MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Xiaomei Chen’s “New Studies in Socialist Performance: A Review Essay,” which reviews Staging Revolution: Artistry and Aesthetics in Model Beijing Opera during the Cultural Revolution, by Xing Fan, and Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy, by Emily Wilcox. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/xiaomei-chen/. My thanks to Jason McGrath, MCLC book review editor for media studies, for ushering the review to publication.
Kirk Denton, editor
Staging Revolution: Artistry and Aesthetics in Model Beijing Opera during the Cultural Revolution, by Xing Fan
Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy, by Emily Wilcox
Reviewed by Xiaomei Chen
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright June, 2020)
This review essay examines two outstanding recent books in Chinese performance studies: Xing Fan’s monograph Staging Revolution: Artistry and Aesthetics in Model Peking Opera during the Cultural Revolution (Hong Kong University Press, 2018) and Emily Wilcox’s Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy (University of California Press, 2019). Both books are substantial and significant contributions to theatre studies, contemporary Chinese literary and cultural studies, and comparative Asian theatre history, with a sharp focus on aesthetic traditions in the context of intellectual and political history.
Xing Fan’s Staging Revolution focuses on the complexities of the “revolutionary modern Peking opera” promoted during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), also widely known as “model theatre.” She is among the very few in English language scholarship to fully delve into the aesthetic features of Peking opera (jingju 京剧) in the modern period, with an emphasis on five major components of jingju arts: playwriting, acting, music, design, and directing. Staging Revolution expands the scope of Barbara Mittler’s remarkable book A Continuous Revolution: Making Sense of Cultural Revolution Culture (Harvard University East Asian Center, 2013) and Rosemary A. Roberts’s excellent study Maoist Model Theatre: The Semiotics of Gender and Sexuality in the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) (Brill, 2010). With a comprehensive study of the artistry of model theatre, Fan’s Staging Revolution has raised to a new level the academic study of the model theatre, and by extension, the cultural legacy of the Cultural Revolution.
The scope of her book, moreover, reaches beyond the period of the Cultural Revolution. Her succinct narrative of jingju history and practice—from the late eighteenth century to the Yan’an period of the 1930s-40s and on to the high Maoist period before the Cultural Revolution—delineates a rich history of the sociological and ideological functions of jingju and its artistic heritage and development, with the latter being the most innovative contribution of Fan’s book. Continue reading