The Legend of Red Lantern is one of the Eight Model plays that were encouraged during the period of Cultural Revolution. From 1966 till 1976 these plays were played in Chinese opera to foster the ideals of communism and to facilitate the avowed goal of social reforms.
The story of Red Lantern focuses on Grandma Li. When Li Yuhe is forcefully taken away by Special Forces Grandma Li somehow had a notion that she would be arrested soon. So she began to tell her true story and the story of her family to Tiemei. She wants Tiemei to be as strong willed as her father was. She goes on to tell how her parents gave their lives to bring social changes. After hearing this brief story Tiemei transforms into a hard willed social revolutionary and goes out to bring about social and political changes.
Traditionally Chinese opera presented some conventional stories that suited the tastes of the bourgeoisie class. The Gang of Four imposed a ban on all other types of plays except these eight dramas. They believed that these dramas would inevitably bring Cultural Revolution to the foreground of thought and intellectual practices.
As an art form, this play changed some of the theatrical conventions of Chinese opera. For instance there were some commonly accepted forms for the costumes, face painting, musical melodies, stage properties and stage actions. These conventions were shattered and new forms were developed.
If you want a glimpse of Chinese opera of that period you can buy some CDs of the Eight Model Plays. You can buy them together or separately. The 1970 production of The Legend of Red Lantern will cost you $ 15 to $20, depending on the shipping charges. This play is a path breaking success in Chinese opera and it brought huge changes on and off stage.