Onstage rumor, offstage voices: The politics of the present in the contemporary opera of Li Yu

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Much scholarly work on the literary culture of the early Qing dynasty has focused on notions of memory, trauma, and nostalgia. In contrast, this essay investigates the "contemporary operas" (shishi xiqu) of the seventeenth-century Suzhou playwright Li Yu to argue for the importance of the notion of "the present day." How is this notion of the present day given dramatic form in Li Yu's operas and what implications does this interest in the contemporary have for the broader cultural scene of the early Qing dynasty? This paper will answer these questions by investigating one dramatic technique favored by Li Yu: the inclusion of snippets of rumor and "news" reports into the play. By including such contemporary media reports, Li Yu not only generates a constantly evolving sense of the present, he also projects this sense of immediacy beyond the fiction of the stage into the "reality" of the audience, creating a form of opera eminently suited for both reflecting and producing local Suzhou activism, as evidenced in Li Yu's most famous work, Qing zhong pu (Registers of the pure and loyal), a work chronicling the popular Suzhou protests of the mid-1620s and Wanli yuan (Reunion over ten thousand miles), which stages the dissolution and reintegration of family and empire right after the fall of the Ming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-201
Number of pages37
JournalFrontiers of History in China
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History


  • Contemporary opera
  • Suzhou
  • gossip
  • news
  • rumor
  • seventeenth century


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