Kunqu Masters on Chinese Theatrical Performance

Kunqu Masters on Chinese Theatrical Performance

Edited by Josh Stenberg
Created by Yip Siu Hing

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. 

PDF, 468 Pages


September 2022

£45.00, $75.00

EPUB, 468 Pages


September 2022

£45.00, $75.00

  • About This Book
  • Reviews
  • Author Information
  • Series
  • Table of Contents
  • Links
  • Podcasts

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.


“These engaging lectures by twelve kunqu masters furnish inside views of their creative process as they discuss a foundational play that features their role type. The introduction, annotations, and supporting materials are as comprehensive an introduction to kunqu as can be found in English and provide leads to existing resources in both Chinese and English” —Catherine Swatek, University of British Columbia, Canada.

“The book is unique and valuable and provides understanding about lectures of very influential people to even the ordinary, interested readers ”—David Rolston, University of Michigan, USA.

"These masters’ narratives of their lived experience offer readers a wealth of information on Kunqu’s stage art, creative process, history, behind-the-curtain secrets, and pedagogy. Accentuating the practitioner’s voice and body, this book constitutes a significant contribution not only to kunqu studies but also to general theatre studies and theatre history.” --Xing Fan, Associate Professor; Associate Director, Graduate, Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies, University of Toronto, Canada.

"This wonderful book captures vanishing expertise of kunqu performance for Anglophone readers through translations of lectures by master performers about their favourite scenes. The results are both worthy and highly entertaining. Lecturing about a scene called ‘The Stirring Zither’, Wang Shiyu proves an utterly engaging storyteller. Wang’s lively and precise descriptions of key performance conventions uncover subtle subtextual meanings and lift opaque literary references of the page. Teasing out the details of psychological motivation, he renders the budding romance between a failed feudal scholar and a recalcitrant Taoist nun in delightfully relatable terms. Belying Kunqu's reputation for the strict convention, Liu Yilong’s discussion of the famous scene ‘Little Monk Descending the Mountain’ offers a fascinating insight into how he transformed many ugly and lurid traditional performance elements into charming and beautiful ones. Rooted in detailed character analysis and clear-sighted assessment of contemporary audience expectations, he explains his development of a comically nuanced and sympathetic portrayal that has delighted audiences in China and abroad"—Megan Evans, Senior Lecturer, Theatre Programme, School of English, Film, Theatre & Media Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, NZ. 

"This book is a pleasure to read, engaging and witty”— Cindy S.B. NGAI, Associate Professor cum Programme Leader of Master of Arts in Bilingual Corporate Communication, Department of Chinese & Bilingual Studies, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China.

Author Information

Yip Siu Hing is the creator and compiler of Masters’ Lectures on One Hundred Kunqu Scenes, of which this volume is an annotated English selection. He is well known for his activities and writings in support of kunqu.

Josh Stenberg is a Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Sydney. He is the author of Minority Stages: Sino-Indonesian Performance and Public Display (2019) and Liyuanxi—Chinese “Pear Garden Theatre” (2023).


Anthem Studies in Theatre and Performance

Table of Contents

Introduction; Lecture 1 “Enquiry of the Rat” (“Fangshu”) from Fifteen Strings of Cash; Lecture 2 “The Stirring Zither” (“Qintiao”) from The Jade Hairpin; Lecture 3 “The Mad Dream” (“Chimeng”) from Lanke Mountain; Lecture 4 “Descending the Mountain (“Xiashan”) from Ocean of Sin; Lecture 5 “The Tavern” (“Jiulou”) from The Palace of Lasting Life; Lecture 6 “Instating the Statue, Lamenting the Statue” (“Yingxiang Kuxiang”) from The Palace of Lasting Life; Lecture 7 “Playing the Ballad” (“Tanci”) from The Palace of Lasting Life; Lecture 8 “The Stroll in the Garden” (“Youyuan”) and “The Dream Interrupted” (“Jingmeng”) from The Peony Pavilion; Lecture 9 “Sword Meeting” (“Daohui”) from Single Sword Meeting; Lecture 10 “Writing the Accusation” (“Xie Zhuang”) from Tale of the Mermaid Silk Handkerchief; Lecture 11 “The Tryst” (“Jiaqi”) from The Western Chamber; Lecture 12 “The Inn on the Lake” (“Hu Lou”) from To Win a Peerless Beauty; Postface; Appendices; Index


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