A historical fiction opera depicting Hai Rui (1515-1587), Secretary of the Ministry of Revenue under Chinese Emperor Shizong during the Ming dynasty. Hai wrote a controversial piece accusing Shizong of misappropriation of government funds and general inappropriate behavior toward the Chinese people. Because of this attack on the Emperor, Hai was sentenced to torture and death. The Emperor suddenly died before carrying out this sentence, and his successor Wei Zhongxian realized a way to utilize this as a positive public relations stunt. He replaced Hai Rui into office, although in a different position -- "Censor in Chief" -- showing the populace that it was indeed okay to provide constructive criticism to the Emperor and the Chinese government. However, Wei Zhongxian later became recognized as one of the most power-hungry leaders in Chinese history.

The real motive of the opera, however, was political satire. In 1962, Wu Han (deputy mayor of Beijing) penned the play Ha Rui Dismissed from Office (Hai Rui ba guan) that was later adapted to the opera of the same name. The historical events were remarkably similar to a 1959 situation where Chairman Mao Zedong ejected Peng Dahuai from the position of Minister of National Defense.

On November 10, 1965, the Shanghai newspaper Wenhui Bao Wenhui Daily published an article devised by Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao and written by Yao Wenyuan. The article accuses Wu Han of creating the opera as a criticism of Chairman Mao's practices and in particular the failures of the Great Leap Forward. When the article was reprinted in China's newspaper People's Daily on November 30, bringing it to national attention, it created outrage and controversy that set the stage for Mao's unveiling of the Cultural Revolution.

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