Theatre Research International

Articles

Transforming Tradition: Performances of Jingju (‘Beijing Opera’) in the UK

ASHLEY THORPE

Abstract

Jingju (‘Beijing opera’) is China's most iconic traditional theatre, marketed as a global signifier of Chinese theatre and national identity. Although troupes from mainland China regularly tour Europe, audiences in the UK have also had access to Jingju via two indigenous organizations: the UK Beijing Opera Society (now defunct) and the London Jing Kun Opera Association (now in its ninth year). These organizations consist of Chinese, overseas Chinese and Western performers performing both Jingju and Kunju (‘Kun opera’). Where there is a mix of ethnicity, can ‘traditional Chinese theatre’ still be conceived of as ‘traditional’? How is Jingju mapped onto non-Chinese bodies? Can Jingju performances by ethnically white performers reflect diasporic identities? Drawing on the theories of Judith Butler and Homi Bhabha, this article argues that by highlighting the performativity of identity, the performance of Jingju by non-Chinese performers challenges the notion of Jingju as a global signifier of ‘authentic traditional Chinese theatre’.

(Online publication December 21 2010)

ashley thorpe (ashley.thorpe@reading.ac.uk) is Lecturer in Theatre in the Department of Film, Theatre and Television at the University of Reading, UK. His book, The Role of the Chou (“Clown”) in Traditional Chinese Drama, was published with Edwin Mellen Press in 2007, and recent articles have appeared in Asian Theatre Journal, Studies in Theatre and Performance and Contemporary Theatre Review. He is currently researching the performance of Chinese drama in the UK across the twentieth century.