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Performing Arts General

Chinese Shadow Theatre

History, Popular Religion, and Women Warriors

by (author) Fan Pen Li Chen

McGill-Queen's University Press
Initial publish date
Mar 2022
General, Asian Studies
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2022
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Jun 2007
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Jun 2007
    List Price

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In her study of Chinese shadow theatre Fan Pen Li Chen documents and corrects misconceptions about this once-popular art form. Drawing on extensive research and fieldwork, she argues that these plays served a mainly religious function during the Qing dynasty and that the appeal of women warrior characters reflected the lower classes' high tolerance for the unorthodox and subversive.

Chinese Shadow Theatre includes several rare transcriptions of oral performances, including a didactic play on the eighteen levels of Hell, and Investiture of the Gods, a sacred saga, and translations of three rare, hand-copied shadow plays featuring religious themes and women warrior characters.

Chen examines the relationship between historical and fictional women warriors and those in military romances and shadow plays to demonstrate the significance of both printed works and oral transmission in the diffusion of popular culture. She also shows that traditional folk theatre is a subject for serious academic study by linking it to recent scholarship on drama, popular religion, and popular culture.

About the author

Fan Pen Li Chen is assistant professor, Chinese studies, SUNY-Albany, and the author of Visions for the Masses: Chinese Shadow Plays from Shaanxi and Shanxi.

Fan Pen Li Chen's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“Chen has done us a great service through this major and highly original analysis of shadow theatre. The documentation, based on field research and extensive printed material, is excellent.” China Review International

"Guiding us through a millennium of Chinese shadow theater history, with a particular focus on the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Chen harnesses her versatility and expertise in the fields of drama, history, popular culture, ethnography, and linguistics to present a rich picture of this theatrical tradition, its importance in popular religion, and the significant role of women warriors in its repertoire." CHINOPERL Papers

"An important book for what it tells us about the history of society and the arts in China. The social themes are woven into the artistic and literary and Chen includes coverage of the other performing arts and an extensive history of the mask in China." Colin Mackerras, Asian studies, Griffith University

“Chen's book is a welcome development to both Chinese theatre and puppetry studies. She has rendered Chinese shadow theatre accessible to a contemporary international audience and demonstrated its rightful place as an important part of China's popular cultural heritage." Theatre Research International

"Most compelling is the discussion of gender, the rich images and motifs associated with female warriors, and the role of women in upholding or subverting the value system of their cultures." Amila Buturovic, humanities, York University

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