By: Liu Hongtao
This issue’s special focus on twenty-first-century Chinese theater revolves around three key terms: “avant-garde theater” (Xianfeng xiju 先锋戏剧), “experimental theater” (Shiyan xiju 实验戏剧), and “little theater” (Xiaojuchang xiju 小剧场戏剧). With these keywords, four scholars comment on the most dynamic aspects of twenty-first-century Chinese theater from their own perspectives. Song Baozhen has sorted out the Chinese little theater’s important developments in the twenty-first century and introduced some notable works along with their screenwriters and directors. She lays out their innovations in terms of themes, techniques, and styles along with their tendencies of becoming commercialized and fashionable. Ding Luonan’s essay traces the origin of Chinese experimental theater back to the end of the nineteenth century. He believes that Chinese experimental theater has experienced three peaks in the past hundred years. Although twenty-first-century Chinese experimental theater has been in a decline or recessive state, it still has some distinct characteristics, which have risen out of influences from popular culture and postmodern ideology. In his discussion of Meng Jinghui 孟京辉, Huang Jisu 黄纪苏, Guo Shixing 过士行, Zhang Guangtian 张广天, Li Liuyi 李六乙, Zhao Chuan赵川, and Lu Jiangning 陆江宁, Chen Jide examines the subaltern awareness, subaltern themes, and subaltern language through which twenty-first-century Chinese avant-garde theater displays humanistic concern and reflects the living conditions and fate of subaltern people.
Other than Beijing, Shanghai is another center for contemporary Chinese theater. Zhai Yueqin’s essay discusses the practices of Shanghai-based theater groups such as the Hard Han Cafe Theatre (Zhenhan Kafei Juchang 真汉咖啡剧场), Downstream Garage (XiaheMicang 下河迷仓), Grass Stage (Caotaiban 草台班), and Niao Collective (Zuhe Niao 组合嬲), as well as the works by some Shanghai playwrights, such as Zhang Xian 张献, Wang Jingguo 王景国, Zhao Chuan, and Xiao Ke 小珂. Those playwrights’ works constitute one distinct aspect of Shanghai’s avant-garde theater. Shanghai playwright Zhang Xian’s Rape (Jianwu 奸污) has been included in this special section.
Chinese critics use terms such as “avant-garde theater,” “experimental theater,” and “little theater” to refer to the non-mainstream theater with creative impulse and subversive quality. Although these terms have something in common, critics normally do not use them interchangeably, but deliberately make a distinction between those terms. This is partially because critics tend to use a specific term of contemporary Chinese experimental theater to express specific attitudes and sentiments, partially because it is difficult to cohere those terms due to the special political and cultural context in China. Despite the limit of this political and cultural context, there are still some masterpieces that can exert a great impact on audiences’ thoughts and emotions. Li Jing’s 李静Lu Xun (Daxiansheng 大先生) is one of those masterpieces, and this special section has included the best excerpt of this play. In Liu Hongtao’s interview with Li Jing, Liu introduces the synopsis of the entire play, as well Li Jing’s deep thinking about Lu Xun’s complicated relationship with politics
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