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Reviewed by:
  • Marionette Theatre in Quanzhou
  • Colin Mackerras (bio)
Robin Ruizendaal . Marionette Theatre in Quanzhou. Sinica Leidensia, 73. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2006. x, 470 pp. Hardcover $188.00, ISBN-13 978-90-04-15104-8; ISBN-10 90–04–15104–4.

This is a very large and intensively researched book. It is not about Chinese theatre as a whole, but about one branch of puppet theatre in one particular part of one of China's provinces. Despite its great attention to scholarly detail and its highly specific nature, it succeeds in raising many important and interesting questions about Chinese society and the Chinese popular arts in general. In my opinion, it is an important book and should be useful to specialists in Chinese social history, performing arts, religion, ritual, and folklore, and in the ways modernity and commercialization affect the popular arts in a country like China. It is splendidly written, illustrated, and presented and is obviously the result of many years of work. It meets the scholarly standards one has come to expect from Brill, and in particular the series Sinica Leidensia.

Marionette theatre is a string puppet theatre, and has for many centuries been especially noted in Quanzhou, southern Fujian Province. In common with other Chinese drama genres, it is based in song. The music of the marionette theatre of Quanzhou has many elements in common with the region's local theatre, though whether it was puppets or local theatre that came first is not at all clear. Although there is earlier material on the important Chinese puppet traditions, this is the first full-scale study of the major marionette theatre of Quanzhou, itself an important branch of Chinese traditional theatre.

This is a very well-documented book. The author spent sixteen months in Quanzhou and southern Taiwan over the years 1991 to 1995 and returned for visits to the region in 2002 and 2003. He was able to win the confidence of the practitioners of the marionette theatre and gained a great deal of unusual primary material from them. In addition to this extensive field work, he has appealed to a wide range of printed materials, the great majority being in Chinese and English, but with a few also in other languages like Japanese and French.

The introduction deals with the author's fieldwork as well as some terminological problems, such as whether to use the term "opera" for puppet theatre. Chapter 1 has a rundown of the history of the marionette theatre of Fujian Province from the Tang to the late Qing. However, the bulk of the book deals with the Republic and People's Republic periods to the time when the author undertook his field research. Topics covered include a history of the marionette theatre companies in Quanzhou, the education and training of the marionette puppeteers, the stage, the repertoire, the social context of performance and the performance itself, as well as the ritual associated with it. There are also thoughts [End Page 530] on further research. Finally, there is the Chinese original and a translation into English of the most important of the Quanzhou marionette dramas, namely Dou Tao (the name of the main male character), and another translated play.

The main conclusion to emerge from this book is the continuing importance of religion and social context for the marionette theatre of Quanzhou: "The present-day marionette theatre is still an intrinsic part of religious and theatrical culture and also an important element of local identity" (p. 2). While acknowledging the impact of communism on this form of theatre, the author sees it as comparatively slight by comparison either with tradition or with modernity. In discussing the reforms of the 1950s, he states:

The communists were aware that traditional Chinese values expressed in the performing arts did not exist by the grace of the existence of the empire, but were ingrained in every individual and social organization, with—and we cannot repeat this often enough—religion as its most fundamental form of expression. The Communist Party was thus faced with a population in Quanzhou that was deeply imbedded in traditional culture and only slightly touched by Western influences.

(p. 341)

Such factors do...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 530-533
Launched on MUSE
2008-11-28
Open Access
No
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