Lin Chen



Performative Transformations of the Ambiguous Body

Address Grunewaldstr. 34
12165 Berlin
Email chenlin.ansmeer[at]

Performative Transformations of the Ambiguous Body

Supervisor: Professor Dr. Dr. h. c. Erika Fischer-Lichte

In recent decades, a new type of cultural upsurge surrounding Kunqu[1] has arisen in the Chinese-language sphere, triggered for different reasons in China Mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan and other Chinese diaspora. Following the global trend in nationalizing cultural heritage via the media platform, the impulse to stage individual emotions and reverie performatively in a market society[2] integrates with the longings to redeem various alienations in a vertical modernity[3], and they together generate a restless transforming memory for Kunqu. Like a misty veil, the complex, contentious, contradictory and long-lasting collective memory-making process blurs Kunqu’s appearance, expands its layers, and ultimately generates a new cultural myth. Against this context, my dissertation aims to analyze and appraise the new aesthetics achieved by the most controversial experimental Kunqu 'Flee by Night', which obviously interweaves with heterogeneous theatres[4], including the European Avant-Garde.

Intending to elaborate on the research goal, my dissertation begins with a detailed performance analysis of the experimental Kunqu 'Flee by Night', followed by a re-study of Kunqu's historical development, with emphasis on its folk-culture and performative aspects. The paper then scrutinizes the May Fourth New Culture Movement, the Great Proletarian Culture Revolution and key concepts such as theatricality, commercial authenticity, and modernization in theatrical discourse, aiming to ponder over the profound reasons for the controversies around the experimental Kunqu. In its main part, my dissertation re-analyzes the experimental Kunqu 'Flee by Night' in comparison to a traditional one, and ultimately establishes a new performative aesthetics to appreciate the experimental Kunqu.

Integration of the cultural, the ideological and above all the aesthetic dimensions will display is a prominent feature of my dissertation. Interviews with representative scholars, officers, performers, audience and textual analysis of a comprehensive collection of academic monologues, papers and relevant reports will also be included.


[1] Kunqu is a traditional Chinese theatre form born in the Kunshan area, in South East China. According to the monographs of Lu E-ting and Hu Ji, Kunqu achieved its mature form as performing art during the middle Ming dynasty, and had its glory era during the Qianlong period in the Qing dynasty, once fascinating almost three-fourths of China. However, since the end of the Qing dynasty, Kunqu has suffered a dramatic decline, even teetering on the edge of annihilation. Kunqu used to be calles Kunqiang, Kundiao, Kunju etc., nowadays in order to introduce Kunqu to the international stage it is also translated as Kun Opera.

[2] As elaborated by Michael Sandel, the term market society differs from market economy by implying that capitalist market economics influences not just the exchange of goods and services in a society, but also directly impacts and helps shape the personal attitudes, lifestyles, and political views of its people.

[3] To learn more about 'Multiple Modernities' please refer to S. N. Eisenstadt, Daedalus, vol. 129, no. 1, Multiple Modernities 2000, pp. 1-29

[4] The word 'theatre' is used as a general term covering different dimensions of the theatre world including dramatic literature, performance practices, and institutional operations.