How to Read China Drama

How to Read Chinese Drama: A Guided Anthology
Edited by Patricia Sieber and Regina Llamas
Columbia University Press, 2022

This book is a comprehensive and inviting introduction to the literary forms and cultural significance of Chinese drama as both text and performance. Each chapter offers an accessible overview and critical analysis of one or more plays—canonical as well as less frequently studied works—and their historical contexts. How to Read Chinese Drama highlights how each play sheds light on key aspects of the dramatic tradition, including genre conventions, staging practices, musical performance, audience participation, and political resonances, emphasizing interconnections among chapters. It brings together leading scholars spanning anthropology, art history, ethnomusicology, history, literature, and theater studies.

How to Read Chinese Drama is straightforward, clear, and concise, written for undergraduate students and their instructors as well as a wider audience interested in world theater. For students of Chinese literature and language, the book provides questions to explore when reading, watching, and listening to plays, and it features bilingual excerpts. For teachers, an analytical table of contents, a theater-specific chronology of events, and lists of visual resources and translations provide pedagogical resources for exploring Chinese theater within broader cultural and comparative contexts. For theater practitioners, the volume offers deeply researched readings of important plays together with background on historical performance conventions, audience responses, and select modern adaptations.

Continue reading

Wuzhen Theater Festival returns

Source: Shanghai Daily (10/22/21)
Wuzhen Theater Festival returns in all its splendor
By Wang Jie

Wuzhen Theater Festival returns in all its splendor

Ti Gong: During the festival, the entire town of Wuzhen is transformed into a stage where theater lovers are invited to enjoy a feast of the theatrical arts.

When the Wuzhen Theater Festival was founded in 2013 by Chen Xianghong, Huang Lei, Stan Lai and Meng Jinghui, some thought it might just be a “utopian plan” initiated by their passion and good will. Yet the chemical reaction between drama and this ancient watertown turns out to be more dynamic than expected.

Today, the ancient watertown in the northern suburbs in Zhejiang Province is a “dreamland” for drama, literature and art.

The backdrop of Wuzhen’s serenity features well-preserved 16th century buildings and crisscrossing stone bridges, yet the combination of drama, art and literature fused with the town conjures up a magical and surprising ambience.

As an annual theater event, the 8th Wuzhen Theater Festival was postponed until October this year after being canceled last year due to the pandemic. Continue reading

Transforming Tradition

NEW PUBLICATION: Transforming Tradition: The Reform of Chinese Theater in the 1950s and Early 1960s, by Siyuan Liu
University of Michigan Press, 2021
Explores the history and lingering effects of governmental reform of Chinese theater, post-1949


Shortly after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the PRC launched a reform campaign that targeted traditional song and dance theater encompassing more than a hundred genres, collectively known as xiqu. Reformers censored or revised xiqu plays and techniques; reorganized star-based private troupes; reassigned the power to create plays from star actors to the newly created functions of playwright, director, and composer; and eliminated market-oriented functionaries such as agents. While the repertoire censorship ended in the 1980s, major reform elements have remained: many traditional scripts (or parts of them) are no longer in performance; actors whose physical memory of repertoire and acting techniques had been the center of play creation, have been superseded by directors, playwrights, and composers. The net result is significantly diminished repertoires and performance techniques, and the absence of star actors capable of creating their own performance styles through new signature plays that had traditionally been one of the hallmarks of a performance school. Transforming Tradition offers a systematic study of the effects of the comprehensive reform of traditional theater conducted in the 1950s and ’60s, and is based on a decade’s worth of exhaustive research of official archival documents, wide-ranging interviews, and contemporaneous publications, most of which have never previously been referenced in scholarly research. Continue reading

Women Like Us opera

Source: HK Arts Festival
Jockey Club Local Creative Talents Series
Journey to the West Rewind/Women Like Us Opera
14 May; 31 May
[Register at the link above]

The Jockey Club Local Creative Talents Series’ Journey to the West Rewind / Women Like Us provides two bold subversions of the “happily-ever-after”. These separate adaptations inspired by the Ming dynasty classic and two of Hong Kong author Xi Xi’s short stories are presented in Chinese and Western operatic formats, respectively. Innovatively filmed versions of the two contemporary operas bring two inspired adaptations to life on the screen without losing any of the immediacy of the original productions.

