The Center for Asian Studies, in co-sponsorship with the Department of History, Department of East Asian Languages and Literature, presents

“Melodrama, Gender, and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Commercial Kun Opera”
with Andrea S. Goldman, Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of California, Los Angeles

Friday, April 8, 2011
12:00-1:30 p.m.
Murray Krieger Hall, Room 126

This talk examines an early Qing playwright-edition drama and its nineteenth-century Kun opera (kunju) performance redactions.  Fei-Cui yuan tells the story of a poor scholar's attempt to protect his land from annexation by a ruthless official.  The scholar is assisted by a winsome vagabond seamstress and a bumbling yamen runner.  This triumvirate of righteousness is held up as the moral antidote to the destructive power of masculine privilege.  When legal channels fail them, the protagonists take matters into their own hands.  Justice is eventually restored by an emperor-ex-machina. Audiences for commercial kunju rarely saw full plays, however.  Popular performed versions tended to truncate the story and dispense with its “happy ending.”  The climatic scenes featured the daring deeds of the heroine and ended, typically, with the protagonists on the run and the seamstress grieving her mother’s murder by the henchman of the corrupt official.  This suggests that audiences were more attuned to sentimentalized depictions of injustice than to the restoration of order.  The cross-dressed youths who played the seamstress clearly stole the show.  Commercial kunju thus offered urban playgoers a space for escape and a vehicle for the voicing of pointed social commentary.  This melodrama of ressentiment was inflected with class and gender sympathies: the good tended to be poor and/or female; the bad, rich men and their flunkeys.  This sexing of political complaint¬ that is, both the gendered face of chivalry and the allure of the dan actors¬ became a hallmark of commercial kunju in the Qing capital.

A light lunch will be provided; RSVPs are requested. For more information or to RSVP, please contact Sandy Cushman,

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