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Soul of Beijing Opera, The

Theatrical Creativity and Continuity in the Changing World

Ruru Li

Publication Year: 2010

Any traditional theatre has to engage the changing world to avoid becoming a living fossil. How has Beijing opera — a highly stylized theatre with breath-taking acrobatics and martial arts, fabulous costumes and striking makeup — survived into the new millennium while coping with a century of great upheavals and competition from new entertainment forms? Li Ruru's The Soul of Beijing Opera answers that question, looking at the evolution of singing and performance styles, make-up and costume, audience demands, as well as stage and street presentation modes amid tumultuous social and political changes. Li's study follows a number of major artists' careers in mainland China and Taiwan, drawing on extensive primary print sources as well as personal interviews with performers and their cultural peers. One chapter focuses on the illustrious career of Li's own mother and how she adapted to changes in Communist ideology. In addition, she explores how performers as social beings have responded to conflicts between tradition and modernity, and between convention and innovation. Through performers' negotiation and compromises, Beijing opera has undergone constant re-examination of its inner artistic logic and adjusted to the demands of the external world.

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

List of Figures and Plates

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pp. ix-x

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Foreword. Two Pairs of Eyes

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pp. xi-xiv

Is classical Chinese theatre really so distant from that of the West? Are the differences that distinguish us really as significant as they seem? Is what we have in common really common to both of us? Are we speaking of the same things when we speak of the same things, and speaking of different things when we speak of...

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Author’s Words

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pp. xv-xvi

This book is linked to my journey through life. It represents the culmination of my ambition, when I graduated from the Shanghai Theatre Academy in 1982, to research acting in jingju (Beijing Opera). However, acting in the traditional theatre was not considered a proper academic topic at the time. Thus, Professor Zhang...

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Prologue. Eyes on Jingju

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pp. 1-13

Jingju, which literally means “Beijing drama”, is the Chinese word for the theatrical genre known in the West as “Peking/Beijing Opera”. I adopt the term jingju in this volume because, when we appreciate how the word was formed, it offers an authentic Chinese sense that a foreign rendition cannot convey. Just as the English language...

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1 Jingju: Formation, Growth and the First Reform

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pp. 14-54

Unlike its counterpart in the West, indigenous Chinese drama never separated itself from the song and dance that were the origins of virtually every theatre in the world. “The Chinese classical play is in effect a synthesis of speech, music and dance, which are interrelated and each dependent on the other” (Scott 1959, 1). Hence the word...

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2 Training a Total Performer: Four Skills and Five Canons

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pp. 55-81

Jingju performers learn their essential skills in movement and voice through long and arduous training programmes starting in their childhood. Before discussing the methods in detail, some comments by foreign observers of jingju may highlight the particular requirements of the genre which the training is designed to...

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3 Cheng Yanqiu--Masculinity and Femininity

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pp. 83-119

Dan is the female role. According to the Origin compiled around the 1750s when plays were normally staged in daylight, the reason the Chinese theatre adopted the word dan, meaning “daytime”, to refer to the female role was because the male performer had to start his make-up at dawn (Huang Fanchuo 1982, 9:1). Generally...

Color Photos

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pp. Plate 1-Plate 16

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4 Li Yuru--The Jingju Tradition and Communist Ideology

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pp. 121-154

In 2007, Li Yuru was one of the four recipients of the Great Achievement in Performing Arts awarded by the All-China Association of Literature and Arts, honouring her contribution to jingju stage work and her recent research on acting in the genre. This is the sixth year the national award has been run, and the performing...

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5 Ma Yongan--A Painted-Face Role Type and a Non-Painted-Face Character

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pp. 155-187

This chapter focuses on the revolutionary contemporary model jingju, perhaps the most peculiar cultural phenomenon produced by the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–76). During this period, the entire traditional repertoire and the newly written historical plays (like Tang Sai’er) were abolished, while mode...

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6 Yan Qinggu - Staging the Ugly and the Beautiful in the Millennium

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pp. 189-214

Chou is the comic character in jingju. The role’s trademark make-up is a white patch on the nose/eye area, and it is called “small flowery face” (xiao hualian) as distinct from the “big flowery face” of the jing role (cf. chapter 5). Chou is often associated with the ugly and grotesque, which means it has “something in common with comic...

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7 Kuo Hsiao-chuang—A Theatre That “Belongs to Tradition, Modernity and to You and Me”

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pp. 215-239

This chapter moves the investigation from the mainland to Taiwan. The central figure is Kuo Hsiao-chuang, a dan actress whose work in the 1980s was once described by Wang Anqi, a Taiwanese scholar, as “dazzling sunlight” that people either loved or hated.2 How could an individual performer play such an important role, altering...

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8 Wu Hsing-kuo--Subversion or Innovation?

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pp. 241-274

In 1986, seven years after Kuo Hsiao-chuang and her Elegant Voice first assailed jingju circles, Wu Hsing-kuo and his newly established Contemporary Legend Theatre (CLT) gave Taiwanese audiences another shock. The Kingdom of Desire, an adaptation of Macbeth that was to meet with international acclaim for decades, began...

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Epilogue New Beginnings or the Beginning of the End?

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pp. 275-282

Jingju is a highly stylized song-dance theatre with specific role types, internationally renowned for breathtaking acrobatics, exquisite costumes and striking make-up. Like every theatre in the world, it is a socio-cultural product. Its performers stand between its strong theatrical tradition and the implicit, and sometimes explicit,...

Appendix 1A. Chronology

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pp. 283-299

Appendix 1B.

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pp. 322-333

Appendix 2. Main Features of Jingju Role Types

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pp. 301-305


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pp. 307-314


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pp. 315-328


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pp. 329-335

E-ISBN-13: 9789882205802
Print-ISBN-13: 9789622099944

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 4 b/w illus
Publication Year: 2010