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TitleReconstructing the Past: Historical Imagination in Chinese Theater during the 1980s
AuthorChe, Xiao
UniversityU.C. Santa Barbara
Thesis typePh.D
DisciplineTheater Studies
Number of pages388
AbstractWhile historical writing has always been an important part of Chinese cultural
tradition, history was reconstructed and reexamined in Chinese theater during the
1980s as part of the dynamic cultural discussions of the decade. This dissertation
provides detailed analysis of three representative theater works from the 1980s,
situating these plays within China’s historical, social, political, cultural, and artistic
context, as well as the tremendous social changes and enthusiastic intellectual
pursuits of that decade. The dissertation examines how these plays imagine China’s
twentieth century through the themes, plots, characters, languages, and structures of
dramatic texts, as well as through theatrical signs such as space, set, costume, acting,
sound, and lighting. The previous social taboos, hidden histories, and dispersed
stories are presented in these plays in order to search for the root of historical
traumas and provide lessons for the nation’s ongoing modernization project. These
plays creatively utilize a variety of performing arts and theatrical styles in order to
reflect the changes in history.

The Introduction delineates the origin, development, function, and significance of
Chinese historical writings and historical dramas in order to demonstrate how history
is presented differently in these plays as a result of social changes of the period.
Chapter Two analyzes Uncle Doggie’s Nirvana (1986) as a dramatization of China’s
complex modernization process between the 1940s and the1980s and its impact upon
generations of Chinese peasants. Sangshuping Chronicles (1988), the focus of
Chapter Three, deconstructs the sacred icons of Chinese culture and Maoist
revolution as causing national disasters and historical stagnation. Chapter Four
delineates how The World’s Top Restaurant (1988) critically evaluates the privileges
and diseases within Chinese tradition in order to explore ways to creatively transform
China into a prosperous modern country. The Conclusion summarizes how these
three plays manifest the coexistence of Chinese tradition, Maoist legacy, Western
modernity, and postmodern sentiments in the intellectual scene of the 1980s.
Keywords (en)China;theater;play;revolution;history;memory;folk arts;culture;Beijing;peasant;Brecht;Fujude;worker
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