Private stage: a study on Chinese printed drama by Bai Wei and Yuan Changying, 1922-1936
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date29/11/2020
Keung, Hiu Man
Play-reading is a modern phenomenon, as, traditionally, drama relied on oral transmission from master to students to be passed on. Following the rapid growth of drama publication in early Republican China, play-reading also became a widespread cultural practice. Numerous modern Chinese plays were at the time mainly being read rather than staged, and this is particularly evident in the case of many plays written by women. Preceding studies on Chinese drama tend to overlook the development of drama printing and reading conventions, and often assert that all plays are written for stage performance; plays that were difficult to be staged have been considered as immature or failed attempts. In contrast to the rather limited existing literature on modern Chinese women playwrights, which either assume their plays were all staged, or merely label them as “antouju (drama on desktops)” without further analysis, this thesis uncovers that many of the never or seldom staged plays by the women playwrights had met with popular reading demand as reflected in the reprinting records. Bai Wei (1894-1987) and Yuan Changying (1894-1973) are prominent women playwrights whose dramatic creations sparked heated debates and aroused particular attention from readers during the Republican era. Based on an extensive range of newly-found primary materials, this thesis reconstructs the historical backdrop against which the publication-led drama production in Republican China facilitated modern Chinese drama to be printed without achieving theatrical success; it also traces the emerging conceptions of and controversies over drama for reading, interprets the two playwrights’ responses to the new dynamics in the field of drama, and evaluates their plays’ textual and/or theatrical receptions. I argue that their plays were intended for a restricted readership, and utilised the printed medium to express a complexity of concepts and emotions beyond the capacity of performance conventions. The two case studies demonstrate how their plays negotiated with the prevailing May Fourth pursuits and transcended the technical constraints, which resulted in the unfolding of exclusive dramatic experiences for themselves and their readers in a private realm. This thesis uncovers the flexibility and potential of printed drama in the modern Chinese context, and thus enhances our understanding of the history of modern Chinese drama from a non-theatrical point of view.