This dissertation is dedicated to the gender politics of male players of female roles during what is known as “the epoch of nandan (female impersonators in Chinese theatre),” a historical period between 1912, when the prohibition on siyu (private residences of young theatrical players in Beijing) was introduced, and the early 1960s, when the practice of nandan in xiqu (traditional Chinese theatre) was substantially suspended. It contends that the dichotomization of “artistic” femininity onstage versus “natural” masculinity offstage has been essential to the identity of nandan players of xiqu in the post-1912 context. Chapter One studies a recently discovered 1919 novel concerning Mei Lanfang’s early career by Mu Rugai. By equating the relationship between the character Mei Lanfang and his supporters to the late-Qing association between siyu residents and their patrons, Mu’s literary account discloses a critical yet suppressed dimension of biographic representations of modern China’s greatest nandan. Chapter Two contends that during the early Republican debates over xiqu and its employment of nandan, a discourse of “Chinese aestheticism” emerged in Chinese intellectual circles to underline a distinction between xiqu’s supposedly “aesthetic” stagecraft and Western-style drama’s purportedly “realistic” mise-en-scène. Following the logic of “Chinese aestheticism,” female impersonation has appeared to be one of the most prominent manifestations of this Chinese “aesthetic” tradition. The discourse of “Chinese aestheticism” has contributed to political agendas that have been both historically progressive and epistemologically restraining: on the one hand, the notion of “Chinese aestheticism” has provided nandan practitioners and their supporters with an efficient hermeneutic framework to valorize nandan’s performances of femininity onstage; on the other hand, it has suggestively repudiated a nandan’s legitimacy in extending his feminine body outside xiqu’s semiotic system and consequently suppressed those nandan whose were possibly queer. Chapter Three examines the Northern China Pictorial’s photographic representations of Republican-era nandan’s masculinity and heterosexuality offstage. In addition, it scrutinizes the representations and receptions of Mei Lanfang’s remarkable performances of masculinity during the Second Sino-Japanese War and how Mei’s performances of wartime masculinity played a profound impact on his later-career repertories after the war.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2017. Major: Asian Literature, Culture & Media. Advisors: Jason McGrath, Maki Isaka. 1 computer file (PDF); vii, 208 pages.
Nandan, Gender Plasticity, and the Dichotomization of “Artistic” Femininity versus “Natural” Masculinity from China’s Republican Era to the Early PRC, 1912-Early 1960s.
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