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Presenting century evolution of Chinese theater

Author  :  WANG ZHIYAN     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-06-26

A History of Chinese Theater in the Twentieth Century

Author: Fu Jin

Publisher: China Social Sciences Press

A History of Chinese Theater in the Twentieth Century elaborates on the evolution of Chinese theater in the 20th century with rich materials and earthly language, in a work that totals 1.2 million words. It divides the theatrical history that started from the artistic reform triggered by the Yihetuan Movement in 1900, also known as Boxer Uprising, to the debut of avant-garde drama Che Guevara in 2000 into two parts with the year 1949 as the parting line. The book discards the usual perspectives in theatrical research that emphasize ideology and work history, and examines Chinese theatrical history against the backdrop of modernization. It discusses the basic characteristics, rules, achievements, lessons, inheritance and development of modern Chinese theater from political, artistic and recreational perspectives, and from multiple dialectical relationships that connect tradition and modernity, local and Western culture, politics and art, city and countryside, humanism and ecology, and performance and market.

Social turmoil in the beginning of the 20th century has complicated Chinese theater. In the late years of the Qing Dynasty, Chinese theater works that originated in the Song and Yuan dynasties had both the Kun opera that increasingly matured in Ming and Qing dynasties, and various local genres of drama in full swing. Classic repertoires as well as diverse and skilled performance techniques across hundreds of years of history laid a solid foundation for the development of Chinese theater in the 20th century. Without doubt, the modernization process marked by the emergence of new type of cities had an inevitable profound impact on Chinese theaters in terms of performance styles, venues and other mechanisms.

The 20th century for China can be divided into two parts with the founding of the PRC in 1949. In the latter half, Chinese theaters experienced many upheavals as society did. It partly inherited the development path of the former half century while nurturing many big changes. Literarische piesen, performing skills, music, stage art and even the business operation system all depend on the interactions between tradition and reality. However, the greater force lying behind it is the original reason for the birth of theater—humanity’s inherent need for amusement, so that theater could be an integral part of entertainment culture. This is the most important guarantee for a steady flow of successors to enter the drama industry in every age, and also the assurance that theatre could exist in different social settings.

Chinese theater witnessed many changes in the 20th century that resulted from inner limitations and external impacts. It began its pursuit of modernity in the beginning of the 20th century. Be it political, artistic or recreational interpretations of theater, the two contrasting strengths—modernity and localization—brought about new connotations. Therefore, modernity and localization are two basic dimensions for accurately understanding the development of Chinese theater in the 20th century. The two dimensions, combined with the aforementioned political, artistic and recreational interpretations of theater, constitute the intricate development track of Chinese drama. Through this network, we can perceive a clear view of Chinese theater in the 20th century.

Editor: Yu Hui

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