Cross-Dressing in Chinese Opera

By Siu Leung Li | Go to book overview

TWO
A THEATRE OF CROSS-DRESSING:
A REVISIONIST HISTORY

In the Beginning Was Men-Dressing-As-Women

Beginning with classical Greece, theatre in Europe was characterized by the absence of women and the silence of their voices (Case). European theatre has been criticized as male-generated, with one-sided male crossdressing, and for excluding women from the stage for two thousand years (Ferris, Acting Women). It was not until the seventeenth century that actresses were gradually accepted on the stage, yet they were often commodified as objects of desire for the pleasure of the male audience. After all the reason for putting women on the stage to begin with, as well as for dressing actresses in men's clothes in English theatre at the end of the seventeenth century was, as a critic puts it, simply that "conventionally attractive female bodies sell tickets" (Straub 128).

Owners of Chinese opera troupes in the late nineteenth century who unconventionally put young women on the public stage that had been monopolized for several centuries1 by men obviously shared this conventional realization that the female body as a medium of exchange would yield high returns in the theatre business.

Women in Europe never had an active role in theatrical representation which, from a materialist feminist perspective, "conspired from the beginning to detach women as a gender class from

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