Asian Theatre Journal 19.2 (2002) 355-357
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This Chinese-language work is the last of three volumes covering the history of jingju (Peking or Beijing Opera). (See ATJ 8/1 for my critique of volume 1.) Together with two earlier volumes, which covered respectively the origins and early development of jingju and the Republican period (1912-1949), it represents an astonishing achievement and is likely to stand for many years as the most detailed historical coverage of jingju in Chinese or any other language. Although the authorship is given as a committee, there is a specific name list at the beginning covering the whole work, followed by another list covering just the present third volume, with the names of six compilers: Niu Piao, Huang Jusheng, Cheng Peizhong, Lu Qing, Yu Wenqing, and Shen Hongxin.
This third volume, itself in two volumes, covers the People's Republic of China (PRC), or more specifically the period 1949 to 1996. The authors have divided the last fifty years or so of the twentieth century as follows: 1949-1964, 1964-1979, and 1980-1996. The section on the first of these periods is called simply "the golden age of jingju, " the second " jingju before and after the 'cultural revolution,'" and the third "the new period of jingju revival." The reason for beginning the second period in 1964, rather than a bit later, is because that year saw the first festival of jingju on modern themes, and ushered in the period that gave birth to the "model dramas" of which Jiang Qing—the wife of Mao Zedong and the main activist in theatre reform during the Cultural Revolution—was so proud. In addition, there is a long section on jingju in Hong Kong, Macau, and outside China. A map at the end of the second volume shows the places outside China where there are still jingju companies operating.
There are clear value judgments in the periodization. The most striking one dubs the first fifteen years of the PRC the golden age. The authors are obviously very enthusiastic about this period. They praise the innovation and reform activities of the jingju performers, the new social system, the new training system, and the writers of the scripts, as well as the new scholarship and publishing about jingju. They are less forthcoming about the period of the Cultural Revolution, which is not surprising given that official attitudes toward that period are still very negative.
What I find most striking, however, is not that the coverage of that period is negative, but that it actually has quite a bit to say that is positive. There is rather lengthy discussion of the "three prominences" (san tuchu) theory put forward by Jiang Qing, a stereotypical idea proclaiming that among all characters one should give prominence to the positive ones, among them to the heroes, and among the heroes to the main hero. The discussion is hardly sympathetic, but it does at least take the notion seriously. On p. 481, the judgment [End Page 355] is cast that "combining Chinese and Western instrumentation increased the musical color of the jingju accompaniment and the artistic expressive power." Actually, I have questioned various officials and performers about the practice of introducing Western instruments into the jingju orchestra at the time, and got a very similar response to the one just quoted. Of course it is a perfectly rational view. But there is an alternative opinion. It argues that Western instruments do not so much increase expressive powers as dilute the Chineseness of the original music and form a hybrid that is neither Chinese nor Western and not particularly satisfying artistically. Given how strongly traditional thinking has returned in parts of the theatre world in China, it is striking that Western instruments have been retained in some jingju orchestras in the new period of reform.
In the West there has...