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Preface and Acknowledgments

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 January 2023

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Summary

Kunqu, recognized by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2001 as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, is among the oldest and most refined traditions of the family of genres known as xiqu. For many connoisseurs, kunqu represents the towering achievement of the Chinese traditional stage. Its texts are refined and literary, its stage movements distinctive and graceful, its music haunting and mellifluous. It can make a serious claim to being both an ancient and a comprehensive art, with gesture and gaze observed and regulated as much as pitch or timbre. These qualities give it a prestige that has successfully passed from late imperial literati culture to the arts cognoscenti of today's Chinese cities.

Having survived the turmoil of the Chinese twentieth century, kunqu's musical and performance traditions are currently passed on by senior artists in the professional troupes of several major cities of the Yangtze River basin as well as Beijing and Chenzhou (Hunan). Since research has largely focused on the textual basis of performance, the transmission of kunqu performance technique, and the shifts and refinements of kunqu tradition have been only patchily understood outside of theatre circles.

Despite the efforts of generations of performers, academics, translators, community organizers, and connoisseurs, it remains difficult to initiate a student or an actor who does not read Chinese into the world and logic of kunqu. Materials in English often require a great deal of philological knowledge and are not very reflective or practical. By providing access to experienced actors’ lectures, this book constitutes an attempt to give insight into the history, society, and practical considerations of kunqu as seen from the perspective of contemporary actors. Each chapter contains a lecture by a master performer on how to perform a particular kunqu scene, thus shedding light on the human processes—technical, pedagogical, ideological, social—that create a particular piece of theatre and transmit it over time. These translations allow kunqu actors’ voices to be heard for the first time in international theatre and performance studies. Meanwhile, the annotations help the reader to place these narratives in historical, literary, discursive, and aesthetic contexts.

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Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2022

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