PRI’s The World recently reviewed The Columbia Anthology of Modern Drama, edited by Xiaomei Chen. The review praises the book, writing “the anthology’s excellent selection, colloquial and stage-friendly translations, and illuminating introduction undoubtedly make the volume the authoritative choice in teaching and reading modern Chinese drama for the foreseeable future.”
The review quotes Chen’s criteria for the selection which extends from the Republican period to the post-Mao era:
My strategy was to situate this anthology first in the context of modern Chinese literary and cultural history under local and global circumstances, and second is the context of comparative drama and theater. Third, I bore in mind various formalist traditions of both East and West across time so that Chinese theater could be introduced more substantially to readers of world drama and theater in terms of dramaturgy.
Another distinctive aspect of the anthology is Chen’s feminist readings which are emphasized in her introduction:
Indeed, Chen’s feminist reading forms a major through-line in the introduction, underlying the significance of gender issues in modern China … there are the clusters of women determined to leave home, hungry for financial independence in the face of social unrest.
Nor were these feminist concerns eliminated after 1949 when, as Chen observes about The Young Generation, “again women had to let the political and ideological agenda of nation building in socialist China subsume their subjectivities as women.” Finally, in The Bus Stop, “[i]n a time that questioned and rejected Maoist values and ideologies, [two] post-Mao women characters longed to experience the domestic ‘bliss’ of Zifang, [the wife abandoned by her US-educated husband] in Ouyang Yuqian’s After Returning Home, and to fulfill their roles as ‘gracious wife and loving mother’ (xian qi liang mu), the traditional Confucian patriarchal ideal of women.” Here, the feminist lens brings focus to an important aspect of China’s tumultuous twentieth century and its circuitous paths of social change as performed on stage.