Chinese theatre is one of the world’s three oldest theatres. Unlike the other two, namely, Greek theatre and Sanskrit theatre, which are rarely brought to stage nowadays, Chinese theatre has been actively performed for centuries to this day as what is generally known as Chinese opera. While understanding of the early development of this ancient art form was based heavily on textual sources, archaeological discoveries in the past few decades have offered us fascinating insights into the subject.
This talk will reveal to the audience images of actors and actresses in performance from tomb furnishings and temple decoration in the Song and Yuan dynasties. They are in the form of carvings, figurines and paintings. Through these depictions, we shall look into the characteristics of theatrical performance in China some 700 years ago, and their linkage to contemporary performance. The discussion will cover such aspects as stage architecture and design, costumes, and make-up, etc. The main focus is on the early development of the role category system, which is a unique feature of Chinese theatre. The visual data will enable us to appreciate some intriguing aspects of the role differentiation between male and female performers as well as cross gender acting, a practice that still persists in some regional genres of Chinese opera nowadays.
Dr Irene Tsang obtained her MA and PhD degrees from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London in the field of art and archaeology. After finishing her doctoral study, she taught subjects of Chinese opera and Chinese art in City University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Polytechnic University. She is now working on a book about the archaeology of performance in ancient China which is adapted from her PhD thesis.