In this ground-breaking study, Hongwei Bao analyses queer theatre and performance in contemporary China. This book documents various forms of queer performance – including music, film, theatre, and political activism – in the first two decades of the twenty first century. In doing so, Bao argues for the importance of performance for queer identity and community formation. This trailblazing work uses queer performance as an analytical lens to challenge heteronormative modes of social relations and hegemonic narratives of historiography. It will be of great interest to students and scholars of theatre and performance studies, gender and sexuality studies and Asian studies. Continue reading →
I would like to draw your attention to my new book Ruling the Stage: Social and Cultural History of Opera in Sichuan from the Qing to the People’s Republic of China (Brill, 2022).
In it, through an innovative interdisciplinary reading and field research, I analyse the history of the development of opera in Sichuan, arguing that opera serves as a microcosm of the profound transformation of modern Chinese culture between the 18th century and 1950s. I investigate the complex path of opera over this course of history: exiting the temple festivals, becoming a public obsession on commercial stages, and finally being harnessed to partisan propaganda work. The book analyzes the process of cross-regional integration of Chinese culture and the emergence of the national opera genre. Moreover, opera is shown as an example of the culture wars that raged inside China’s popular culture.
Yi Sicheng in “A New Old Play.”Credit…Icarus Films
Per the title, Qiu Jiongjiong’s magnificently layered historical epic, “A New Old Play,” draws as much from Brecht and Beckett as from cinematic traditions. At once tragedy and farce, it breathes new life into a story as old as civilization.
The opening scene is disorienting at first, not least for the film’s protagonist, Qiu Fu (Yi Sicheng), a well-known actor from a Sichuan opera troupe. We meet him when he is old and stooping, in a crumbling mountain village enshrouded by fog. It is China in the 1980s, and the Japanese, the nationalists and the communists have wreaked their havoc in turn. Now two raggedy demons have arrived in a broken-down bicycle rickshaw to cart Qiu off to the underworld.
Still, something feels uncanny, demons notwithstanding. The entire mise-en-scène of the film, we discover, is artificial, an assembly of stage props and hand-painted scenery. Qiu has always played the clown, shuffling from scene to scene, a hapless pauper harassed by need and political fashion. Even his wife (Guan Nan) may not miss him when he’s gone. Somehow he, like the film, maintains a sense of humor. Such is life for a poor player.
Qiu isn’t keen to leave, but his time is up — as the demons remind him, it’s no use trying to outrun fate. Also, the King of Hell is a fan, and Qiu’s failure to appear would make them look bad.
But first, let’s drink and play mahjong in purgatory, where Qiu awaits final passage to oblivion. Absurdities and indignities mount as he reminisces about a life spanning wars and famine, revolution and betrayal. The director’s cleverest trick is having also found joy there.
A New Old Play
Not rated. In Mandarin, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 59 minutes. In theaters.
NEW PUBLICATION: Selected Plays of Stan Lai, edited by Lissa Tyler Renaud
Stan Lai (Lai Shengchuan) is one of the most celebrated theatre practitioners working in the Chinese-speaking world. His work over three decades has pioneered the course of modern Chinese language theatre in Taiwan, China, and other Chinese-speaking regions. He has been declared “the preeminent Chinese playwright and stage director of this generation” (China Daily) and “the best Chinese language playwright and director in the world” (BBC). Lai’s works include masterpieces of the modern Chinese language theatre, such as Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land, The Village, and his epic eight-hour A Dream Like a Dream, all of which are in this collection.
The collection was edited by Lissa Tyler Renaud, who is known internationally as a master teacher, actor-scholar, invited speaker, writer, critic, and 2nd generation editor.
The three volumes feature works from across Lai’s career, providing an exceptional selection of a diverse range of performances, and are available individually or as a set.
Volume 1 contains:
Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land Look Who’s Crosstalking Tonight The Island and the Other Shore I Me She Him Ménage à 13Continue reading →
CFP: Asian Drama and Performance
Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association 75th Annual Convention
Conference Date: October 13-15, 2022
Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico
We invite submissions of papers both specifically and broadly related to Asian drama and performance, past and present. Specifically, any studies on Asian dramatic texts and performance traditions are welcome. Broadly, we also anticipate papers that examine the concept of performance in a range of humanities disciplines such as cultural studies (media, material culture, book culture, diaspora, multilingualism), gender studies, religion, and anthropology.
Dr. Po-Hsien Chu was a brilliant scholar of Sinophone theater and performance, a nurturer of the field of Sinophone Studies, a generous and witty collaborator, a punctilious teacher, and above all, a cherished colleague who made scholarly fellowship into an art. Like the many colleagues who have spoken about Po-Hsien in the past several weeks, we looked “forward to years of collaboration and comradeship” (Yizhou Huang) with Po-Hsien, and struggle to grasp that those years of fellowship are in the past. Dr. Po-Hsien Chu passed away unexpectedly on February 8, 2022. He was 35 years old.
How do we build a monument to one who had just, as it were, officially “arrived” to the academic party? One whose lack of pretentions would cause him to shoo away with a flourish of the wrist, a sideways glance, and an urbane smile any too-exuberant hailing of welcome or extolled announcement of his presence? We build by acknowledging and holding with dignity all that Po-Hsien gathered to him in his time, and we reflect that labor of love by sharing here a congregation of voices that loved him in return. Continue reading →
There is an anecdote I remember fondly from my first years as a drama student. My acting teacher said that to be on stage is to have nowhere to hide. Even if you are just standing in the background of a scene, you are integral to the set. You are a part of the narrative’s most basic foundation, its structural integrity. And that awareness is something you cannot forget, even if you are silent, even if you are standing in one place. He then said, if you drop a prop, pick it up. Immediately. If you leave it dropped, the narrative attention becomes focused on the dropped prop. Suddenly, every audience member is thinking, “When will it be picked up?” There is a diligence necessary to theater productions. This is not generally a worry in film, thanks to editing, multiple takes and camera coverages, and of course, through all of that, the director’s ability to, well, direct the audience’s focus to where they want it to go.
A New Old Play (椒麻堂会 jiāo má táng huì) is acclaimed Chinese director Qiū Jiǒngjiǒng’s 邱炯炯 latest film (and his first fiction endeavor). In it, he shines as a theater and film director in equal measures, balancing the honesty of the stage with an ambitious technical refinement that has made the film a festival favorite over the last year. Continue reading →
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.
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 →
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 →
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 TheatreJourney 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
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).
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 →
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.
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
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)
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 →
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 →