Some Observations on Musical Drama in Contemporary China

Department of Chinese Studies, the University of Sydney

Colin Mackerras

4-5:30pm, 11 September 2017
Teachers College Lecture Room 306

For many decades now, the revolutionary wave and modernization have both pointed to a decline in the popularity of Chinese traditional musical drama (xiqu 戏曲) among youth, but there is definitely an alternative attitude, with young people forming the vanguard of a revival among the elite. Excellent xiqu both in traditional and reformed styles can be found in China’s cities, including in major theatres built especially to perform them. On the other hand, tourists are major source of audiences there, and they tend to favour a restored tradition, in many respects as similar to the “authentic” tradition as possible. Because of its strong official support and tourism, xiqu is not in danger of dying out, and may even be getting stronger within a context of long-term decline.

Another very interesting development is the increase in performance and popularity of Western operas. Although these find most of their following among an urban elite clientele, they show no sign of decline, despite the official disfavour for some aspects of Western culture, such as liberal-democratic systems of government. The government has decided that China’s rise must involve the main cities’ being important world cultural centres and one implication is that Western-style opera-houses have been built all over China.

The paper has two major conclusions:

  • The Confucian revival implies the revival of the Chinese traditional artistic culture.
  • Western ideas of liberal democracy may be under attack, but this does not extend to elite arts, such as opera.

Speaker: Colin Mackerras, Emeritus Professor, Griffith University

Professor Colin Mackerras is a specialist on Chinese history, culture and ethnic minorities, and Western images of China, and has published widely on all those subjects. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and an Officer in the Order of Australia. In 2015, he was a Special China Book Award 中华图书特殊贡献奖, a Chinese government award given to non-Chinese who have made outstanding contributions in spreading Chinese culture through their writings.  He did a PhD on the rise of the Peking Opera (Australian National University, 1970) and has two honorary doctorates.

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