Facebook Icon podcast icon Join our mailing list Icon

Rehistoricizing Kunqu: Day 1

Friday, January 8, 2016
9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Charles E. Young Research Library
Main Conference Room

Image for Calendar ButtonImage for Calendar Buttonimage for support button


9-9:15 Coffee
9:15-9:30 Welcome Remarks
9:30-10:30 Peng XU, Asian Languages & Cultures, Virginia Military Institute
10:40-11:40 XIA Taidi, Chinese, Shanghai University of Electric Power
11:45-1:00 Lunch
1:00-2:00 Casey Schoenberger, Asian Studies, Sewanee University
2:10-3:10 Joseph Lam, Ethnomusicology, University of Michigan
3:20-4:20 HUA Wei, Chinese Literature, Chinese University of Hong Kong
4:30-5:30 Discussion

Abstracts (listed in order of presentation)

The Missing Message: Late-Ming Accounts of Literati Singing and Scholarly Vocal Training
Peng XU, Asian Languages & Cultures, Virginia Military Institute

Singing gained increasing significance in the daily life of scholars in the late Ming. In contemporary characterizations of literati singing, the singer appears to be a classically trained artist, sometimes singing alone in his secluded studio, sometimes singing with like-minded friends in mountain excursions. But what these accounts share in common is a peculiar lack of any mention of specific music genre. Based on the established narrative of Ming music history, it is tempting to assume that what they sang was in the music genre of kunqu, a music genre originated in the Kunshan region (also known properly as kunshanqiang) that literati successfully appropriated and transformed, through supporting a genius professional singer named Wei Liangfu, into a kind of elite music and henceforth the main music form for which they wrote numerous new plays.

This essay challenges the presumption and proposes a more complex vision about what’s really missing. Above all, it sees the lack of information as a literary phenomenon, a collective choice of the literati singers. It then asks why. To answer this question, I read the literary phenomenon against the backdrop of the arrival of Wei Liangfu’s popular singing style in the early to mid sixteenth century and its interactions with a time-honored tradition of scholarly singing. While the lowbrow popular genre and the highbrow scholarly tradition (related to classical philology and Taoist health theories as well as qigong practice) merged into a highly hybrid style, I argue, literati singers felt the urge to reinforce social boundaries in the increasingly mixed singing world. One way to do it was to highlight their classical training and meanwhile to avoid specifying the popular music genres in which they sang. My hypothesis about the dynamic between the two vocal traditions and the hybrid nature of the final product complicates the established interpretation of kunqu’s early history that emphasizes literati’s intellectual and social power alone.

Kunqu Performance and Folk Practices in Ming Dynasty Nanjing
XIA Taidi, Chinese, Shanghai University of Electric Power

Folk practices provided the soil for the development and survival of Chinese opera, and opera performance imbued folk festivities with greater vitality. Nanjing, as the residual capital of the Ming Dynasty, was renowned as the cultural center of southern China; it was a place for the coming together of many different opera genres, with Kun opera most prominent among them. Most of these performances were ancillary New Year’s celebrations, market festivals, wedding banquets, ritual occasions, and other folk customs; and they penetrated every aspect of urban life. The unique political, cultural, and business environment of Nanjing, and especially commoner consumption and entertainment practices, deeply affected the performance of Kun opera.

民俗活動為戲曲的生存、發展提供了土壤,戲曲演出的加盟則使得民俗生活更富生命力。南京作為明代留都,是南中國最富盛名的文化之都,也是各類聲腔較為集中的戲曲都市,尤以昆曲演出為盛。這些演出大多借助于歲時節慶、社集雅會、喜慶宴飲、祈禳賽會等民俗活動而行,滲入了都市民俗生活的各個方面。而南都城市特有的政治、文化和商業環境,特別是民俗生活的消費性、娛樂性等特點,也使得侵淫於其中的昆曲演出活動深受影響主題詞:南京 明代 民俗 昆曲
Kunqu’s Diverse Musical and Poetic Origins: “Plays” within Plays
Casey Schoenberger, Asian Studies, Sewanee University
It is well known that Kunqu combines tunes of Northern and Southern origins, as reflected in the use of both heptatonic and pentatonic scales. Perhaps less well known are the truly diverse origins of Kunqu aria matrices, which draw not only on elite and popular song traditions, but also traditional ci poetry, Tang and Song court music, and even a variety of prosimetric chantefable arts like zhu gongdiao.

