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Women Playing Men

Yue Opera and Social Change in Twentieth-Century Shanghai

by Jin Jiang

Publication Year: 2009

This ground-breaking volume documents women's influence on popular culture in twentieth-century China by examining Yue opera. A subgenre of Chinese opera, it migrated from the countryside to urban Shanghai and morphed from its traditional all-male form into an all-female one, with women cross-dressing as male characters for a largely female audience.

Published by: University of Washington Press


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p. vii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xix

This book attempts to seize a moment in the history of Chinese women, of Shanghai, and of China's nascent modernity before it is lost. It presents a social and cultural history of the unique phenomenon of an all-female theater, "women's Yue opera" (nüzi Yueju [lit., "women's Zhejiang opera"]), or simply "Yue opera" (Yueju), in the context of the rise of an urban...

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Introduction: Opera, Gender, and the City

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pp. 3-25

One of the most important cultural changes in modern China was the feminine opera culture that grew out of its Qing period (1644–1911) masculine predecessor. This modern feminine opera culture achieved its most mature form in several popular opera genres, including "ping opera" (pingju), which flourished in Tianjin; Yue opera, which became popular in...

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Chapter 1. The Origins of Yue Opera

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pp. 26-59

Yue opera originated with a peasant form of story-singing in the Zhejiang countryside in the mid-nineteenth century. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this form underwent great transformations and was a popular urban spectacle in Shanghai by the end of the 1930s. Significantly, the latter phase of the opera's early development overlapped with the rise...

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Chapter 2. The Rise of Feminine Opera

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pp. 60-105

It was February 21, 1942. In a funeral parlor at 838 Xujiahui Road in the former French concession, people from all over Shanghai came to watch the funeral ceremony for Ma Zhanghua, a twenty-one-year-old women's Yue opera star. Ma died of tuberculosis, but rumor attributed her illness to melancholy brought on by slanderous allegations of promiscuity. It was...

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Chapter 3. Patrons and Patronage

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pp. 106-138

The rise of Yue opera in Shanghai in the mid-twentieth century was not just a cultural phenomenon but also a social phenomenon that entailed the emergence of new social groups in the hierarchy of the city's public space. The opera's upward mobility was closely tied to its ability to build a core of upper- and middle-class patrons, and Yue opera grew by enlarging...

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Chapter 4. Staging in the Public Arena

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pp. 139-172

One evening in May 1946, the atmosphere in the Star Theater was unusual, as a special rehearsal of the New Yue Opera play Sister Xianglin was about to begin. The play had been adapted from the great modernist and left-wing writer Lu Xun's 1924 short story "The New Year's Sacrifice" (Zhufu). Well-known intellectuals and dramatists occupied almost the whole...

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Chapter 5. The Opera as History

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pp. 173-214

On October 1, 1949, Yuan Xuefen climbed to the balcony of the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen), along with a few hundred representatives to the First Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, to witness Chairman Mao Zedong declare the founding of the People's Republic of China. Yuan was one of four actors selected to represent the local-opera...

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Chapter 6. A Feminine Aesthetics

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pp. 215-250

Produced in 1958 and filmed in 1962, the Yue opera rendition of the eighteenth-century novel Dream of the Red Chamber was perhaps the greatest and most popular Chinese love story of the twentieth century. It is impossible to assess the impact of women's Yue opera in shaping a modern culture of love in twentieth-century Chinese popular culture without talking...

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pp. 251-267

For at least five hundred years, from the mid-Ming to the last decades of the twentieth century, local operas represented a prominent part of popular culture and an important aspect of Chinese life, and their transformations were integral to epochal social and political upheavals. In the twentieth century, the massive entrance of Chinese women into the public...

Appendix: Interviews and Informants

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pp. 269-273


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pp. 275-302

Chinese Character Glossary

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pp. 303-312


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pp. 313-329


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pp. 330-340

E-ISBN-13: 9780295800134
E-ISBN-10: 0295800135
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295988443
Print-ISBN-10: 0295988444

Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 704348924
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Women Playing Men

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Subject Headings

  • Folk drama, Chinese -- China -- Shaoxing -- History and criticism.
  • Theater -- China -- Shanghai -- History and criticism.
  • Shanghai (China) -- Social life and customs -- 20th century.
  • Popular culture -- China -- Shanghai.
  • Folk drama, Chinese -- China -- Shanghai -- History and criticism.
  • Women in opera.
  • Theater -- China -- Shaoxing -- History and criticism.
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