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The Rise of Cantonese Opera$
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Wing Chung Ng

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780252039119

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252039119.001.0001

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The Cultural Politics of Theater Reform

The Cultural Politics of Theater Reform

(p.81) Chapter 4 The Cultural Politics of Theater Reform
The Rise of Cantonese Opera

Wing Chung Ng

University of Illinois Press

This chapter seeks to place the cultural debates surrounding Cantonese opera in a broader context by examining the various impulses for reform and delineating their outcomes. Against the backdrop of the May Fourth Movement, as political leaders adopted modernist projects to remake the country and intellectuals sought progress via the transformative vehicles of literature and art, Cantonese opera was deemed ineffectual and its practitioners unworthy. The pressure was on for Cantonese opera to come to its own defense. With the troupes on the city circuits taking the lead, the Cantonese stage evolved through trial and adaptation. In the eyes of many, this seemingly inexhaustible capacity to incorporate novelties proved the genre's vitality in the urban arena. However, critics decried the same as mere symptoms of the immaturity of the art form, the shallowness of its performers, and the underlying vulgarity of a commercialized entertainment catering to the lowest tastes of the masses.

Keywords:   Cantonese opera, China, urban theater, reform, May Fourth Movement

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