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

Li Liuyi’s Sichuan-dialect Adaptation of Teahouse

MCLC and MCLC Resource Center are pleased to announce publication of “Spoken Drama in the Twenty-First Century: Li Liuyi’s Sichuan-dialect Adaptation of Teahouse,” by Megan Ammirati. The essay appears below, but to read it with its accompanying videos, you should go to:

Kirk A. Denton
Editor, MCLC

Spoken Drama in the Twenty-First Century: 
Li Liuyi’s Sichuan-dialect Adaptation of Teahouse

By Megan Ammirati

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright March 2019)

Figure 1: The set of Li Liuyi’s production of Lao She’s Teahouse in Nanjing, 2018

Lao She’s 老舍 Teahouse (茶馆) is one of the most representative works of modern Chinese drama. An epic history spanning the first half of the twentieth century, the play narrates the compromises that Wang Lifa 王利法, the proprietor of a teahouse, makes in order to survive the late Qing reform movement, the death of the would-be-emperor Yuan Shikai, and the War of Resistance. The play’s canonization has been reinforced in academic and artistic circles, anthologies in Chinese and English, as well as domestic and international productions. While the script certainly merits such a reputation, the play’s lengthy history on stage has been much more contentious.

The production history of Teahouse reflects the fluctuations in China’s political climate. The script was published to general acclaim in 1957, when the relatively liberal atmosphere of the Hundred Flowers Movement allowed for some of Lao She’s more critical perspectives on Chinese history. However, when Jiao Juyin 焦菊隐 and the Beijing People’s Art Theatre (北京人民艺术剧院) produced Teahouse in 1958, they were subject to the harsh criticisms typical of the new Anti-Rightist and Great Leap Forward movements. The Beijing People’s Art Theatre produced the play a second time in 1963, but the dominant literary policy was promoting a focus on the first thirteen years of the PRC rather than pre-Liberation history (Yu 2013: 107-108). The theatre did not produce the play again until 1979, after the end of the Cultural Revolution and the deaths of both its playwright and original director. This production preserved Jiao Juyin’s original designs and cast a large number of leading actors in their original roles (Chen 2010: 16-17). More than a nostalgic tribute, these staging decisions redoubled the commitment to the original production and its practitioners. Since then, most professional productions of Teahouse have stayed true to the Beijing People’s Art Theatre’s original staging, making similar choices about costumes, set designs, and acting style. When the famously innovative director Lin Zhaohua 林兆华 revived the play in 1990, he confessed that his respect for the script and its history had made him reluctant to make drastic changes (Yu 2013: 112). Continue reading

Replica of Peony Pavilion to appear in Stratford

Source: Global Times (3/14/19)
Replica of Chinese Peony Pavilion to appear in Shakespeare’s hometown
By Xinhua

The Peony Pavilion is a masterpiece by Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu (1550-1616) from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). A replica of the pavilion, based on pictures recorded in ancient books of the play, will appear in Shakespeare’s hometown.

Four hundred years ago, when William Shakespeare was writing his sonnets with a quill, Tang Xianzu was recording verses with a brush nearly 6,000 kilometers away.

China and Britain have hosted a series of events to commemorate Shakespeare and Tang. Among the cultural exchange contracts signed, a replica of British playwright William Shakespeare’s family house will be built in Tang’s hometown in Fuzhou, East China’s Jiangxi Province, while Fuzhou will help build the replica of the Peony Pavilion, the historical site where Tang’s story took place, in Shakespeare’s hometown. Continue reading

Xiqu surtitle editors and translators needed

Dear MCLC colleagues:

I’m the Artistic Director at Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District, one of the largest cultural developments in the world right now.

We’ve just opened our first major arts centre, The Xiqu Centre, and are urgently looking to expand our army of people to help us with surtitles for the Xiqu performances.

Please contact me at  if you, any of your colleagues, or any of your students have the necessary skills and are looking for freelance work.

Deadlines can be quite tight, so we need committed, professional, knowledgeable and reliable translators and editors.

With appreciation,

Alison M. Friedman 方美昂
Artistic Director, Performing Arts
West Kowloon Cultural District
T: (+852) 2200 0862

Contemporary Chinese theatre essay competition

ESSAY COMPETITION: Contemporary Chinese Theatre

A Competition

The Chinese section of the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC-China) announces an international contest for a text related to contemporary Chinese theatre – a theatre or performance review, a feature article on a theatre phenomenon, or an academic essay exploring an aspect of the subject matter. To be eligible, the piece must have been published in the English language during the last three years—that is, between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2018.

Reviews should be between 1500 and 2500 words, and features and academic essays between 3500 and 6500 words.

Along with the articles, the authors are expected to provide a PDF or a photo copy of the publication where the articles were published. Continue reading

The Chalk Cycle at MIT

hi colleagues,

letting you know about our fall theater production at MIT that just opened. if you are in boston area this weekend and want to come, please let me know and i will reserve a ticket for you. we are sold out tonite but have a few tickets for tomorrow (saturday) nite and some for sunday matinee at 2pm.

i wrote/directed the play—it is based on the yuan drama ‘the chalk circle’ and brecht’s adaptation ‘the caucasian chalk circle’ and the 1999-2007 custody case of anna mae he.

running time is two hours, and it’s appropriate for audiences 13 years old and up.

warm wishes,

claire conceison Continue reading

Shan Tianfang, storyteller, dies at 83

Source: NYT ((/17/18)
Shan Tianfang, a Superstar of Chinese Storytelling, Dies at 83
By Amy Qin

Shan Tianfang, a storyteller whose energetic oral renditions of classical Chinese novels and historical events propelled the ancient pingshu tradition into the modern age for generations of Chinese, died on Sept. 11 in Beijing. He was 83.

The cause was multiple organ failure, said Xiao Jianlu, Mr. Shan’s business associate and the manager of the Shan Tianfang Culture Communication Company.

Mr. Shan tried for many years to avoid becoming a performer of pingshu, the Song dynasty-era storytelling tradition. Growing up in 1950s China in a family of folk art performers, he had seen struggle firsthand. It was a life of constant financial troubles and low social status. Continue reading