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Textualization and Performance, Authorship and Censorship of the “National Drama” of China from the Late Qing to the Present
Author: David Rolston
What was the most influential mass medium in China before the internet? Jingju (Peking opera)! Although its actors were commonly thought to have been illiterate, written and other inscripted versions of plays became more and more important and varied.
This book shows how increasing textualization and the resulting fixation of a performance tradition that once privileged improvisation changed the genre. It traces, from Jingju’s birth in the 19th century to the present, how texts were used for the production and consumption of this important performance genre and the changes in the concepts of authorship, copyright, and performance rights that took place during the process. The state’s desire to police what was performed is shown to have been a major factor in these changes.
The scope and coverage of the book is already unprecedented, but it is also supplemented by an additional chapter (on where the plays were performed, who performed them, and who went to see them) available for download online.

Abstract

One of the criticisms of Xikao was that it was not “scientific” enough. Chapter 4 shows that it was in the wake of the appearance of Xikao that different people advocated the study of theater as a discipline and began to publish periodicals that also took that point of view. Those periodicals published Jingju play texts but did so in entirely new ways, one of which was to proclaim that the copyright and performance rights were retained by the playwright. It was also during this period that the Republic got more serious about enforcing copyright and censoring plays.

In: Inscribing Jingju/Peking Opera

Abstract

Chapter 1 introduces the repertoire(s) of Jingju and the categories that Jingju plays were divided into and discusses how traditional Chinese play texts in general, and Jingju playscripts in particular, were originally organized. It discusses how elements of plays, including non-verbal and performance elements, could and were textualized before the advent of media that could conveniently capture and integrate aural and visual elements into the “texts” that they produced.

In: Inscribing Jingju/Peking Opera

Abstract

The more print, audio, and multimedia reproductions of Jingju play texts have been made available, the more those versions of Jingju plays have been used to learn to perform the plays; and the more the student is required to emulate what is given in such fixed forms, the more likely it is that the ways the plays are performed becomes fixed. As is pointed out in a number of places in the book, and in reference to different censorship regimes, another prime reason for both the textualization and the textual fixation of Jingju has been the demands of censors. Censors both want to know in advance exactly what is going to be performed, and want a written record of what has been approved for performance that can be used to judge how faithfully performances stick to what was approved. Censorial regimes have gotten only more powerful and more intrusive as time has gone by in the history of Jingju. The book closes with a brief meditation on the darker side of the textualization (= fixation) of Jingju.

In: Inscribing Jingju/Peking Opera

Abstract

As mentioned above, the Republican era was marked by a new and very intense competition between Jingju stars that most particularly took the form of a rush to premiere new plays, and even to premiere new plays that can be seen as responses to a rival’s new plays. Most of these playscripts were supplied by members of the star’s “brain trust,” who presented themselves as offering their services for free. Chapter 5 showcases the most prolific playwright of the Republican era, who seems in a number of senses to have “worked” for the star that he wrote almost all of his plays for, but who almost never talked or wrote about actual compensation for the various things he did for that star. A second playwright, who wrote even more plays in total and for a much longer period than the first one, wrote them for a variety of stars in the Republic, and then phased from writing for some of the same stars in the early years of the People’s Republic to ending up as a professional playwright attached to the national Jingju troupe. The rest of the chapter looks at attempts, during the People’s Republic, to both professionalize Jingju playwriting and train enough playwrights to revise old plays and create new ones sufficient to meet the needs of a new regime of censorship that affected performance and playwriting in entirely new ways. In recent decades, as Jingju has lost substantial chunks of its old audience to old age and death and potential new audience members to new forms of entertainment, the number of in-house playwrights attached to troupes has declined severely, a gap only partially closed by the possibility of performing plays written by free-lance playwrights.

In: Inscribing Jingju/Peking Opera

Abstract

Chapter 6 looks at the new types of Jingju play texts and new ways of publishing them that have appeared since 1949. It also looks at how more and more detail was preserved in some of those printed texts, through the inclusion of more highly detailed stage directions, notes, and appendices, and how unprecedented detail was preserved by means of film and video. The question of using such media, whether in the form of recordings of performances or of teachers teaching students, to wholly or partially replace the living teacher’s role in the transmission of Jingju and its repertoire naturally comes up. A theme that has appeared in many of the previous chapters, how to present Jingju to foreigners, is also addressed. The chapter ends with a discussion of how the information provided in digital forms of Jingju playscripts can be further enhanced by providing additional supplemental materials (expert commentary and other kinds of “bonus material”) to DVD recordings of performances, linking digital texts through hypertext links, and increasing access to playscripts and other material through online postings.

In: Inscribing Jingju/Peking Opera

Abstract

Chapter 3 traces the rather tortured but very interesting and telling history of the publication of a pathbreaking collection of over 500 Jingju playscripts, Xikao 戲考 (Research into plays), in forty installments, from 1912–1925, in Shanghai. At the time of its publication, it was the biggest such collection ever published, something that remained true, oddly enough, for a very long time. As will be shown in this chapter and expanded upon in the following chapter, Xikao became both the model for many later collections of Jingju playscripts and the object of criticism by their compilers, who claimed to have surpassed it, if not in bulk, then at least in how the play texts were collected, edited, and arranged on the page. It is only very rarely that Xikao mentions the name of anyone responsible for writing a play text it includes; instead the collection is most concerned with making the reader believe that some of its play texts originated from the private manuscript collections of the star actors who had created the most popular and influential versions of the main characters in them.

In: Inscribing Jingju/Peking Opera

Abstract

Chapter 2 covers the years from the very beginnings of Jingju up into the beginning of its “golden age” in the Republican period (1912–1949) when, in a brand new way, competition between stars became very fierce and that competition was waged, in part, through the production of new plays written with literati help. This chapter focuses on what kinds of roles playwrights had in the period prior to that new development, what kinds of people they were, and who among them were more successful than others. The playwrights ranged from literati without strong connections in the world of Jingju, who apparently thought that their pens/writing brushes could help their plays succeed regardless of that flaw (until their plays’ failure to find permanent places in the Jingju repertoire proved otherwise), to people with a stronger understanding of the needs of performance (including ordinary actors who nevertheless managed to write plays, literati who became Jingju performers and also wrote plays, and a small number of professional playwrights with strong connections with individual troupes and actors). As will be shown in detail, only in the case of the plays by literati without theater connections were their works published under their names (or pseudonyms) in the hope that they would circulate widely and be influential as texts. The plays of the other playwrights did not, in general, circulate as texts, the exceptions only coming at the end of the period, when literati turned actors turned playwrights with an activist bent published their plays in newspapers under their own names.

In: Inscribing Jingju/Peking Opera

Abstract

The Introduction first lays out the history of Jingju through the names it has been called and the importance that it has had, then explains how it works as a theatrical system. Jingju began as just another popular form of Chinese indigenous theater closely tied to one locality (Beijing) that was able, primarily through appropriating and assimilating attractive elements from other forms of theater, to develop into something many called the “national theater” of China. Despite only becoming a mature theatrical form with its own characteristics in the middle of the nineteenth century, Jingju has been able to convince many that it is older and more “classical” than it really is. For many, it “represents” China.

In: Inscribing Jingju/Peking Opera