Playwrights and Literary Games in Seventeenth-Century China: Plays by Tang Xianzu, Mei Dingzuo, Wu Bing, Li Yu, and Kong Shangren

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9780739138571: Playwrights and Literary Games in Seventeenth-Century China: Plays by Tang Xianzu, Mei Dingzuo, Wu Bing, Li Yu, and Kong Shangren
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Playwrights and Literary Games in Seventeenth-Century China: Plays by Tang Xianzu, Mei Dingzuo, Wu Bing, Li Yu, and Kong Shangren is a full-length study of chuanqi (romance) drama, a sophisticated form with substantial literary and meta-theatrical value that reigned in Chinese theater from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries and nourished later theatrical traditions including jingju (Beijing Opera). Highly educated dramatists used chuanqi to present in artistic form personal, social, and political concerns of their time. There were six outstanding examples of these trends, considered masterpieces in their time and ever since. This study presents them in their social and cultural context during the long seventeenth century (1580–1700), the period of great experimentation and political transition. The romantic spirit and independent thinking of the late Ming elite stimulated the efflorescence of the chuanqi, and that legacy was inherited and investigated during the second half of the seventeenth-century in early Qing.

Jing Shen examinees the texts to demonstrate that the playwrights appropriate, convert, or misinterpret other genres or literary works of enduring influence into their plays to convey subtle and subversive expressions in the fine margins between tradition and innovation, history and theatrical re-presentation. By exploring the components of romance in texts from late Ming to early Qing, Shen reveals creative readings of earlier themes, stories, plays and the changing idea of romanticism for chuanqi drama. This study also shows the engagement of literati playwrights in closed literary circles in which chuanqi plays became a tool by which literati playwrights negotiated their agency and social stature. The five playwrights whose works are analyzed in this book had different experiences pursuing government service as scholar-officials; some failed to achieve high office. But their common concerns and self-conscious literary choices reveal important in

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About the Author:

Jing Shen is associate professor of Chinese language and literature at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Review:

Adaptations of earlier writings, the representations of identities (whether those of characters or the playwrights' own), the newly developed self-reflexivity in drama, and metatheatrical statements in various forms are all important concerns that Jing Shen weaves through her masterful readings of plays by six major dramatists of China's crucial seventeenth century-when traditional culture underwent the shattering trauma of subjugation by non-Chinese armies from the north. Throughout she demonstrates her deep knowledge of China's literary tradition by revealing the complex intertextual relations of each play. Professor Shen's richly detailed study firmly places these dramatic masterpieces in their historical, cultural, and even personal contexts to provide a vision of late imperial Chinese theater significantly more nuanced than achieved by any previous study in any Western language. (Robert E. Hegel, Washington University, St. Louis)

Considering the importance of chuanqi drama in Ming and Qing China and the recent revival of interest in the genre this book is extremely welcome. Jing Shen has focused on some of the most knotty problems in chuanqi drama: the games that literati played in their production and consumption. After contextualizing the genre and its producers and consumers, she presents detailed and concrete analyses of examples from some of the most influential playwrights of the 1600s, a crucial century in the development of the genre and of Chinese history (it saw the traumatic fall of the native Ming dynasty to the invading Manchus midway through it). Since Professor Shen pays careful attention to the relationships between developments in this dramatic genre and the societal and historical changes of the times, her book will be of great appeal not only to those interested in Chinese theater or world theater in general, but also to those interested in this crucial century in Chinese history. (David Rolston, University of Michigan)

The late sixteenth to seventeenth century was a time when stage-struck literary men from the top echelon of Chinese society turned their hands to playwriting, and the publishing boom of the period ensured that handsomely printed editions of their plays with illustrations and commentary were available to an avid reading public. These plays, which combine the finest poetic song lyrics with sophisticated badinage and bawdy jokes, were also serious vehicles for reflections on politics, history, and of course the theater itself. Jing Shen's new book provides an informative and lively introduction to the socio-cultural world that these literati playwrights inhabited and recreated in their marvelous works. All in all, this is a major addition to the growing critical literature on the history and theory of premodern Chinese theater in its cultural context. (Judith T. Zeitlin, The University of Chicago)

Playwrights and Literary Games makes some important inroads toward a more comprehensive understanding of chuanqi, a labyrinthine genre that resists generalized characterizations at every turn. Going beyond the steps she has taken to define the genre, with all of its complexities and contradictions, Shen’s focus on intertextuality ties chuanqi’s formal aspects to its social functions in the late Ming-early Qing. Intertextual allusions represent an exclusive register within the genre, and a dialectic whereby audiences invest their own meanings into the text, embedding it within contemporary contexts and simultaneously tying it to history. Playwrights is a resource for scholars of chuanqi and more broadly for those interested in the cultural and literary history of China’s long seventeenth century. (CHINOPERL: Journal of Chinese Oral and Performing Literature)

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