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  • Dunhuang Performing Arts: The Construction and Transmission Of "China-Scape" in the Global Context) by Lanlan Kuang
  • Emily Wilcox
Dunhuang bihua yuewu: "Zhongguo jingguan" zai guoji yujing zhong de jiangou, chuanbo yu yiyi ( 敦煌壁画乐舞: '中国景观'在国际语境中的建 构、传播与意义, DUNHUANG PERFORMING ARTS: THE CONSTRUCTION AND TRANSMISSION OF "CHINA-SCAPE" IN THE GLOBAL CONTEXT). By Lanlan Kuang ( 邝蓝岚). 社会科学文 献出版社. Beijing: Social Science Academic Press, 2016. 293 pp. Paper, ¥89 CNY, $13 US.

Dunhuang Performing Arts is the first academic monograph by Lanlan Kuang, a US-based scholar who currently serves as assistant professor of philosophy and co-director of the China-US Ethnic Cultural Exchange and Joint Research Initiatives at the University of Central Florida. Kuang earned her PhD in 2012 from the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University, Bloomington for her dissertation "Staging the Cosmopolitan Nation: The Re-Creation of the Dunhuang bihua yuewu, a Multifaceted Music, Dance, and Theatrical Drama from China" and has published journal articles on her research (see for example Kuang 2016). Dunhuang Performing Arts adapts and expands this project for Chinese-language readers, particularly scholars of "Dunhuangology" (dunhuangxue 敦煌学, p. 2), or Dunhuang studies: a transdisciplinary and international field dedicated to the study of the texts and art of Dunhuang, a Buddhist world heritage site along the medieval Silk Road connecting historical China westward to Central Asia, South Asia, and Persia. Bringing together multimedia ethnographic research with theoretical insights from ethnomusicology, philosophy, religious studies, performance studies, and cognitive science, Dunhuang Performing Arts is an ambitious intervention that aims to redefine the field of Dunhuang studies; through her investigation of Dunhuang as a constellation of contemporary [End Page 237] meanings and relationships that come into existence through the activities of social actors in live performances, Kuang reconceptualizes Dunhuang from a collection of static historical objects to a field of contemporary cultural production in which artists, scholars, performers, and audiences collaboratively construct and project new visions of a multicultural China (what Kuang calls "China-scapes," Zhongguo jinggan 中国景观, p. 4) into domestic (Chinese) and international media and performance spheres.

Most observers of the performing arts in contemporary China are familiar with commonly staged elements of Dunhuang imagery: flying beings with long silk streamers known as feitian 飞天 (apsaras); a multi-armed, multi-eyed diety qianshou qianyan Guanyin 千手千眼观音 (thousand-handed and thousand-eyed Avalokitesvara); and instrument-playing dancers, the most iconic of which performs the position known as fantan pipa 反弹琵琶 (reverse-played pipa). Kuang's mission is to understand how these images emerged historically and now function today as core components of the performance genre known as "Dunhuang performing arts" (Dunhuang bihua yuewu 敦煌壁 画乐舞, literally "Dunhuang mural music and dance"). To understand the historical emergence of Dunhuang performing arts as a contemporary stage genre, Kuang traces a genealogy of influential productions that helped to crystallize these images both within China and to international audiences, such as Mei Lanfang's 1917 Peking opera scene Celestial Goddess Sprinkling Flowers from Heaven (Tiannü sanhua 天女散花), Dai Ailian's 1953 dance duet Apsaras (Feitian 飞天), Gansu Song and Dance Ensemble's 1978 dance drama Flowers and Rain on the Silk Road (Silu hua yu 丝路花雨, also translated Along the Silk Road), and Zhang Jigang's 2004 group dance Thousand-handed Avalokitesvara (Qianshou Guanyin 千手观音). In her accounts of these productions, Kuang emphasizes the agency of contemporary social actors in actively bringing about the new genre of Dunhuang performing arts. For example, in her discussion of Flowers and Rain on the Silk Road, Kuang recounts how dance historian Dong Xijiu 董锡玖, upon visiting Dunhuang in 1977, made a recommendation to the Gansu Ministers of Culture that directly resulted in the creation of the influential dance drama one year later, sparking the explosion of a new field of Dunhuang performing arts in the post-Cultural Revolutionary era (pp. 150–154). Similarly, in her discussion of Thousand-handed Avalokitesvara,Kuang demonstrates how Gao Jinrong 高金荣, through decades of research and teaching praxis in collaboration with her students, developed the distinctive dance movement vocabulary that appears in this and other Dunhuang-themed choreography (pp. 192–209). To reflect their agency as historical interpreters and creators of Dunhuang performing arts, [End Page 238] Kuang presents Dong and Gao as vivid interlocutors in her narrative, by including ample images of them from...


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