Peng Tao*

Since Mr. Mei Lan-fang visited America and the Soviet Union with his theatre troupe (in 1930 and in 1935 respectively), bringing Chinese Jingju art to the West and communicating with some great European theatre artists such as Stanislavski, Nemirovich-Danchenko, Meyerhold and Brecht, Jingju has become the synonym of Chinese traditional theatre in the West. A most valuable intercultural connection, no doubt. What is still lacking in the West, however, is a more inclusive vision of the riches and the true variety of Chinese theatre. Chinese traditional theatre includes more than 360 different variations. Apart from Jingju, there are also Kunqu, Yueju and Yuju, among many other forms.

It was at the beginning of the 20th-century that the western-style theatre (the dramatic theatre) was introduced into China. It very quickly set roots and flourished. After 1949, in nearly every province, dramatic theatre companies, financially supported by the nation, were established, each contributing to the development of the genre.

The first years of the 21st-century are enjoying a lively and growing theatre industry. However, the theatre is still plagued by problems of bureaucracy and censorship.

On today’s Chinese stage, official censorship is still strict and conservative; although theatre artists have a very strong desire for independent creativity and an instinct for self-expression. Such a conflict creates a strong internal tension within Chinese theatre. In the last 10 years, theatre exchanges with other countries have been common, and many post-dramatic shows have been introduced to Chinese audiences. To the Chinese contemporary theatre artists, such as Lin Zhaohua, Meng Jinghu and Tian Qinxin, the traditional theatre, as well as western contemporary theatre, have provided a variety of references and artistic directions.

Most of the new generation of stage directors are independent artists born after 1978. They bring fresh air to Chinese contemporary theatre. The new possibilities provided by the internet have also helped enrich Chinese theatre criticism, especially for some young and independent critics, who are very active, and who take advantage of the dynamics of the worldwide web. Their voices and criticism correspond closely with the creativity of young stage artists. They have promoted the pluralistic development of Chinese contemporary theatre.

With this special issue of Critical Stages/ Scènes critiques we are trying to sketch a profile of what is going on in contemporary theatre in China and to introduce it to the international theatre audience. It goes without saying that it is quite impossible to cover everything. We knew that from the start. We did our best, however, to have papers that touch upon issues that are hotly debated in various Chinese theatre circles. For example, the revival of traditional theatre forms and the relations between tradition and modernity are important parts of the discussion that is advanced in this volume. To this end we are also publishing papers that come from Chinese people living abroad as well as from non-Chinese who are either exposed to Chinese culture professionally or take a professional interest in the Chinese theatre. Their contributions open up a spectrum of enquiry and bring into the discussion a series of interesting and instructive views.

As a guest editor of this special volume I thank all of our contributors for their most valuable collaboration with us. I hope our selection of essays and interviews lives up to their expectations. 

*Peng Tao is theatre critic, Professor and Head of the Dramatic Literature Department, at the Central Academy of Drama, in Beijing, China. He graduated from the Russian Academy of Theatre Art with a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts. His main publications include: “A Reading of Three Sisters”(2005/3), “Notes on The Seagull” (2007/1), “The Spiritual Awakening of Intellectuals—Chekhov`s Uncle Vanya”( 2017/2), and “A Study on Lin Zhao-hua’s Interpretation of Chekhov’s Works”(2008), all of which appeared in Drama: The Journal of The Central Academy of Drama

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