I will here focus on a small subset of Kunqu tunes like Shua hai’er (“Playing the Haihai Singer”), Shua xiucai (“Teasing the Graduate/Playing the Graduate”), Tang xiucai (“Reclining Graduate”), and Jiuzhuan huolang’er, also known as Cunli xiucai (“Village Graduate”), the titles, structures, and early usages of which hint at origins in Shanxi Province and Inner Mongolian performance traditions. Though titles like “Teasing the Graduate” may, as Wilt Idema has observed, reflect the social reality of students flocking to urban centers since the Song Dynasty, I will argue that they also connect to other performance traditions popular in the Song, Yuan, and early Ming, some of which survive to this day. By examining the nature of storytelling and foreign musical/prosodic elements in traditional Kunqu suite structure, we may better understand the intended affective quality of playwrights’ choices to include them.

Kunqu as Chinese Music History

Joseph Lam, Ethnomusicology, University of Michigan

Twenty-first century China promotes kunqu as a 600 years old genre of classical opera, one that revealingly demonstrates Chinese biography, history, culture, and society with multi-media performances. As a result, China tells many stories about kunqu as operatic representation/evidence of Chinese memories, realities, and dreams from the past. These stories, however, reveal little about the ways in which the genre constitutes, and/or represents, Chinese lives with multi-media performances created and structured with sound/music.  To remedy this lacuna, this paper calls for the writing of musical and historical narratives that explain kunqu as sound expressions of Chinese lives in past and present contexts. Towards that goal, this paper will begin with a short critique of conventional histories of kunqu, and then illustrate the writing of musical kunqu history with a case study on “Tanci” (“Ballad Singing”) from Hong Sheng’s Changshengdian (Palace of Lasting Life).

21世纪中国表扬昆曲为有600年历史的戏曲,是呈示中国人物传记、历史、文化、社会现象的多媒体演出艺术。因此中国历史著作中有很多昆曲故事,把它的舞台演出解释为国人的历史记忆,时代真相, 甚至是个人梦想的陈述。这些故事内容丰富但不能说明昆曲或昆曲音乐如何通过声音表现中国人的生活经验感受。为了填补这样的不足,本文提出编写音乐分析与历史事实描述并重的昆曲音乐史的建议,希望学者们把昆曲艺术家及曲友的音乐思维和行动清楚纪录下来。本文是这建议的一个草稿,它以批判评现有昆曲史为序,以洪昇《长生殿:弹词》的个案导入讨论编写昆曲音乐史的理论与实践。

The Journeying Emperor Zhengde on the Qing Stage: Meanings and History

HUA Wei, Chinese Literature, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Despite apparent taboo, the emperor figure appeared quite frequently on the Qing stage. Many plays from the popular theater involved journeying emperors who left the palace due to disasters of war, or because of libertine impulses, whereas in the court theater, emperors were shown most of the time as leaving the palace to win wars or to consult with sage ministers. In this paper I will focus on probably the most popular emperor figure on the Qing stage, namely, the Zhengde Emperor of the Ming dynasty, as he is the main character in quite a number of plays throughout the Qing. Li Yu’s Yu Saotou (The jade hairpin) in mid-seventeenth century, for example, deals with his historically famous romance with a courtesan née Liu. About a century later, Tang Ying’s Meilong zhen (The Meilong town) portrays the same emperor’s reputed courtship of an innkeeper’s sister named Phoenix. Then the mid-nineteenth century saw Huang Zhi’s play Yuzan ji (The jade hairpin), which again treats the relationship between the emperor and the courtesan. Aside from above, there is an interesting lantern play featuring the Zhengde Emperor and the courtesan Liu Qianqian by an anonymous author on the occasion of, perhaps, the Qianlong Emperor’s visit to Yangzhou. Under what circumstances did the Zhengde Emperor become such a popular hero in urban imagination? To what extent did his image as an unbridled libertine in official history lend him popularity among commoners? Does his stage image undergo any change in the course of the Qing? This paper will explore the aesthetic, ethical, and political aspects of his representations in order to discover the cultural significance of kunqu drama in the Qing dynasty.


Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies, Asia Pacific Center, Department of History, UCLA Dean of Humanities, UCLA Dean of Social Sciences, Taipei Economic and Cultural Organization in Los Angeles