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Reviewed by:
  • Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy by Emily Wilcox
  • Ziying Cui
REVOLUTIONARY BODIES: CHINESE DANCE AND THE SOCIALIST LEGACY. By Emily Wilcox. Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2018. 322 pp. Paper, $32.83.

Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy is the first monograph by Emily Wilcox. In this book, Wilcox examines the history of Chinese dance development in the People's Republic of China (PRC) from its emergence in the 1940s. This groundbreaking research highlights the practices of Chinese concert dance and provides [End Page 270] enormous historical sources for the reader. Before the publication of Revolutionary Bodies, Chinese dance studies (in English) were shaped by socialist propaganda and Asian performance studies which focused on Chinese revolutionary ballet and the performance practices other than dance. In this text, Wilcox, who conducted intensive fieldwork at the Beijing Dance Academy (Beijing Wudao Xueyuan 北京舞蹈学院), shifts from her previous anthropological project to primarily historical research of Chinese dance. In this innovative scholarship, Wilcox places the development of Chinese dance at the intersection of modern Chinese history and individual dance artists' narratives. She argues that Chinese dance should be seen as a complex cultural phenomenon rather than a monolithic political production. While this research is not able to cover all the details of 70-years' Chinese dance evolution, Wilcox's book crystallizes the prolonged, massive, and diverse PRC dance history into a comprehensive assessment and provides an example for scholars who research on this topic.

In the introduction, Wilcox raises three core principles that define Chinese dance as a genre: kinesthetic nationalism, ethnic and spatial inclusiveness, and dynamic inheritance (p. 6). The concept of "kinesthetic nationalism" is expanded from the Chinese language ideas of "national form" (minzu xingshi 民族形式), a discursive concept that relates to aesthetic form and nationality. The idea of "ethnic and spatial inclusiveness" explains the multiplicity of Chinese dance forms which developed from the diverse ethnic communities and geographic regions across China. The third principle, "dynamic inheritance," is the balancing of maintaining and innovating traditional performance forms. These three principles are important concepts underpinning Wilcox's arguments and analysis of Chinese dance throughout the book.

In chapter 1, Wilcox examines the personal experience and artistic contribution of the most important figure of Chinese dance, Dai Ailian, and dance groups which also contributed to the creation and standardization of Chinese dance as a national form. As a member of Chinese diaspora, Dai's interest in Chinese dance was influenced by the racial discrimination experienced during her career in England. After coming to China in the early 1940s, Dai's dance work drew upon Chinese local performances and highlighted non-Han cultures. Aside from Dai's contribution, Wilcox also recognizes the other two dance developments during wartime China. One is New Yangge, a dance project advocated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Yan'an that based on the folk dance practice of yangge, and the other is Wu Xiaobang's New Dance. Throughout the narrative of Dai's experience, Wu's New Dance, and New Yangge, Wilcox maps out the trajectory of [End Page 271] the emergence of modern Chinese dance and the history of its development during the 1940s.

In chapter 2, Wilcox analyzes a variety of dance experiments in the early PRC. Among the experiments on stage and in the classroom, the dance program established by the Korean dancer Choe Seung-hui (Cui Chengxi) had a great impact on China's dance development. Choe's program divided traditional performance sources into two categories: Chinese folk dance that emphasized performance by peasants and Chinese classical dance that focused on training students the basic movement that based on xiqu (traditional theatre) techniques. This pedagogical method was later adopted by the Beijing Dance School which standardized and disseminated it across the country.

In chapter 3, Wilcox examines the primary development of Chinese dance from the late 1950s to the early 1960s. Internationally, Chinese dance as a predominant national dance genre was circulated on global stage through the dance competition of the World Festival of Youth and Students (WFYS). By calling for "socialist cosmopolitism" and featuring the national folk dance of socialist countries, the WFYS dance competition allowed Chinese...


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