Shortly after the formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the Chinese government pushed through a reform campaign aimed at the repertoire, artists, and organization of traditional Chinese theatre collectively known as xiqu (sung drama). This reform caused such an extensive shortage of performable plays by the mid-1950s that the government briefly relaxed its repertoire policies, although the basic tenet of the censorship was not rescinded until the 1980s. For a performance-based and actor-centered theatre like xiqu, where plays serve as carriers of performative conventions and techniques, this three-decade gap resulted in the loss of many scripts and their performance techniques. This article traces the genesis of xiqu reform and examines the various measures of censorship, which range from outright bans to script examination and revision to public-pressure campaigns. Next, it focuses on the reform of organizations and the censorship of performance styles. Finally, the article examines the reform’s immediate impact on xiqu repertoire and the livelihood of xiqu artists, which triggered the first brief easing of the bans during 1956–57. The analysis focuses on the interstitial spaces between various levels of authorities, as well as between the authorities and theatre artists, between xiqu’s archival and performance memories, and between reform and censorship.


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pp. 387-406
Launched on MUSE
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