site of our airport, and it was already made for glory two hundred years ago. When I had finished the book, I gained more insights into this famous pirate in our waters in history, I was even more convinced that I had hit upon the right material. The novel was introduced to Mandu Cheung, when I first met him. Later, he consulted Jing Hai Fen Ji (Quelling a Rebellion at Sea), a Qing Dynasty document on coastal defence, before embarking on writing the script. In order to raise the par, I got in touch with veteran opera consultant Professor Lo King-man and invited him to be the producer and director. Professor Lo suggested injecting some Hong Kong characteristics, such as the dragon dance and the Lantern Festival into the play, as well as making some of Hong Kong’s historical sites and monuments such as the Tin Hau Temple at Ma Wan part of the set. These elements, apart from being closely linked to Zhang Baozai, added interest while giving a unique local flavour to the opera.