Xiqu playwrights

Xiqu playwrights
One of the recent developments in Xiqu (sung-drama/opera) is the increased emphasis on the role and importance of playwrights. In the past, most authors of the plays of ‘regional music dramas’ (difangxi), including Peking opera, remained either anonymous or unrecognized. Despite the fact that authors’ names began to appear in published scripts in the 1950s and 1960s, scholars and critics seldom studied playwrights while discussing plays. Furthermore, audiences rarely knew about Xiqu playwrights except for a few well-known literary figures like Tian Han who had mainly made their names known in other genres. During the Cultural Revolution, the names of authors of the ‘model plays’ were largely suppressed and replaced by impersonal names of collective authorship. Since the late 1970s, the role of the playwrights of the 1950s and 1960s, such as Xu Jin, Chen Renjian and Wen Mu, have been gradually recognized and studied. As the old generation of playwrights continued to write in the 1980s, a new generation who write exclusively for Xiqu emerged and has remained active and influential on the contemporary stage. Scholars and critics began to study them as subject matter and, accordingly, audiences began paying attention to the authors of respective plays. The successful playwrights, old and young, in contemporary Xiqu circles include: Wei Minglun, Yu Xiaoyu, Xu Fen, Wang Renjie, Zheng Huaixing, Chen Yaxian, Wu Zhaofen, Gu Xidong, Guo Dayu, Peng Zhigan, Zeng Zhaohong, among others. While some of these writers have been providing scripts exclusively for a specific regional theatre, others like Guo Qihong and Luo Huaizhen have been writing for a variety of music dramas. The latter is itself a new phenomenon in the New Period.
The subject matter of these playwrights’ work is largely traditional. It consists of three categories: (1) newly written historical plays (xinbian lishiju) whose stories are based upon historical events, such as Chen Yaxian’s Cao Cao and Yang Xiu; (2) reinterpretation of well-known historical, literary or legendary figures, which often negates or reverses the traditional moral judgment on these characters, such as Wei Minglun’s Pan Jinlian and Xu Fen’s Sister Tian and Zhuangzi (Tian Jie yü Zhuang Zhou); and (3) invention of new legends set in the real historical past, which are often critical of traditional culture or allude to the present social conditions, such as Luo Huaizhen’s Golden Dragon and Mayfly (Jinlong yü fuyou). Although most of these new plays are set in the remote past, they are all characterized by a strong linkage between the historical and the contemporary. The contemporaneity of these traditional themes is usually conveyed through emphasis on the emancipation of women (nüxing), humanity (renxing) and individuality (gexing).
From time to time, there have also appeared exciting plays reflecting modern and contemporary life and society, known as Xiqu xiandaixi (modern plays). Resident playwrights of certain theatrical troupes, like those performing Huju (Shanghai opera), tend to write more such plays on contemporary themes. Those troupes specializing in older theatrical forms have, however, also produced modern plays. Almost all Xiqu forms have had ‘modern plays’ since the late 1970s. Jingju (Peking opera) has, for example, even produced such successful modern plays as Wrapped Honey (Yibao mi), Lofty Petroleum Towers (Gaogaode lianta), Legends of the Temple of the Medicine God (Yaowang miao chuanqi) and Camel Xiangzi (a.k.a. Rickshaw Boy; Luotuo Xiangzi). Playwrights noted for ‘modern plays’ include Yang Chunlan, Yu Yonghe, Chen Wu and Xiao Shang.
Unlike most old plays of regional theatres which had less literary value and depended more on actors’ skills, these new Xiqu plays of both traditional and modern themes tend to be richer in literary or philosophical content and more elaborate in dramatic structure, which partly reflects an influence from Western thoughts and dramaturgy introduced into China since the early 1980s. Contemporary Xiqu playwrights have begun to be a subject of scholarly and critical studies.
See also: Shi Yukun
Guo, Qihong (1992). Guo Qihong juzuo xuan [Selected Plays by Guo Qihong]. Beijing: Zhongguo xiju chubanshe.
Luo, Huaizhen (1990). Xi Shi gui Yue—Luo Huaizhen tansuo xiqu ji [Xi Shi Returns to the Kingdom of Yue—A Collection of Luo Huaizhen’s Exploratory Plays]. Shanghai: Xuelin chubanshe.
——(1993). Jinlong yü Fuyou [Golden Dragon and Mayfly]. Shanghai Yishujia 6:25–36.
Xu, Fen (1993). Mulian zhi mu [Mulian’s Mother]. Sichuan xiju 4:53–62.
——(1996). Sishui weilan [Billows out of Dead Waters]. Juben 4:2–18.
Yu, Xiaoyu and Li, Yunyan (1992). Famen zhongsheng xiang [All Living Creatures at the Famen Temple]. Juben 6:7–22.
Yu, Xiaoyu, Xie, Lu and Peng, Zhigan (1989). Gaoyao Zhang [Zhang the Dogskin-Plaster Seller]. Xin Juben 2.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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