Heaven is High and the Emperor Far Away, a Play

Rated 4.00/5 based on 3 reviews
This is the story of Shopkeeper Wang and the friends, the regulars, and the transients who visit the Yutai Teahouse, in Beijing, during the turbulent decades of the early twentieth century-- a world of those living at the bottom edge of civility and into which corruption and exploitation roughly intrude. This is a world of the poor caught up in the spin-cycle of world historical change. More
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About Hock G. Tjoa

Hock was born in Singapore to Chinese parents. He studied history and classics at Brandeis and Harvard and taught the History of Modern Europe and of Asian Political Thought at the University of Malaya. He has published George Henry Lewes, a Victorian mind and "The Social and Political ideas of Tan Cheng Lock." He is married with two adult daughters and now lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. In 2010, he published a selection and translation of the Chinese classic, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms under the title "The Battle of Chibi." In 2011, he is publishing an adaptation of Lao She's "Teahouse" as "Heaven is High and the Emperor Far Away, a Play." He published "The Chinese Spymaster," the first of a planned three volume series, and "The Ingenious Judge Dee" in 2013

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Reviews of Heaven is High and the Emperor Far Away, a Play by Hock G. Tjoa

Jo Grix reviewed on Nov. 14, 2013

This play is an amazing look into China, a country that most schools gloss over in their textbooks, and a time period where most teachers talk about other things. It's a two act play that manages to convey in dialogue the events of two different days in the life of a shopkeeper, his family, and the people who come to his tea shop. It also allows you an idea of what was actually going on in China in the early twentieth century.

Heaven is High and the Emperor Far Away is a play that should be shared more, either performed or read aloud. I recommend it for people who like plays, or like China, or just really want to read something good.
(reviewed 8 days after purchase)
Peter R Stone reviewed on Oct. 8, 2013

'Heaven Is High and the Emperor Far Away, a Play' by Hock G. Tjoa, was a most enjoyable and informative read of a most tragic period of Chinese history, of a time when China was recovering from the ravages committed by the Japanese army during World War Two, only to plunge into the civil war as the Communists rose to power. The play gives us a glimpse of everyday life in this time, by letting us experience it through the goings on within a teahouse that had survived decades of power struggles and wars.

I felt very sorry for the shopkeeper as he poured his life and years into the teahouse, only for the vultures of a corrupt government take advantage of him time after time. I lost count of how many times he had to fork out bribes, to cops, agents, and others, just to keep in business or to keep them away from his customers.

And all the while the shopkeeper is preparing to re-open the teahouse. As I read I began to wonder if he would even be able to re-open the teahouse before running out of money. There is a broad spectrum of characters, from many walks of life, and watching them interact with each other is a treat.

Disclaimer - I was provided a copy of the play by the author for an unbiased review.
(reviewed 28 days after purchase)
Tani Mura reviewed on Sep. 13, 2013

This is a short play about a shopkeeper, his tea house, and his family and friends as he struggles through political change, economic woes, and societal immoralities in a China not so long ago.

This was a very enjoyable and light read. Translating and adapting an original work is difficult, and delivering a play in an interesting and accessible format is quite a challenge, but I think the author did a fabulous job of balancing historical context, dialogue, and stage direction to assist the reader in conjuring up an image of the play in his or her head.

The preface was extremely helpful, not only because it set up the political and social environments in which this play unfolds, but also because it allowed for some of the author’s voice to come out. Favorite quote: “Heaven is high and the Emperor is far away was a familiar saying in the provinces of China…It reflects the sense that human ideals are quite remote from out mundane reality.” The author has a knack for elegant yet not overly embellished writing, and this preface contrasted well with the simplicity of the play itself.

Of course, because this is meant to be a play, and we as readers aren’t able to see the actors’ facial expression, catch their subtle motions, or hear the anguish or laughter in their voice, much of it is left to the readers’ imagination. For those who are seeking descriptive character development and a detailed plot, you may not enjoy this as much. But for me – an avid reader who appreciates when books leave a lot of room for the readers’ own imagination – this was a very enjoyable read.
(reviewed 12 days after purchase)

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