Transforming Tradition

The Reform of Chinese Theater in the 1950s and Early 1960s
Siyuan Liu
Explores the history and lingering effects of governmental reform of Chinese theater, post-1949


Shortly after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the PRC launched a reform campaign that targeted traditional song and dance theater encompassing more than a hundred genres, collectively known as xiqu. Reformers censored or revised xiqu plays and techniques; reorganized star-based private troupes; reassigned the power to create plays from star actors to the newly created functions of playwright, director, and composer; and eliminated market-oriented functionaries such as agents. While the repertoire censorship ended in the 1980s, major reform elements have remained: many traditional scripts (or parts of them) are no longer in performance; actors whose physical memory of repertoire and acting techniques had been the center of play creation, have been superseded by directors, playwrights, and composers. The net result is significantly diminished repertoires and performance techniques, and the absence of star actors capable of creating their own performance styles through new signature plays that had traditionally been one of the hallmarks of a performance school. Transforming Tradition offers a systematic study of the effects of the comprehensive reform of traditional theater conducted in the 1950s and ’60s, and is based on a decade’s worth of exhaustive research of official archival documents, wide-ranging interviews, and contemporaneous publications, most of which have never previously been referenced in scholarly research.

Siyuan Liu is Associate Professor of Theater at the University of British Columbia.

Praise / Awards

  • “Provides a powerful sense of the breadth and depth of the damage done to traditional Chinese theater by efforts to modernize and control them . . . Liu has researched an impressive range of primary sources from the 1950s and 1960s that have never previously been referenced in English language research. He has also drawn on all the major Chinese and English language secondary works in the field, as well as conducting his own interviews with practitioners in Chinese theater.”
    —Rosemary Roberts, University of Queensland
  • “Scholars of Chinese theater have been eagerly anticipating this book, which makes a very important contribution to our understanding of a variety of issues related to theater and theater reform (and cultural reform more broadly) in the high socialist period.”
    —Maggie Greene, Montana State University

Product Details

  • 472 pages.
  • 43 illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2021
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12872-3

  • EPUB: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

Add to Cart
  • $69.95 U.S.

  • PDF: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

Add to Cart
  • $69.95 U.S.

Choosing any of the above format options will take you to the appropriate e-retailer to complete your purchase. Pricing may vary by individual e-retailer. Please see e-retailer site for purchasing information.

For more information about our Digital Products, including reading systems and accessible formats, visit our Digital Products page.

Related Products

Add to Cart
  • $85.00 U.S.



  • theatre reform, theatre, drama, theatricality, modernity, modernism, socialism, realism, formalism, nationalism, hybridity, Brecht, Stanislavsky, Mei Lanfang, Zhao Yanxia, Li Shaochun, gestus, alienation effect, Stanislavsky System, antitheatrical prejudice, gentrification, ideology, Marxism, narodnost, opera, xiqu, Chinese theatre, jingju, Beijing opera, Peking opera, Cantonese opera, yueju, pingju, huju, ganju, huaju, spoken drama, wenmingxi, improvisation, scenario, genre, form and content, dialect, popular entertainment, yellow performance, Soviet bloc, People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong, Tian Han, Zhou Yang, new democracy, Yan’an