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Reviewed by:
  • Huju: Traditional Opera in Modern Shanghai
  • Alan L. Kagan (bio)
Huju: Traditional Opera in Modern Shanghai. Jonathan P. J. Stock. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN: 0-19-726273-2. 279 pp., photos, figures, maps, music, appendices, glossary, bibliography, index.

Readers of this journal are not unfamiliar with the Shanghai regional opera form huju and Jonathan Stock, author of the worthy article on apprenticeship in this tradition published in the Spring 2002 issue. Elements of that article are integrated in the text of this book, but it remains a fuller examination of that issue. Regional opera in China remains an elusive charmin available literature. The dramatic content, musical character, colorful action, and cultural reflexivity of each distinctive locale attract our interest. Its myriad facets afford a wide range of approaches in methodology and conceptual foci. It is a daunting proposition to approach the genre's totality in more than piecemeal fashion, as is usually the case. Much to his credit Stock has taken the larger step, and without the ponderous presentation of a massive tome.

The title's prescribed limitations as to time and place provide investigative boundaries to the study and support the determinants of a unified subgenre. The term huju is a recent designation, not appearing in use until the early 1940s and identifying the Shanghai region as an administrative district on par with a province. This term replaced the genre name shenqu (Shanghai City song), which had been used since the 1910s, when diverse local narrative fore-runners were coalesced into a fully staged performance distinguished from pre-existing opera traditions of other communities and regions. Stock reviews the standard historical model for the origins of Shanghai opera, a linear sequence of nineteenth-century rural genres: narrative ballad, folk song, and duo-personnel song-and-dance skits (huaguxi: flower/drum theater), culminating with rural performers' migration to the city and their adaptation of a staged drama. While acknowledging the incipient dramatic characteristics in each of the forerunners, as well as residual melodic patterns and structural designs relating them to huju, he disclaims the conventional evolutionary pattern and charts a reasonable model of multiple relationships and influences leading to shenqu. [End Page 120]

In the course of this preliminary examination of historical developments, Stock shifts from the broad brush of genre account to the biographical details of performers involved in the turn-of-century transition to the new idiosyncratic opera. Shifting to personalities is done to reveal their social status, apprenticeship, performance development, artistic values, and adjustments to urban culture. For his sources, it appears that Stock was fortunate that a 1986 Shanghai journal was devoted to the lives of early twentieth century stage performers. Of the eighteen listed in the bibliography, both men and women, most are personal narrations by surviving artists, a few are a daughter's account of a parent's life, as well as a director's description of a 1933 performance and investigative reports of researchers. Stock adds his own interview of a more recent performer's experiences to provide a comparison with post-1949 training. The crux of this topical shift is strategic, for it underscores the complexity of behavior and creativity that is at the heart of Stock's reconstruction of the genre's development.

Following the explication of genre genesis, Stock advances into the opera's formative period, the first half of the century, and does so twice. First, he traces these dynamics in a chapter titled, "Female Roles and the Rise of Actresses, 1915–c. 1950," and then, taking up the topic "Place and Music: Local Opera in Shanghai, 1912–49," the reader is confronted with significant social issues underlying dramatic content, rather than a chronology of performance events. With respect to women taking control of female stage roles, the Shanghai scene makes for an ideal presentation of theoretical perspectives. Stock takes a two-pronged approach for his analysis, the creation of female roles in selected operas and the motivation of the new actresses. He explores these two threads through several theoretical positions: the author's critical reading, the opera community's understanding, and the application of reception theory to identify culture entities who speak in...


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pp. 120-127
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