Androgyny and Gender Negotiation in Contemporary Chinese Women's Theatre (AS-215s)

Asian Studies 215s: Androgyny and Gender Negotiation in Contemporary Chinese  Women's Theater

Hui Huang (from the Shanghai Yue Opera House) as Liang Shanbo (a young man) with a student as Zhu Yingtai (a young lady cross-dressed as a young man) in a scene from Butterfly Lovers. Image courtesy of the Asian Studies Program.

Instructor: Ying Wang

Cross-listed as: GNDST-204CW-01 and THEAT-234CW-01

What does an all-female-casted Chinese theater look like?

How does such a theater inherit from and continue the legacy of traditional Chinese theater?

How are the social roles/expectations of different genders represented, evaluated, and critiqued in this predominately single gender theater?

What are the interesting and unique artistic features in this cross-gender performing art?

These are the main questions investigated in this 200-level seminar. focusing on Yue Opera, one of the most popular traditional Chinese operatic forms, besides Beijing Opera and Kun Opera. As predominately all-female-casted art flourished in the early 20th century in the lower Yangtze (River) Valley. Yue Opera's popularity was a product of China’s social changes and the women’s movement. Nurtured by the arts of traditional Chinese opera and modern Western theater and film, Yue Opera reflects the life of Chinese people and women, particularly on the subjects of love, marriage, and family.

Using Yue Opera as a focal point and a thread, the course traces back to the early formation of Chinese theater and contextualizes Yue Opera in the socio-historical development of China and its theater art. Through five classic plays such as Butterfly Lovers, Saving a Prostitute, Romance of Western Bower, Liu Yi Delivers a Letter for the Dragon King’s Daughter, and Peony Pavilion, the class pays close attention to the recurrent themes of gender and love and the artistic interactions at various times and in different theater arts.

In addition to viewing the videos of the aforementioned plays, play scripts, literary critiques of these plays, and historical writings about Chinese theater are used in class. Our academic investigation will be carried out through lectures, group discussions, individual research projects, oral presentations, and writing assignments.

When the situation allows it, this course will invite famous Yue Opera artists from China to interact with the class through video-conferencing or campus visits. Such experience provides students with a first-hand opportunity to develop further understandings of Yue Opera off stage.