Online Music Theatre Journey to the West Rewind

Journey to the West Rewind online music theatre is an audacious reinvestigation of the Cantonese opera art form and the eponymous literary classic. Having traversed thousands of miles of dangerous terrain, Tang Sanzang and his disciples at last complete their perilous pilgrimage to obtain the sacred Buddhist texts. But at journey’s end, they find the Book of Heaven is blank. By taking us back to the saga’s climactic moment of enlightenment, Journey to the West Rewind asks us how we can carry on when things don’t turn out as we expected and we find ourselves right back at the start.

Online Chamber Opera Women Like Us

The Cantonese-language online chamber opera Women Like Us is a singing tribute to the literary grand dame Xi Xi and the two protagonists of her beloved short stories A Girl Like Me and The Cold. One is a mortuary cosmetologist living in the bleak world of the dead; the other, a social worker trapped in a lifeless marriage to appease her family. Soprano Kenix Tsang and mezzo-soprano Samantha Chong take the libretto to soaring heights, spinning a tale of two women finding the courage to not only face the cold shadows of loneliness, but walk towards the radiance of solitude, embracing the unknown.

Performed in Cantonese with Chinese and English subtitles
This production was originally scheduled to premiere at the 48th HKAF in 2020
Special thanks to Shaw Studios for supporting the filming and sound recording for Women Like Us and Journey to the West Rewind

Chinese Ibsenism

Tam, Kwok-kan. Chinese Ibsenism: Reinventions of Women, Class and Nation. Springer, 2019. xi+298. pp. ISBN: 978-981-13-6303-0 (eBook); 978-981-13-6302-3 (hardcover); 978-981-13-6305-4 (softcover).

Book Overview

This book is a study of the cultural changes brought about by the introduction of Ibsen to China from the 1910s to the 2010s. It is a companion to Kwok-kan Tam’s two other books, Ibsen, Power and the Self: Postsocialist Chinese Experimentations in Stage Performance and Film (Oslo: Novus Press, 2019) and Ibsen in China: A Critical-Annotated Bibliography of Criticism, Translation and Performance (Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2001). A special feature of the book is that the stage performances, especially those that were performed 80 years ago, are well illustrated with stage photographs which are now difficult to find. Particularly noteworthy is that the front cover shows a color image of Nora from one of the most memorable performances with Ji Shuping playing the lead role in the Beijing A Doll’s House in 1956.

The study is based on forty years’ collection of Chinese materials extracted from library, newspapers and theatre archives from all over the world. Supported by detailed analyses of translations, literary experiments and theatrical performances involved in the cultural debates, the study provides the most comprehensive view of the critical reception of Ibsen in China in the past 100 years. It is moreover a study of the relation between theatre art and ideology in the Chinese experimentations with new selfhood as a result of Ibsen’s impact. It explores Ibsenian notions of the self, women and gender in China and provides an illuminating study of Chinese theatre as a public sphere in the dissemination of radical ideas. As the major source of modern Chinese selfhood, Ibsenism carries notions of personal and social liberation and has exerted great impacts on Chinese revolutions since the beginning of the twentieth century. Ibsen’s idea of the self as an individual has led to various experimentations in theatre, film and fiction to project new notions of selfhood, in particular women’s selfhood, throughout the history of modern China. Continue reading

Rethinking Chinese Socialist Theaters of Reform

Rethinking Chinese Socialist Theaters of Reform: Performance Practice and Debate in the Mao Era
Xiaomei Chen, Tarryn Li-Min Chun, and Siyuan Liu, Editors
University of Michigan Press, 2021

Diverse perspectives on the effort to reform modern Chinese theater according to socialist cultural policies


The profound political, economic, and social changes in China in the second half of the twentieth century have produced a wealth of scholarship; less studied however is how cultural events, and theater reforms in particular, contributed to the dynamic landscape of contemporary Chinese society. Rethinking Chinese Socialist Theaters of Reform fills this gap by investigating the theories and practice of socialist theater and their effects on a diverse range of genres, including Western-style spoken drama, Chinese folk opera, dance drama, Shanghai opera, Beijing opera, and rural theater. Focusing on the 1950s and ’60s, when theater art occupied a prominent political and cultural role in Maoist China, this book examines the efforts to remake theater in a socialist image. It explores the unique dynamics between official discourse, local politics, performance practice, and audience reception that emerged under the pressures of highly politicized cultural reform as well as the off-stage, lived impact of rapid policy change on individuals and troupes obscured by the public record. This multidisciplinary collection by leading scholars covers a wide range of perspectives, geographical locations, specific research methods, genres of performance, and individual knowledge and experience. The richly diverse approach leads readers through a nuanced and complex cultural landscape as it contributes significantly to our understanding of a crucial period in the development of modern Chinese theater and performance.

