An Overview of Research on Classical Chinese Drama in North America (1998-2008)

By Yingde, Guo | Asian Theatre Journal, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

An Overview of Research on Classical Chinese Drama in North America (1998-2008)


Yingde, Guo, Asian Theatre Journal


With the generous support of a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, in 2008 I spent ten months researching in the field of comparative theater studies at Washington University in St. Louis. After serious consideration, I focused my research on examination and commentary on the studies of classical Chinese drama in North America from 1998 to 2008, comparing them with studies made by Chinese scholars during the same period.

What is called "the classical Chinese drama" includes zaju and yuanben in Song, Jin, and Yuan; nanxi (southern theatre) in Song and Yuan; zaju (variety play) in Yuan, Ming, and Qing; chuanqi (southern theatre) in Ming and Qing; huabu (miscellaneous category) in Ming and Qing; and local theater during the late Qing and Republic of China, such as jingju (Beijing opera), yueju (yue opera), Cantonese opera, ritual theater, marionette theatre, shadow theater and so on. The research on classical Chinese drama before 1998 can be found in Sun Ge, Chen Yangu, and Li Yijin's Guowai Zhongguo gudian xiqu yanjiu (Research on Chinese Classical Opera Performed Overseas) (2000), and Cao Guangtao's Yingyu shijie de Zhongguo chuantong xiju yanjiu (2009).

In order to get the basic information, I compiled a chronologically arranged bibliography of research on classical Chinese drama in North America from 1998 to 2008. The authors in the bibliography are those who lived and worked in North America when they published their works, not including those who neither worked nor lived in North America but published their works in North America. All works are written in English, with most devoted to classical Chinese drama. Comparative research that relates ancient and modern, China and the West, is included, but I have not listed research on modern Chinese drama (since 1919).

The bibliography covers work in three categories: books, dissertations and articles. The books include the translations of classical Chinese plays and academic monographs, while the articles include those published in journals, books, and essays, not including book reviews. The books list is based on the database of WorldCat, and the subject names are (1) theater--China--history, and (2) Chinese drama--history and criticism. The search scope of dissertations is based on the database of ProQuest Dissertations and Theses (PQDT), and the subject categories are (1) Asian literature, (2) theater, (3) art history, and (4) comparative literature. The article list is based on the database of Bibliography of Asian Studies (BAS), using the subject names (1)China--literature-drama, and (2) China--arts--theater. The document language is English. In addition, I supplemented these lists by extensive reference to the English books on Chinese drama and theater, the autobiographies of the scholars, and other articles that carried relevant information.

According to incomplete statistics, there were 175 works on classical Chinese drama published in North America from 1998 to 2008. Among them, there are nineteen books, twenty-three dissertations, and 133 articles. On this basis, I wrote the brief introduction to these books and the dissertation abstracts.

In my evaluations I have focused on three aspects of humanistic research: a detailed and meticulous arrangement of documents and materials, comprehensive and thorough research on history, and innovation and breakthrough in theoretical explanation. Following my comments on these works on classical Chinese drama, I briefly review these aspects, in order to evaluate the general value and trends in China studies in North America in the twenty-first century.

Translations of Plays and Compilations of Resources

Classical Chinese plays translated in English were multitudinous in the twentieth century, including some celebrated plays. Scholarship on classical Chinese drama produced a wealth of play translations from 1998 to 2008.

Nine plays in the zaju form have been translated into English since 1998.

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