Rethinking Chinese Socialist Theaters of Reform

Performance Practice and Debate in the Mao Era
Xiaomei Chen, Tarryn Li-Min Chun, and Siyuan Liu, Editors
Diverse perspectives on the effort to reform modern Chinese theater according to socialist cultural policies


The profound political, economic, and social changes in China in the second half of the twentieth century have produced a wealth of scholarship; less studied however is how cultural events, and theater reforms in particular, contributed to the dynamic landscape of contemporary Chinese society. Rethinking Chinese Socialist Theaters of Reform fills this gap by investigating the theories and practice of socialist theater and their effects on a diverse range of genres, including Western-style spoken drama, Chinese folk opera, dance drama, Shanghai opera, Beijing opera, and rural theater. Focusing on the 1950s and ’60s, when theater art occupied a prominent political and cultural role in Maoist China, this book examines the efforts to remake theater in a socialist image. It explores the unique dynamics between official discourse, local politics, performance practice, and audience reception that emerged under the pressures of highly politicized cultural reform as well as the off-stage, lived impact of rapid policy change on individuals and troupes obscured by the public record. This multidisciplinary collection by leading scholars covers a wide range of perspectives, geographical locations, specific research methods, genres of performance, and individual knowledge and experience. The richly diverse approach leads readers through a nuanced and complex cultural landscape as it contributes significantly to our understanding of a crucial period in the development of modern Chinese theater and performance.
Xiaomei Chen is Distinguished Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of California, Davis.

Tarryn Li-Min Chun is Assistant Professor in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame.

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

Praise / Awards

  • “The contributors successfully offer a nuanced and complicated cultural landscape in which to critically engage with performance practice and debate during the construction of socialist theatres in the PRC. The book will find use in graduate seminars and upper-level undergraduate courses on Chinese theatre, China studies, Chinese cultural studies, and art and politics in general.”
    —Xing Fan, University of Toronto
  • "The editors have done an excellent job in designing the collection so that the in-depth case studies work together as a series to demonstrate vividly that far from this being a period of ideological unity in which the Party exercised nationwide hegemonic control over the theater world, it was a complex period marked by significant disparities: between the more controllable cities and the out-of-reach countryside; between state funded troupes and those reliant on ticket sales for survival; between political intentions and aesthetic aspirations."
    MCLC Resource Center Publication at The Ohio State University 
  • "It is to the editors’ credit that the divergent genres of theater discussed in the book create a satisfying whole. United by a sympathy for the stage and its artists, the authors avoid the kind of political determinism that can at times reduce everything in PRC cultural history to cliches of uniformity. While readers of this book will come away impressed with the power and perils of the stage in the early PRC, no one can be left with an impression that Chinese theater suffered from monotony."
    The China Journal
  • "Rethinking Chinese Socialist Theaters of Reform provides an intricate, detailed dataset divided into distinct case studies. Scholars working on material closely related to one of these case studies, particularly those without a reading knowledge of Mandarin, will find these data invaluable..."
    Theatre Survey
  • Winner: Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) 2022 Excellence in Editing Award 

Product Details

  • 320 pages.
  • 15 illustrations, 4 tables.
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  • 2021
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12851-8

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  • Theatre, Theater, Theatre history and practice, Modern drama, Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Stage design and practice, Traditional Chinese opera, Rural theatre, Propaganda theater and practice, Chinese theater, Comparative theater and drama, Non-Western theater and drama, Socialist Culture, Socialist Theater