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Expressionism and Its Deformation in Contemporary Chinese Theatre


Yuwen Hsiung

Expressionism and Its Deformation in Contemporary Chinese Theatre provides both rigorous readings of dramatic works as well as a historical overview of Chinese theatre from the 1980s to the present. Expressionism becomes a discursive locus to be incorporated and even transformed during a critical phase in the modernization of Chinese drama during the post-Maoist era.
Six leading Chinese dramatists (Gao Xingjian, Lin Zhaohua, Huang Zuolin, Xu Xiaozhong, Meng Jinghui, and Stan Lai) are clear representatives of opening up a new world of modern Chinese drama. They embody each of the major phases of the adoption, deformation, and multicultural infusion of Expressionism in the development of Chinese dramatic modernization. Approaching their dramatic works from multiple perspectives, including expressionist vision and techniques, comparative aesthetics, Bakhtinian chronotope and heteroglossia, semiotics, «psychic interiority», and concluding with Lu Xun’s definition of Expressionism as «to write a good deal about yourself», Chinese dramatists’ enthusiasm for Expressionism is not just an artistic rejoinder to the spiritual aspirations of life in a time of rapid industrialization and modernization but also a coming-to-terms with the ideological and aesthetic conflicts between different dramatic traditions.
Expressionism and Its Deformation in Contemporary Chinese Theatre is the first scholarly book to explore the deep and intricate relationship between Expressionism and contemporary Chinese drama, attempting to assume the critical task of challenging these dramatists while delineating the contours of the most recent trends of Chinese theatre. This book could situate itself within the Chinese scholarly and theatrical contexts for English readers as it is an accessible text for both undergraduate students and graduates and scholars.


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Cao Yu 曹禺 (1910-1996) is the exemplary figure of modern Chinese drama. He acts, he writes, and he devotes his whole life to drama. Cao Yu’s signifi- cance is not only acknowledged by his long-term position as the president of the most prestigious theatre in China, Beijing People’s Art Theatre (Beijing renmin yishu juyuan 北京人民藝術劇院), but was immediately recognized in 1934 with the publication of his first play Leiyu 雷雨 (Thunderstorm). Written by Cao Yu at the young age of 24, Thunderstorm dazzled audience with its complicated plot, richness of dramatic techniques, and sophistication of ideas in portraying a tragicallyfated family. As one of the most frequently performed plays on the Chinese stage, Thunderstorm is hailed alongside the other two plays in his trilo- gy, Richu 日出 (Sunrise, 1936) and Yuanye 原野 (The Wilderness, 1937).1 The warm reception of Cao Yu’s initial dramatic works, nevertheless, did not extend to his third play, The Wilderness, this privilege of being embraced by the Chinese theatre critics at that time. The attack was blatantly straightforward, with The Wilderness marked as “incomprehensible” because of its adoption of expressionist techniques.2 Cao Yu’s personal bewilderment toward the attack upon The Wilderness was not erased until the early 1980s when the play re- ceived a resurgence of enthusiastic attention, aided by the flourishing of dra- matic experiments following the Cultural Revolution (1967-1977). This brief account of Cao Yu’s The Wilderness is to show that this alternating rebuke and embrace that has followed this particular dramatic work is an example best illus-...

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