Elizabeth Wichmann-Walczak, Professor of Asian Theatre at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, became the first non-Chinese to perform Jingju (Beijing/Peking ‘opera’) in the People’s Republic of China while conducting her doctoral field research (Nanjing, 1979-81). Her publications concern the performance system and aesthetics of Xiqu (Chinese ‘opera’); she regularly translates and directs Jingju plays taught to UH students by major Chinese performers. Her awards include the National Xiqu Music Association Kong Sanchuan Award for excellence in research, creation, and performance, and the National Festival of Jingju Golden Chrysanthemum Award for outstanding achievements in promoting and developing Jingju.
During the 1950s, the Chinese government carried out a massive reform of its traditional theatre, Xiqu (Chinese ‘opera’), radically changing Xiqu’s creative, organizational, and training processes in the name of democratic and scientific modernization; a key component was the insertion of Western theatrical practices, including the use of directors, playwrights, and composers into what had been actor-centered theatre. Sixty years later, much of the new Xiqu system devised in the 1950s has become an ‘invented tradition’ under which new generations of Xiqu artists have trained and worked. I am involved in a long-term, collaborative research project that will be the first comprehensive study of the reform, positioning it in the context of the modern humanist movement and colonial modernity, and documenting and assessing the rationale, process, and cultural and theatrical impact of Xiqu reform. Between 1979 and 2011, I conducted research in China at least once a year, observing all or part of the planning, rehearsal, and/or evaluative processes for scores of new Jingju plays and several new Kunqu/Kunju plays, and conducting interviews with a wide range of participants. The observation and interview notes from this 32-year period are an invaluable source of raw data concerning the cultural and theatrical impact of Xiqu reform upon the actual practice of Xiqu creation. While in Berlin, I intend to reflect upon and analyze these notes, and to begin writing about the changing inter- and intra-cultural ramifications of the 1950s Xiqu reform over time.