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Decoding Zhao Benshan

About 15 years ago, Zhao Benshan, a farmer actor from Northeast China, brought the countryside laughter to the highly renowned CCTV Spring Festival Party. Northern Liaoning's skit, a new art form with its simple and unaffected humor and a touch of homeliness, has since found its place in China's tiptop art scene, winning deafening applause from the nation's audience. Today, Zhao Benshan is not only a skit actor who has brought the most laughter and won the most applause since the 1980s, but also is a director and producer of two hot "farmer TV series." Recently, he unexpectedly joined China Soccer League's Liaoning Club as its chairman, unveiling a new chapter of his life.

Zhao Benshan's Legendary Life

Born in a small village of Kaiyuan County in Tieling City of North China's Liaoning Province , Zhao Benshan has been recognized as a folk performing legend who grew up in a peasant household.

Zhao became an orphan at the age of six, and then moved to live with a blind uncle who taught him various performing skills. Due to his hard work, he became highly skilled at playing the erhu (a two-stringed violin), the suona (a kind of Chinese trumpet), and especially the sanxian (a three-stringed plucked instrument), singing popular tunes, and performing song-and-dance duets. Zhao views the hardships endured during his childhood as having been a blessing in his life, as the difficulties laid a solid foundation for his skits as well as performing career.

He joined the commune art and literature publicity team at 17, and later became a member of an amateur troupe of Weiyuan town before being transferred temporarily to the Xifeng County Troupe for song-and-dance duet performances.

In 1982, Liaoning Province held the First Countryside Opereta Show, and Zhao Benshan rose to fame as a result of his performance as a blind man in Breaking the Sanxian, which won the first prize. In the same year, he joined the Tieling Troupe, serving as both the leading actor and the business president. In 1986, he was transferred to the Tieling Folk Art Troupe. At that time, Da Guan Deng, co-staged by Zhao and Pan Changjiang (another famous skit actor from Liaoning Province) ran for over 200 performances in Shenyang ; the crowd overflowed at each show, causing a stir in the three provinces in Northeast China.

Many of Zhao's performances, such as those in the song-and-dance duet 1+1=?, and opera TV plays like Double Knocking at the Door, Beyond this Village, and Tearing off the Signboard, have won many national- and provincial-level awards.

Recommended by Jiang Kun, a famous crosstalk (witty dialogue between two people) star, Zhao Benshan found his way to CCTV in 1987 and had his first Spring Festival Party performance in 1990, which marked a new beginning in his career. Since then, his skit has been a regular sight at the annual art gala, and many of his skits, including Marriage Seeking, Red Sorghum Model Team, Three Whipping, Sending Gifts, Yesterday, Hourly-paid Worker, Today, Tomorrow, Selling Crutches, and Selling a Bicycle, have won either the first or the second prize among all the programs of the party.

Unsatisfied with his achievements in skits, Zhao later began his career as an actor and director of films and TV series. The Male Dean of Women, in which he invested personally and played the leading role, won the 1998 nation-level "Huabiao Award" and the Award for Excellent Leading Actor. As an aside, for the prosperity and development of art, Zhao established the Benshan Art Company.

In the spring of 2002, Liu Lao Gen, the first TV series in which Zhao acted as the director and the leading actor, debuted on CCTV Channel-1, gaining an unprecedented audience rating. Following the success of Liu Lao Gen, he directed the sequel Liu Lao Gen II, which was also a huge success. Later, he shot another TV series Ma Dashuai and its sequel Ma Dashuai II.

In June 2005, Zhao Benshan started his new role as chairman of the Chinese
Super League team Liaoning. He will help Liaoning build a training base in Hainan (island province in South China), which also will serve as a holiday resort, and cooperate with the club to establish a soccer academy, the first ever in China, at his movie production base.

Zhao is currently a First Class National Actor of the Tieling Folk Art Troupe, a member of the Chinese Ballad Singers Association, vice chairman of the Liaoning Provincial Ballad Singers Association, commissary of the All-China Youth Federation, a member of the People's Political Consultative Conference, and an image ambassador of Tieling City.

(chinaculture.org by Jessie July 15, 2005)

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