Playwrights and Literary Games in Seventeenth-Century China

Playwrights and Literary Games in Seventeenth-Century China : Plays by Tang Xianzu, Mei Dingzuo, Wu Bing, Li Yu, and Kong Shangren

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As the first full-length English language survey of China's rich and sophisticated chuanqi drama, Playwrights and Literary Games in Seventeenth-Century China offers detailed analyses of six canonical plays in the broad socio-historical context of late imperial China, supported by the application of both traditional and modern critical theories. Portraying the playwrights as creative readers of their cultural heritage, this study examines their plays as the products of their attachment to traditions and pursuit of novelty to surpass traditions.

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  • Hardback | 334 pages
  • 149.86 x 231.14 x 27.94mm | 635.03g
  • Lexington Books
  • Lanham, MDUnited States
  • English
  • 073913857X
  • 9780739138571

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Adaptations of earlier writings, the representations of identities (whether those of characters or the playwrights' own), the newly developed self-reflexivity in drama, and metatheatrical statements in various forms are all important concerns that Jing Shen weaves through her masterful readings of plays by six major dramatists of China's crucial seventeenth century-when traditional culture underwent the shattering trauma of subjugation by non-Chinese armies from the north. Throughout she demonstrates her deep knowledge of China's literary tradition by revealing the complex intertextual relations of each play. Professor Shen's richly detailed study firmly places these dramatic masterpieces in their historical, cultural, and even personal contexts to provide a vision of late imperial Chinese theater significantly more nuanced than achieved by any previous study in any Western language. -- Robert E. Hegel, Washington University, St. Louis Considering the importance of chuanqi drama in Ming and Qing China and the recent revival of interest in the genre this book is extremely welcome. Jing Shen has focused on some of the most knotty problems in chuanqi drama: the games that literati played in their production and consumption. After contextualizing the genre and its producers and consumers, she presents detailed and concrete analyses of examples from some of the most influential playwrights of the 1600s, a crucial century in the development of the genre and of Chinese history (it saw the traumatic fall of the native Ming dynasty to the invading Manchus midway through it). Since Professor Shen pays careful attention to the relationships between developments in this dramatic genre and the societal and historical changes of the times, her book will be of great appeal not only to those interested in Chinese theater or world theater in general, but also to those interested in this crucial century in Chinese history. -- David Rolston, University of Michigan The late sixteenth to seventeenth century was a time when stage-struck literary men from the top echelon of Chinese society turned their hands to playwriting, and the publishing boom of the period ensured that handsomely printed editions of their plays with illustrations and commentary were available to an avid reading public. These plays, which combine the finest poetic song lyrics with sophisticated badinage and bawdy jokes, were also serious vehicles for reflections on politics, history, and of course the theater itself. Jing Shen's new book provides an informative and lively introduction to the socio-cultural world that these literati playwrights inhabited and recreated in their marvelous works. All in all, this is a major addition to the growing critical literature on the history and theory of premodern Chinese theater in its cultural context. -- Judith T. Zeitlin, The University of Chicago Playwrights and Literary Games makes some important inroads toward a more comprehensive understanding of chuanqi, a labyrinthine genre that resists generalized characterizations at every turn. Going beyond the steps she has taken to define the genre, with all of its complexities and contradictions, Shen's focus on intertextuality ties chuanqi's formal aspects to its social functions in the late Ming-early Qing. Intertextual allusions represent an exclusive register within the genre, and a dialectic whereby audiences invest their own meanings into the text, embedding it within contemporary contexts and simultaneously tying it to history. Playwrights is a resource for scholars of chuanqi and more broadly for those interested in the cultural and literary history of China's long seventeenth century. CHINOPERL: Journal of Chinese Oral and Performing Literature

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About Jing Shen

Jing Shen is associate professor of Chinese language and literature at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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