Staging Courtesans: Liang Chenyu’s (1519-1591) Washing Gauze (Huansha ji) and the Performance Culture of Late Sixteenth-Century China

Colloquium | January 27 | 4-6 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

 Ling Hon Lam, East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Berkeley

 Peng Xu, Center for Chinese Studies Postdoctoral Fellow 2016-2017;

 Center for Chinese Studies (CCS)

This paper seeks to read Liang Chenyu’s dramatic masterpiece, Washing Gauze (Huansha ji), with reference to the rise of courtesans as “theater women” and the subsequent changes in the performance culture in the late sixteenth century. It argues that the play explodes the literary tradition to which it belong by staging female chorus, dance forms and their training sessions, and outdoors music performances. Despite the heroine’s identity as an ancient beauty with a patriotic career, she is portrayed in the play as a courtesan lover whose sexuality and talent in stage performance constitute a hidden source of energy that drives the central plot. By focusing on courtesan lovers and their performing arts as important inspirations for Liang Chenyu’s literary design, this paper revises the standard reading of the play as either a patriotic drama or a landmark in music history that served to promote Liang’s favorite music genre from concert to operatic music. This paper is part of my larger project that reconsiders the role theater women played in shaping the literary landscape of the late sixteenth century.

 CA, ccs@berkeley.edu, 510-643-6321