Staging Chinese Revolution

Theater, Film, and the Afterlives of Propaganda

Xiaomei Chen

Columbia University Press

Staging Chinese Revolution

Pub Date: November 2016

ISBN: 9780231166386

384 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $60.00£50.00

Pub Date: November 2016

ISBN: 9780231541619

384 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $59.99£50.00

Staging Chinese Revolution

Theater, Film, and the Afterlives of Propaganda

Xiaomei Chen

Columbia University Press

Staging Chinese Revolution surveys fifty years of theatrical propaganda performances in China, revealing a dynamic, commercial capacity in works often dismissed as artifacts of censorship. Spanning the 1960s through the 2010s, Xiaomei Chen reads films, plays, operas, and television shows from an interdisciplinary and comparative perspective, demonstrating how, in a socialist state with "capitalist characteristics," propaganda performance turns biographies, memoirs, and war stories into mainstream ideological commodities, legitimizing the state and its right to rule. Analyzing propaganda performance also brings contradictions and inconsistencies to light that throw common understandings about propaganda's purpose into question.

Chen focuses on revisionist histories that stage the lives of the "founding fathers" of the Communist Party, such as Chen Duxiu, Mao Zedong, and Deng Xiaoping, and the engaging mix of elite and ordinary characters that animate official propaganda in the private and public sphere. Taking the form of "personal" memories and representing star and youth culture and cyberspace, contemporary Chinese propaganda appeals through multiple perspectives, complicating relations among self, subject, agent, state building, and national identity. Chen treats Chinese performance as an extended form of political theater confronting critical issues of commemoration, nostalgia, state rituals, and contested history. It is through these reenactments that three generations of revolutionary leaders loom in extraordinary ways over Chinese politics and culture.
Xiaomei Chen has done magnificent work in rethinking the meaning and function of theater and historical dynamics in the context of Chinese revolution and its aftermath. She looks into sources drawn from performing arts and media studies, identifies ideological and affective contestations, and ponders the consequences of the politics of theater both on the stage and in everyday life. Both historically informed and theoretically provocative, Chen's book is a most important source for anyone interested in theater studies, comparative literature, and cultural and political history. David Der-wei Wang, author of The Lyrical in Epic Time: Modern Chinese Intellectuals and Artists Through the 1949 Crisis
Staging Chinese Revolution is a major contribution to the growing field of propaganda studies and a landmark example of the intersection between that field and the fields of modern theater and film. Few modern cultures more clearly call for such an analysis than that of China, and this book admirably fulfills that need. Marvin Carlson, author of Shattering Hamlet's Mirror: Theatre and Reality
Staging Chinese Revolution is a wonderfully illuminating and engaging study of performance propaganda in contemporary China. From its revolutionary days to the present, the Chinese Communist Party has devoted great attention to the scripting and staging of dramas and films intended to strengthen public support. As Chen shows, however, this was not simply a top-down process. At all stages, artists and intellectuals were crucial actors in this political initiative. This book therefore not only will interest scholars of literature but also has much to offer students of cultural politics and intellectual history. Elizabeth J. Perry, author of Anyuan: Mining China's Revolutionary Tradition
Written by the leading authority on propaganda in modern China, Staging Chinese Revolution eloquently explores the subject with impeccable attention to detail and several genres, from huaju plays, music and dance theater, to eulogy. The book covers a century of Chinese arts and politics and offers convincing explanations of the shifting roles of propaganda in shaping national and personal histories. Alexa Huang, author of Chinese Shakespeare: Two Centuries of Cultural Exchange
Staging Chinese Revolution will be eye-opening for many who may have thought of Party History as trite and predictable. Chen convincingly shows that party history is, in fact, a highly dynamic affair. By following its sudden and subtle shifts, we are able to understand better modern and contemporary China. Barbara Mittler, author of A Continuous Revolution: Making Sense of Cultural Revolution Culture
This inspiring book looks at what goes on under propaganda in contemporary China. Chen lays out contradictions, critiques, personal stories, and political figures in theater, film, and performance. Mixing official agenda with pop culture and romance with history, Staging Chinese Revolution unravels the top-down image of propaganda. Ban Wang, author of Illuminations from the Past: Trauma, Memory, and History in Modern China
Chen shows how propaganda produces narratives that hold the socialist state together. Not to be missed is the epilogue, in which Chen asks, 'Where are the founding mothers?' A. Huang, CHOICE
Staging Chinese Revolution is a well-written and eloquent work. It has made an important contribution to our understanding of theatre and performance in socialist and post-socialist China. Ban Wang, China Information
I would strongly recommend Staging Chinese Revolution, an exemplary scholarship which offers not only profound knowledge but also the pleasure of a very good read. Xing Fan, Asian Theatre Journal
Sinologists and performance studies scholars alike will find this fascinating book a great resource for studying history, nationalism, and propaganda. Modern Drama
By positioning theatrical propaganda at the dynamic intersection among party history, personal memories and popular culture, Chen convincingly presents multiple perspectives and complex relations among self, subject, agent, state building and national identity. Chen’s book is an important source for those interested in theatre studies, comparative literature and cultural and political studies. Theatre Research International
Xiaomei Chen has broken new ground in her recent work on performance culture and the afterlives of propaganda in contemporary China. . . . The encyclopedic quality of the book, however, will reward engaging reading and rereading. Keep the volume by your side and use it as a key reference on contemporary Chinese propaganda, performance, and popular culture. Liang Luo, Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Propaganda Performance
1. The Place of Chen Duxiu: Political Theater, Dramatic History, and the Question of Representation
2. The Return of Mao Zedong: A People's Hero and a "New" Legacy in Postsocialist Performance
3. The Stage of Deng Xiaoping: The "Incorrigible Capitalist Roader"
4. The Myth of the "Red Classics": Three Revolutionary Music-and-Dance Epics and Their Peaceful Restorations
Epilogue: Where Are the "Founding Mothers"?
Notes
Works Cited
Index

About the Author

Xiaomei Chen is professor of Chinese literature in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of California, Davis, where she also teaches performance studies and comparative literature. She is the author of Occidentalism: A Theory of Counter-Discourse in Post-Mao China (1995; second and expanded edition, 2002), Acting the Right Part: Political Theater and Popular Drama in Contemporary China (2002) and editor of Reading the Right Text (2003) and The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Drama (Columbia, 2010; abridged edition 2014). She is the coeditor, with Claire Sponsler, of East of West: Cross-Cultural Performances and the Staging of Difference (2001); with Julia Andrews, of Visual Culture in Contemporary China (2001); and with Steven Siyuan Liu, of Hong Shen and the Modern Mediasphere in Republic-Era China (2015).