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Acting the Right Part

Political Theater and Popular Drama in Contemporary China

Xiaomei Chen

Publication Year: 2002

Acting the Right Part is a cultural history of huaju (modern Chinese drama) from 1966 to 1996. Xiaomei Chen situates her study both in the context of Chinese literary and cultural history and in the context of comparative drama and theater, cultural studies, and critical issues relevant to national theater worldwide. Following a discussion of the marginality of modern Chinese drama in relation to other genres, periods, and cultures, early chapters focus on the dynamic relationship between theater and revolution. Chosen during the Cultural Revolution as the exclusive artistic vehicle to promote proletariat art, "model theater" raises important questions about the complex relationships between women, memory, nation/state, revolution, and visual culture. Throughout this study, Chen argues that dramatic norms inform both theatrical performance and everyday political behavior in contemporary China.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

Acknowledgments are difficult to write for a book project ten years in the making. Inevitably I will omit the names of people who have in one way or the other helped me in most generous ways. This study was first supported by an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship from the Stanford Humanities Center for the 1990–1991 academic year, which allowed me an opportunity to use the...

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pp. 1-15

Written fourteen years after I became part of the Chinese diaspora in America, this book is intimately related to my memories of growing up in a family of celebrated theatrical artists in Beijing. In my early childhood, theater was a form of “child’s play,” a taste of paradise granted me each Saturday night, when I was placed on a small stool next to the stage lights, at the corner of what seemed the immeasurably...

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1. Introduction: Why Not Modern Chinese Drama?

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pp. 17-72

This study is intended as a cultural history of Chinese theater (both geming yangbanxi, or revolutionary model theater, and huaju, hereafter understood to refer to modern Chinese drama) in contemporary China from 1966 to the early 1990s. Modern Chinese drama was introduced to the Chinese stage at the turn of the twentieth century in imitation...

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2. Operatic Revolutions: Tradition, Memory, and Women in Model Theater

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pp. 73-121

Over three decades have passed since the heyday of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Memories of some of the main players of model theater, though, remain strong. Qian Haoliang, who played Li Yuhe in the revolutionary model Peking opera The Red Lantern, hoped very much that audiences from the 1960s and 1970s would have forgotten his association with Jiang Qing, and his performance and promotion of model...

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3. Family, Village, Nation/State, and the Third World: The Imagined Communities in Model Theater

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pp. 123-158

During the past two decades, modern Chinese literary studies have usually dismissed the need for any scholarly research on the revolutionary model theater. The era of model theater appears as a blank period devoid of any literary value, and Cultural Revolutionary literature—if mentioned at all—pales when compared to that of the great periods of the pre–Cultural Revolutionary and post–Cultural Revolutionary...

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4. Audience, Applause, and Actor: Border Crossing in Social Problem Plays

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pp. 159-193

In the present postcolonial age, when the Eurocentric literary tradition is being challenged in the West, Chinese literature, as a specific kind of Third World literature, is becoming increasingly well known. Yet significant studies of Chinese literature, especially in the modern period, have been generally confined to fiction and, to a lesser...

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5. Performing Tiananmen: From Street Theater to Theater of the Street

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pp. 195-233

On October 1, 1949, when Mao Zedong stood up in Tiananmen Square before the eyes of the whole world and declared that the Chinese people had rallied as one proud nation, he, as a leading actor in the political drama unfolding in the young People’s Republic, also inaugurated a tradition of Tiananmen street theater. Unlike the...

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6. A Stage of Their Own: Feminism, Countervoices, and the Problematics of Women’s Theater

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pp. 235-260

Since the beginning of modern Chinese drama, May Fourth male playwrights such as Guo Moruo, Ouyang Yuqian, and Chen Dabei, in forming a tradition to counter the Confucian ruling ideology, treated women’s liberation and equality as important political and ideological issues.1 Female playwrights, such as Bai Wei, depicted loving...

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7. From Discontented Mother to Woman Warrior: Body Politics in Post-Maoist Theater

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pp. 261-289

In her insightful essay on women and Chinese cinema, Dai Jinhua narrates what she calls the plight of Hua Mulan,1 the legendary woman warrior who won military battles on behalf of her aged father. According to Dai, one sees in this story of Hua Mulan the gender predicament of contemporary women, who can become heroes only through adopting the role of a man, “a most important mirror...

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8. A Stage in Search of a Tradition: The Dynamics of Form and Content in Post-Maoist Theater

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pp. 291-330

Since its inception, modern Chinese drama has been inseparable from the May Fourth movement and its anti-imperialist and antitraditionalist agenda. During its history, however, this anti-imperialist thrust has in many instances led to a paradox, as the antitraditional aspect of modern Chinese drama undermines its anti-imperialist...

Appendix: A Selected List of Plays from the Republican to the PRC Periods in English Translation

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pp. 331-338


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pp. 339-397


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pp. 399-408


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pp. 409-437


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pp. 439-466

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861360
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824822873

Publication Year: 2002