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Hu shi's play of 1919, The Main Event of One's Life (Zhongshen dashi), introduced spoken drama (huaju) to the modern Chinese stage, in imitation of the plays in the Western Ibsenesque tradition. Ever since then, May Fourth male playwrights such as Guo Moruo, Ouyang Yuqian, Chen Dabei, and others, in forming a tradition countering that of the Confucian ruling ideology, have treated women's liberation and equality issues as important political and ideological strategies (Chen 1995, 137–55). Female playwrights such as Bai Wei also depicted loving mothers and courageous daughters waging a fierce struggle against the patriarchal society, symbolized either by domineering and lustful domestic fathers or by new nationalist fathers already corrupted by the emerging revolution. The tradition on the part of both male and female playwrights of exploring woman as a metaphor for national salvation and a given political agenda was most fully articulated in the street theater that grew up during the period of the War of Resistance to Japan.
In the Japanese empire in 1938, an imperial-language theatrical adaptation of a folktale from colonial Korea, The Tale of Spring Fragrance (Ch'unhyang chŏn) opened to rave reviews in major metropolitan cities throughout Japan. The performance's popularity ignited an encore run later the same year throughout colonial Korea. The play was commissioned by Murayama Tomoyoshi and his Shinkyō Theater Troupe in Japan. The script was penned in Japanese by Chang Hyǒkchu, a bilingual writer from the colony. This article examines a forgotten moment of colonial “collaboration” between Korea and Japan when the two countries’ literary histories converged in a widely publicized performance across the empire. By reading the tensions between parallel yet unbridgeable nostalgic desires between Japan and Korea, and measuring the gap between the consumption of the tale as trendy “colonial kitsch” and timeless “national tradition,” the performance can be read not as the embodiment of harmonious imperial assimilation as touted at the time, but as performing its anxieties and breakdown. This article further considers the significance of the failed collaboration and translation across colonial divides for postcolonial relations.
The most popular book in northern India is a Hindi retelling of the ancient tale of Prince Rām and his wife, Sītāa, composed in about A.D. 1574 by the poet-saint Tulsīdās of Banaras. Throughout a vast region with a population of more than three hundred million people, this epic of some fourteen-thousand lines has come to be regarded not only as a great masterpiece of literature but also as a religious work of the highest inspiration—a status recognized by nineteenth-century British scholars who labeled it "the Bible of North India." To its audience it is known by several names: simply the Rāmāyaṇ(borrowing the title of the Sanskrit archetype that, for Hindi speakers, it has largely supplanted); the Tulsī Rāmāyaṇ(invoking its author); and also the Mānas(The lake), which is a condensation of its true title, Rāmcaritmānas(The lake of the acts of Rām). Encountering the last name for the first time, a reader from another culture might be puzzled by its central metaphor: why should the image of a lake be so closely associated with this celebrated saga of virtue, heroism, and devotion?
The author reconstructs the religious idea and ritual that lie behind the “Songs of the Dead.” The three songs attributed to Empress Saimei in the Nihonshoki (nos. 119–121) are interpreted as sung by a dead person's spirit sailing to the nether world. They must have been handed down by the Asobi-be—shamans who appeased dead emperors' spirits—because these and other funeral songs in the Kojiki use similar verse forms. The Ryō no Shūge says that the Asobi-be's services involved two persons called Negi and Yoshi. Negi appeased the spirit who possessed Yoshi; the empress's songs must originally have been sung by Yoshi. The ritual behind the “Songs of the Dead” also helps us to understand the origins of Nō, especially of mugen nō, and to perceive the connection between Nō and the development of Kabuki in the early seventeenth century.
The qing court had a love-hate relationship with popular drama. From the Qianlong emperor (r. 1736–95) to the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908), several Qing rulers were renowned for their doting patronage of popular opera, yet the state was far from sanguine about drama's social effects, viewing public theaters with great suspicion. Theaters, in the eyes of the authorities, were notorious hangouts for ruffians, slackers, gamblers, and insurgents, providing these roustabouts with the ideal environment in which to scheme and swindle. In addition to waging campaigns to censor and weed out “seditious passages” from popular dramas (Guy 1987, 92), emperors throughout the Qing dynasty issued dozens of edicts regulating the construction, location, and clientele of commercial theaters. In rural areas, especially in times of unrest, local authorities often canceled scheduled performances for fear that such occasions offered gangs and secret societies prime opportunities for stirring up trouble (Mackerras 1972, 37). Urban theaters were no safer. According to popular lore, even the Kangxi emperor was cheated by hoodlums when he ventured into a public theater during one of his legendary outings disguised as a commoner (Liao 1997, 80). Yet in spite of their reputation for breeding disorder and moral vice, commercial theaters—commonly known as teahouses (chayuan)—increasingly thrived, and in this new social space, the genre of Peking opera came into full flower during the last century of the Qing dynasty.
To perceive more fully the particular meaning and aesthetic power of the Hsi-yu chi, it is necessary to examine more closely certain of its features hitherto ignored in criticism. One such feature is the vast amount of poetic “insertions” within the narrative. Though the mixture of prose and poetry is common in classic Chinese fiction, and has its antecedents in the pien-wen texts and in the popular stories and dramas of earlier periods, the poetry of the Hsi-yu chi has its own significant function. By its descriptive realism, its encyclopedic range, and its peculiar technique of versification, the poems serve to heighten both scenic situations and character developments. The narrative effect thus achieved may best be appreciated when it is compared with epic songs and heroic sagas of other cultures. Another means with which the novel is endowed with epic magnitude is the greatness of its theme, the sacred mission of Tripitaka. To understand the crucial importance of this mission, it is necessary to discern how it functions to create in both plot and characters a sense of heroic grandeur and epic immensity.