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Reviewed by:
  • The Columbia Anthology of Chinese Folk and Popular Literature
  • Kathy Foley
The Columbia Anthology of Chinese Folk and Popular Literature. Edited by Victor H. Mair and Mark Bender. New York: Columbia University Press. 800 pp. Paper $37.50; cloth $105.

While this work has only thirty pages devoted to actual folk drama, the extensive sections on professional storytelling traditions (drum songs, Yangzhaou pinghua storytelling, jingjiang "telling scriptures," etc.) have narratives and performance styles that overlap with theatre. The book has extensive materials on folk rituals, epics, folk stories, folk songs, and ballads.

The drama section begins with a three-page introduction to folk [End Page 337] drama. A transcription of a 1996 hand puppet (budaixi) by Taiwan's Zhang Shuangxi Hand-Puppet Troupe translated by Sue-mei Wu follows. Fan Pen Chen's translation of "All Three Fear Their Wives" is reprinted from this journal, and a yangg'e (rice planting) script from 1943 called "Worthy Sister-in-Law" is translated by Ellen Judd. The play addresses female illiteracy and abuse of wives by their mothers-in-law. The text shows socialist use of yangg'e to educate. Another excerpt from the play of Mulian, who rescues of his mother from hell, is included. The episode shows Mulian's mother eating meat—an event that condemns her.

In storytelling or ballads we get episodes from important Chinese narratives. An eighteenth-century version of Butterfly Lovers translated by Wilt Idema is a delightfully readable version of the story: Zhu Yingtai's decision to study with Confucius disguised as a man and the affection she shares with her roommate, Liang Sanbo, who fails to recognize she is a woman, is palpable. The humor, passion, and homoerotic hints are clear. Idema includes an introduction that notes the use of the story in contemporary Queer culture. Excerpts from Monkey King's Journey to the West, exploits of the warrior woman Hua Mulan, Wu Song's fight with the tiger (from Water Margin), and the scholar-beauty story of Pearl Pagoda are all represented, but usually with only a scene or two. However, those who read this volume will have an introduction to many tales featured in opera and puppetry. Mair and Bender have created a useful resource for those interested in exploring and teaching about the folk performance traditions of China. [End Page 338]

Kathy Foley
University of California, Santa Cruz