Pan Jinlian (1985)


Pan Jinlian (1985)
Xiqu (sung-drama/opera)
Pan Jinlian., a Chuanju (Sichuan opera) by Wei Minglun, is a reworking of the story about this most notorious immoral woman in Chinese literature. Wei Minglun transforms Pan from an adulteress and murderer in classical fiction to a victim of male-dominated society. Her search for happiness pits her against traditional morality and seals her tragic fate. The opera also calls attention to the conditions of Chinese women in contemporary society through a re-examination of Pan Jinlian’s case. In the final trial scene, Pan is condemned to die despite the intervention of a sympathetic woman judge of the People’s Court The implication of this ending is clear: the lot of Chinese women has not improved much since Pan Jinlian’s time.
In additions to its exploration of women’s conditions, Pan Jinlian breaks new ground in technical innovation. Action leaps across time and cultural barriers; characters include personages drawn from history, contemporary society and literary works. The author uses these ‘characters outside the play’ as commentators on the dramatic action, and by looking at this old story from different perspectives, Wei casts it in a new light and invests it with new meanings. Wei calls his play ‘theatre of the absurd’ because of its disregard for temporal and spatial boundaries.
However, this ‘absurdist’ Sichuan opera is not an expression of existential philosophy; rather, it seeks to demonstrate the close relationship between the individual and society. Its sensitive political content and ‘absurd’ form have made Pan Jinlian very controversial in China since it was first performed in 1985.
Braester, Yomi (2003). ‘Rewriting Tradition, Misreading History: Twentieth-Century (Sub)versions of Pan Jinlian’s Story’. In idem, Witness Against History: Literature, Film, and Public Discourse in Twentieth-Century China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 56–80.
Wei, Minglun (1996). ‘Pan Jinlian: The Story of One Woman and Four Men (An Absurdist Sichuan Opera)’. In Yu Shiao-ling (ed.), Chinese Drama after the Cultural Revolution, 1979–1989. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 97–158.
——(1999). ‘I Am Dreaming a Very Absurd Dream: Thoughts on Pan Jinlian’. In Faye Chunfang Fei (ed. and trans.), Chinese Theories of Theater and Performance from Confucius to the Present. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, ch. 11.
YU SHIAO-LING

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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