IMAP/IDOC DISTINGUISHED LECTURE SERIES
Kyushu University, Faculty of Humanities
International MA Program (IMAP) in Japanese
Humanities International Doctorate (IDOC) in Japanese Humanities
Catherine Vance Yeh Professor of Chinese & Comparative Literature Boston University
Funded by Kyushu University’s World Premier International Researcher Invitation Program (“Progress 100”)
Organizers Professors Cynthea J. Bogel and Ellen Van Goethem
Place Kyushu University, Hakozaki Campus Humanities Building, 4th floor, Conference Room
16:00–17:30 Mei Lanfang 梅蘭芳 and Twentieth-Century Peking Opera: Transcultural Exchanges
Abstract Mei Lanfang 梅蘭芳 (1894–1961)’s visit and performances abroad brought him to Japan in 1919, to the United States in 1930, and to the Soviet Union in 1935. While these performances helped introduce Peking Opera abroad and earned Mei Lanfang universal praise and admiration, they more importantly gave Peking opera an opportunity to highlight, for international audiences, its new cultural identity, to present its art as a modern aesthetic system, and to project its claim to historical authenticity. The Peking opera presented there was not a form preserved from time immemorial, but the outcome of an intense ideological debate among the younger generation of the cultural elite within China as to the validity of traditional Chinese theater with the most radical opinion denouncing Peking opera as the dregs of traditional society, bound up with everything despicable of the old social order and values, and their opponents boldly claiming the modern relevancy of the form by actively engaging with international performing arts as present in Europe, the US, and Japan. Mei Lanfang’s carefully prepared international tours with the radically reformed Peking opera were to decide this debate and the domestic fate of the genre altogether through international recognition by audiences that included the foreign cultural elite and much of the international avant-garde. In this sense, these tours were the catalyst and the crowning glory of the modernization of the genre. The talk will explore these tours in the context of the shifting self-definition, self-narration, and self-historization of Peking opera in its struggle to become China’s “national opera.”
11:00–12:30 Political Reform as National Pastime: Staging Peking Opera’s New Tragic Heroines
Abstract With the founding of the Chinese Republic in 1912, the persistent tension between the state as the organizer of a globally shared “modernity” and of mass entertainment took on an overtly political dimension. Traditional theater was seen as a platform for the state’s agenda of “civilizing” the masses. Ironically, the leading actors who responded to this “civilization” agenda were a group of dan 旦, who were impersonating female roles. The new operas performed by them furthermore centered on a figure extremely rare within the traditional repertoire, the tragic heroine. This talk will focus on the tension between the attempt by the state to reform national leisure and pastime activities through theater reform, and the birth of tragedy in Peking opera in the new figure of the oppressed
female. I will show that the rise of the female impersonator to national stardom was linked directly to the new female persona pioneered by them and that the birth of the tragic heroine in Peking opera was not a coincidence. The marginality of the dan actor within Peking opera both in terms of social hierarchy and artistic repertoire offered them the greatest incentive to explore new art forms, and in the new figure of the suffering female they offered society a collective catharsis. I will analyze these great dan actors’ signature operas and their heroines. The analysis will focus on how these tragic heroines embody the “civilized” social values that were to transform the notion of leisure and the national pastime. And finally, why did all the dan actors in the 1930s go back to singing the seemingly feminine characters from the “traditional” repertoire? Had the “civilizing” mission of the 1910s and ’20s failed? Or was it simply replaced by something that looked “traditional” but in fact was even more revolutionary?
9:15–10:45 Experimenting with Dance Drama: Peking Opera Modernity, Kabuki Theater Reform and the Denishawn’s Tour of the Far East
Abstract During the 1910s and ’20s, Peking opera underwent a fundamental transformation from a performing art primarily driven by singing to one that included acting and dancing. Leading this new development were male actors playing female roles, with Mei Lanfang 梅蘭芳 (1894–1961) as the most outstanding example. The acknowledged sources on which these changes drew were the encounter with Western-style opera. The artistic and social values carrying these changes, however, suggest that Peking opera underwent a qualitative reconceptualization that involved a critical break with its past. This paper will explore the artistic transformation of Peking opera of the 1910s–20s by focusing on the three areas of contact—Paris, Japan, and the US. It will argue that the particular artistic innovation in Peking can only be fully understood and appraised in the context of global cultural interaction. It suggests that a new assessment of the modernist movement is needed that sees it as a part of a global trend rather than only as a European phenomenon.
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