Xiaomei Chen is Distinguished Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of California, Davis.
Tarryn Li-Min Chun is Assistant Professor in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame.
Siyuan Liu is Associate Professor of Theatre at the University of British Columbia.

New Studies in Socialist Performance

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: My thanks to Jason McGrath, MCLC book review editor for media studies, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

New Studies in Socialist Performance: A Review Essay

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)

Xing Fan, Staging Revolution: Artistry and Aesthetics in Model Beijing Opera during the Cultural Revolution Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2018. 308 pp. ISBN: 978-988-8455-81-2 (cloth).

Emily Wilcox, Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy Berkeley: University of California Press, 2018. 322 pp. ISBN: 9780520300576 (cloth).

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 TheatreThe 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

Transnational Chinese Theatres

Rossella Ferrari, Transnational Chinese Theatres: Intercultural Performance Networks in East Asia. Palgrave Macmillan, 2020


Transnational Chinese Theatres is the first systematic study of networks of performance collaboration in the contemporary Chinese-speaking world and of their interactions with the artistic communities of the wider East Asian region. It investigates the aesthetics and politics of collaboration to propose a new transnational model for the analysis of Sinophone theatre cultures and to foreground the mobility and relationality of intercultural performance in East Asia. The research draws on extensive fieldwork, interviews with practitioners, and direct observation of performances, rehearsals, and festivals in Asia and Europe. It offers provocative close readings and discourse analysis of an extensive corpus of hitherto untapped sources, including unreleased video materials and unpublished scripts, production notes, and archival documentation. Continue reading

Faces of Tradition

Levi S. Gibbs, ed. 2020. Faces of Tradition in Chinese Performing Arts. Series: Encounters: Explorations in Folklore and Ethnomusicology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN: 978-0-253-04583-6
Available in Paperback and E-Book

Faces of Tradition in Chinese Performing Arts examines the key role of the individual in the development of traditional Chinese performing arts such as music and dance. These artists and their artistic works—the “faces of tradition”—come to represent and reconfigure broader fields of cultural production in China today. The contributors to this volume explore the ways in which performances and recordings, including singing competitions, textual anthologies, ethnographic videos, and CD albums, serve as discursive spaces where individuals engage with and redefine larger traditions and themselves. By focusing on the performance, scholarship, collection, and teaching of instrumental music, folksong, and classical dance from a variety of disciplines–these case studies highlight the importance of the individual in determining how traditions have been and are represented, maintained, and cultivated. Continue reading

Dionysus on the Other Shore

Fusini, Letizia. Dionysus on the Other Shore: Gao Xingjian’s Theatre of the Tragic. Leiden: Brill, 2020.

In Dionysus on the Other Shore, Letizia Fusini argues that throughout his early exile years (late 1980s-1990s), Gao Xingjian gradually moved away from Absurdist Drama to develop a dramaturgical system with tragic characteristics. Drawing on a range of contemporary theories of tragedy, this book reconfigures some of the key tropes of Gao’s post-1987 theater as varied articulations of the Dionysian sparagmos mechanism. They are the dismemberment of the dramatic self, the usage of constricted spaces, the divisive nature of gender relations, and the agony of verbal language. Through a text-based analysis of seven plays, the author ultimately aims to show that in Gao’s theater, tragedy is an ongoing and mostly subtextual dynamism generated by an interplay of psychic forces concurrently cohesive and divisive. Continue reading

Xichang holds international theater festival

Source: China Daily (12/2/19)
Sichuan holds international theater festival
By Xu Fan

A performer in traditional Yi ethnic costumes. [Photo provided to China Daily]

When most cities in northern China are shivering in winter cold, Xichang, a city in southwestern Sichuan province, is recording temperature of up to 23 C in November.

It is perhaps fitting that the city decided to hold the Daliangshan International Theatre Festival, the first such event in the world to be held in winter, with some performances held outdoors.

Initiated by 23 artists including actor Pu Cunxin, Yi ethnic poet Jidi Majia, musician Liao Changyong and novelist A Lai, the festival ran from Nov 19 to Dec 1.

