Uncrossing the Borders

Performing Chinese in Gendered (Trans)Nationalism
Daphne P. Lei
Traces the phenomenon of gendered border-crossing in Chinese opera, as dramatic theme and powerful political rhetoric


Over many centuries, women on the Chinese stage committed suicide in beautiful and pathetic ways just before crossing the border for an interracial marriage. Uncrossing the Borders asks why this theatrical trope has remained so powerful and attractive. The book analyzes how national, cultural, and ethnic borders are inevitably gendered and incite violence against women in the name of the nation. The book surveys two millennia of historical, literary, dramatic texts, and sociopolitical references to reveal that this type of drama was especially popular when China was under foreign rule, such as in the Yuan (Mongol) and Qing (Manchu) dynasties, and when Chinese male literati felt desperate about their economic and political future, due to the dysfunctional imperial examination system. Daphne P. Lei covers border-crossing Chinese drama in major theatrical genres such as zaju and chuanqi, regional drama such as jingju (Beijing opera) and yueju (Cantonese opera), and modernized operatic and musical forms of such stories today.

Uncrossing the Borders deftly applies an exciting range of theories as it examines representations of women in the dynamic of China and barbarian Other(s), and ultimately the meaning of the contemporary Chinese state . . .…  The work complicates our understandings of borders, nations, representations of women and gender in Chinese literature, and opens avenues to a storehouse of lesser known plays that will fuel new research for decades.”
—Mark Bender, The Ohio State University
“A very well-researched book concerning a significant paradigm, deeply embedded in Chinese culture, of border-crossing between the known and the unknown. It is possibly the most comprehensive study in English of this particular theme, and will be of interest to anyone studying or researching the development of Chinese civilization, Chinese opera and performance traditions, and gendered understandings of patriotism and nationalism.”
—Anne McLaren, University of Melbourne


Daphne P. Lei is Professor of Drama, University of California, Irvine.

Praise / Awards

  • "Treating border as processes, institutions, and symbols, Lei offers an alternative to the canonic discourse in Chinese classic studies and establishes a new paradigm for the intercultural studies of border-crossing drama. ... A valuable study of central issues related to border crossing from the perspective of a Chinese border-drama archetype."
    -- CHOICE
  • "Scholarship on gender and border crossings in Chinese theatre, however, was almost unheard of until Daphne P. Lei’s Uncrossing the Borders: Performing Chinese in Gendered (Trans)nationalism... this book is well researched and well structured and may enrich our understanding of transnationalism as an outcome of globalization in studying the humanities today."
    —Modern Drama
  • "Daphne P. Lei's capacious new work, Uncrossing the Borders: Performing Chinese in Gendered (Trans)Nationalism, makes substantial contributions to scholarship on world theater. Lei's sweeping study extends from the thirteenth century to the present, examining the traditional forms of theater known in China as xiqu, and in the West more problematically termed 'Chinese opera' (p. 4)."
    -Rebecca Kastleman, The Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory
  • "Lei demonstrates a truly impressive mastery of a wide range of historical and dramatic texts, including elite classical writings, vernacular local dramas and songs, visual iconography, modern political dramas, and contemporary experimental theater. ...Lei has produced a highly original work that bridges scholarly conversations between Chinese studies and theater and performance studies." 
    Journal of Asian Studies 
  • "In addition to the central gender thesis, which emphasizes the entanglement of female embodiment and sacrifice with theatricality and honor, Lei’s arguments on ethnicity are complex, layered, and deeply rooted in historical context as gleaned from the texts themselves. Far and away, Lei’s collection of sources, especially in chapter 3, makes her book invaluable to those concerned with questions of transnationality, multiculturalism, adaptation history, and performance culture. There is something for everyone here in imperial, early modern, and modern Chinese theatre studies." 
    Theatre Journal
  • Finalist: Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) 2019 Outstanding Book Award
  • Finalist: Theatre Library Association (TLA) 2019 George Freedley Memorial Award

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Review in The Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory | 6/14/2021

Product Details

  • 350 pages.
  • 15 illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2019
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12523-4

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