Maoist Model Theatre

The Semiotics of Gender and Sexuality in the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976)


Here is a convincing reflection that changes our understanding of gender in Maoist culture, esp. for what critics from the 1990s onwards have termed its ‘erasure’ of gender and sexuality. In particular the strong heroines of the yangbanxi, or ‘model works’ which dominated the Cultural Revolution period, have been seen as genderless revolutionaries whose images were damaging to women. Drawing on contemporary theories ranging from literary and cultural studies to sociology, this book challenges that established view through detailed semiotic analysis of theatrical systems of the yangbanxi including costume, props, kinesics, and various audio and linguistic systems. Acknowledging the complex interplay of traditional, modern, Chinese and foreign gender ideologies as manifest in the 'model works', it fundamentally changes our insights into gender in Maoist culture.
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Biographical Note

Rosemary A. Roberts, Ph.D (1992) in Modern Chinese Literature, Australian National University, is a lecturer in Chinese at the University of Queensland, Australia. She has published widely in the fields of women's literature and gender studies.

Table of contents

List of Tables
List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations

Chapter One Introduction: Gender and the Model Works
    The Cultural Revolution and the Yangbanxi
    Origins of the Yangbanxi
    Ideological Foundations of the Yangbanxi
    Chinese Language Scholarship on the Yangbanxi
    English Language Scholarship on the Yangbanxi
    Research on Gender in the Cultural Revolution
    On the Masculinisation of Women and the Erasure of Femininity
    Semiotics of the Th eatre as a Tool for Gender Analysis of the Yangbanxi
     Story Synopses:
      The Red Lantern (Hong deng ji)

Chapter Two Role Assignment and Gender: Resetting the Paradigms
    The Role Distribution of the Central Heroic Characters Linguistic Systems
    Kinesics: Facial Mime, Gesture, Movement
    Music: Vocal Techniques
    Makeup, Hairstyles and Costumes
    Subverting Tradition Through Radicalized Conservatism
    Concluding Remarks
     Story Synopses:
      Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy (Zhi qu weihu shan)
      Raid on White Tiger Regiment (Qixi Baihutuan)

Chapter Three Costume in the Yangbanxi: Gendering the Revolutionary Body
    Fashion Theory and the Yangbanxi: Some Theoretical Issues
    Bodies and Faces
    Hair and Female Beauty
    Costume Fabrics and Designs
    Concluding Remarks
     Story Synopses:
      On the Docks (Haigang)
      The Red Detachment of Women (Hongse niangzi jun)

Chapter Four Gender and the Kinesics of Yangbanxi Ballet
    The Classical Ballet Tradition
    The Yangbanxi Ballets
    Gender in Dance Performance: a Methodology for Analysis
    Yangbanxi Ballet Kinetic Analysis
    Roles and Individual Dance Movements
    Interactive Dance Movement
    On Bodies and Sensuality
    Concluding Remarks
    Story Synopses:
      The White-haired Girl (Baimao nü)
      Song of the Dragon River (Long jiang song)

Chapter Five Feminising Leadership in Song of the Dragon River
    The Creation of Song of the Dragon River
    Major Characters and the Plot of Song of the Dragon River
    Semiotic Systems and Codes for Analysis
    Femininity, Masculinity and Leadership in Maoist Culture
    Hairstyle and Costume
    Verbal Linguistic Systems
    Gender Differences in Relationship Management
    Non-Verbal Language Systems
    Sexuality, Motherhood and Female Leadership in a Masculine Environment
    Conclusions: Female Leadership and the Yangbanxi
    Story Synopses:
      Azalea Mountain (Dujuan shan)
      Fighting on the Plains (Pingyuan zuozhan)

Chapter Six The Yangbanxi Heroine and the Historical
    Tradition of the Chinese Woman Warrior
    The Woman Warrior in Chinese Historical Records and Traditional Culture
    Mulan as a Model for Women in the Twentieth Century
    Gender, Sexuality and the Woman Warrior
    Women Warriors of the Yangbanxi
    The Cultural Model and Gendered Audience Response
    Story Synopses:
      Boulder Bay (Panshi wan)
      Ode to Yimeng (Yimeng song)—ballet
      Red Cloud Ridge (Hong yungang) or Red Sister (Hong sao)—Beijing Opera
      Sons and Daughters of the Grasslands (Caoyuan er nü)

Chapter Seven Gendering the Counter-Revolution
    The Feminisation of Villainy
    Symbolic Gendering through Yin-Yang Symbolism
    Cultural Attitudes to Homosexuality in Chinese Culture
    Negative Stereotypes of Homosexual Males in Theatre and Film
    Visual and Aural (Ef)feminisation of the Counter-Revolution
    Vocal Feminisation
    Kinesics and Proxemics
    The Gendering of Personal Qualities of the Yangbanxi Villains

Chapter Eight The Yangbanxi and Gender Identities in Post-Maoist China

Yangbanxi Filmography


Specialists and students of Chinese literary and cultural studies; gender studies in twentieth century China; and traditional and modern Chinese theatre, as well as scholars interested in methodologies for cross-cultural analysis.


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