Local organizers said the festival exemplifies the city’s effort to explore the new economic development model via blending culture and tourism. Continue reading

Meng Jinghui’s Teahouse at Avignon

Hi everyone,

Meng Jinghui’s production of “Teahouse” 茶馆 was featured at the Avignon Festival July 9-20, 2019. It was the first time in its 73-year history that a show from China was included in the Avignon “IN” festival (the main festival). Meng previously brought several productions to the “OFF” festival beginning in 2010. “Teahouse” first premiered in an earlier form at the Wuzhen Festival in China in October and was performed in Nanjing in June. I translated the play from Chinese to English and worked with the production team at the Avignon festival in July (surtitles in both French and English were available to audiences at Avignon).

This article is a brief overview with images and includes a quote from festival director Oliver Py, and also a video link in the first image that shows moments from the performance:

Continue reading

I Love XXX and Other Plays review

MCLC and MCLC Resource Center are pleased to announce publication of John B. Weinstein’s review of I Love XXX and Other Plays, by Meng Jinghui, edited by Claire Conceison. The review appears below and at its online home My thanks to Michael Berry, MCLC book review editor for translations, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

I Love XXX and Other Plays

By Meng Jinghui
Edited by Claire Conceison

Reviewed by John B. Weinstein
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright February, 2019)

Meng Jinghui, I Love XXX and Other Plays Ed. Claire Conceison. New York: Seagull Books, 2017. Viii+355 pp.+DVD. $45.00 ISBN 9780857423849

I nearly encountered Meng Jinghui’s 孟京辉 play Longing for Worldly Pleasures (思凡) in 1998, when I arrived in Beijing for a few weeks of research for my dissertation on the development of modern comic drama in China. When I met with a theater official in Beijing, I asked what I should see while there; although I cannot recall what he did ultimately suggest I see, I do recall him showing me a program or poster or some such artifact for a production called Longing for Worldly Pleasures.  That, he noted, was what I should have seen, but its run was already over. Had I only planned the trip better.

What I did not yet know, and maybe no one truly knew, though perhaps this official surmised it, was that Meng Jinghui would become THE big thing in Chinese drama in the coming years, and his work, though by no means strictly comedy—and by no means strictly any one thing—might have formed the ending of my research project. To this date, while I have been fortunate enough to see the English-language adaptation of Head without Tailreferenced in the volume’s introduction, and even more fortunate to spend an evening hanging out with Meng himself in his hotel room in Boston, I have never seen a production of Meng’s work within China itself. Can a volume of English translations of Meng Jinghui’s work compensate? Continue reading

Matteo Ricci The Musical

Source: SCMP (4/26/19)
Matteo Ricci: 16th-century Italian priest who tried, and failed, to convert Chinese to Catholicism is resurrected on stage
Matteo Ricci The Musical might not be the show Hong Kong wanted, but, according to those who brought it to the stage, it’s the one we needed. The priest was the first European to enter the Forbidden Palace in Beijing and is buried in the Chinese capital
By Fionnuala McHugh

Jonathan Wong performs in Matteo Ricci The Musical, on April 19. Photo: Matteo Ricci The Musical / Cheung Chi-wai

Jonathan Wong performs in Matteo Ricci The Musical, on April 19. Photo: Matteo Ricci The Musical / Cheung Chi-wai

On Palm Sunday, which this year fell on April 14, the first run-through of Matteo Ricci The Musical was held at Clarence Film Studio, in the depths of Shek Kong, in the New Territories. The follow­ing day, everything would shift to the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, in Tsim Sha Tsui, in preparation for open­ing night on Holy Saturday. As every Christian knows, Palm Sunday marks the day Jesus entered Jerusalem, after 40 days in the desert, to cheering crowds. By Good Friday, these fans are enthusiastically calling for his crucifixion. Three days later, he’s risen from the dead. It’s the scene-setter for a week of dramatic reversals. Continue reading

Trumpian rhapsody

Source: Washington Post (4/6/19)
Trumpian rhapsody: Hong Kong opera takes on ping-pong, China and the long red tie
By Mary Hui

People pass the Sunbeam Theatre in Hong Kong, where “Trump on Show” will open on April 12. (Mary Hui for The Washington Post)

HONG KONG — Start with a performer playing President Trump. Then bring in a long-lost brother who was raised in China.

Throw in castmates portraying a ping-pong-loving Mao Zedong, a deal-seeking Kim Jong Un, Ivanka Trump and Mao’s power-hungry fourth wife.

They are singing. Opera. In Cantonese.

And, well, it’s complicated.

“Trump on Show” opens April 12 in Hong Kong with its creator — 64-year-old feng shui master, Li Kui-ming — offering something of a fever dream of politics, history and diplomacy framed around the current tensions between Washington and Beijing. Continue reading