Kunqu Masters on Chinese Theatrical Performance

Kunqu Masters on Chinese Theatrical Performance

By Josh Stenberg

Anthem Studies in Theatre and Performance

Kunqu is among the oldest and most refined traditions of the family of genres known as xiqu (music-drama or “Chinese opera”). This book consists of translated performer narrations that illuminate how one of the major Chinese theatrical forms has been taught and transmitted over the past century. 

Hardback, 250 Pages


January 2022

£120.00, $195.00

  • About This Book
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  • Author Information
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  • Table of Contents
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About This Book

Kunqu, recognised by UNESCO in 2001 as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, is among the oldest and most refined traditions of the family of genres known as xiqu or “Chinese opera.” Having survived the turmoil of the Chinese twentieth century, the art form’s musical and performance traditions are being passed on by senior artists in several major cities of the Yang-tze River basin as well as Beijing. Xiqu studies have so far focused on the textual basis of performance, while the transmission of performance technique and the shifts and refinements of tradition have been left largely unexplored. This book consists of explanatory narrations, selected and translated from among an extensive Chinese-language collective endeavour in Chinese. 

Each translated account by a master performer sheds light on the human processes—technical, pedagogical, ideological, social— that create a particular piece of theatre and transmit it over time. These translations allow actors’ voices to be heard for the first time in international theatre and performance studies, while the annotations allow the reader to place these narratives in historical, literary, discursive, and aesthetic contexts. 

Close critical attention to the nature of transmission shows how concepts such as “tradition” are in fact the sites of constant elaboration and negotiation. Far from being a museum genre, kunqu reveals itself through these explanatory narrations as a living and changing art form, subject to the internal logic of its technique but also open to innovation. Methodologically, this work breaks new ground by centering the performers’ perspective rather than text, providing a different gaze, complement, and challenge to performance-analysis, ideological, sociological, and plot-based perspectives on xiqu.


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Author Information

Josh Stenberg is Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Sydney. From 2005–2007, he worked for the Jiangsu Kunju Company. 


Anthem Studies in Theatre and Performance

Table of Contents

Introduction: Kunqu Tradition, Transmission, and Performance Today; Chapter 1 “Flirtation with Zither” 琴挑 from The Jade Hairpin; Chapter 2 “The Garden Stroll” 遊园 and “The Astonishing Dream” 惊梦 from The Peony Pavilion; Chapter 3 “Receiving the Statue” 迎哭 from The Palace of Eternal Life; Chapter 4 “The Tavern” 酒楼 from The Palace of Eternal Life; Chapter 5 “Telling Stories” 弹词 from The Palace of Eternal Life; Chapter 6 “The Lakeside Inn” 湖楼 from Rose Above Roses; Chapter 7 “The Mad Dream” 痴梦 from Lanke Mountain; Chapter 8 “The Tryst” 佳期 from The Western Chambers; Chapter 9 “Meeting with the Enemy” 刀会 from Meeting the Enemy Alone; Chapter 10 “Descending the Mountain” 下山 from Sea of Sin; Chapter 11 “Writing the Appeal” 写状 from The Sea Gauze; Chapter 12 “Interrogating the Rat” 访鼠 from Fifteen Strings of Cash; Notes on Contributors.


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