Performing Hybridity in Colonial-Modern China (Palgrave by Liu Siyuan

By Liu Siyuan

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For the major part of its history, the theatre was patronized predominantly by Western settlers and garnered only sporadic attention from the Chinese community. Still, these occasional records provide useful insight into the performances and the reactions of its Chinese spectators. For example, in 1876, only two years after the Lyceum opened, a Chinese spectator wrote about going to “the English Theatre” and watching what seems likely Gilbert and Sullivan’s one-act operetta Trial by Jury: Westerners told me this was a story about a lawsuit over a broken marriage promise.

Although none of the early students went to Japan for the sole purpose of studying theatre, once there, many watched shinpa to learn Japanese, which inspired some of them to the stage. In late 1906, three art students organized the Spring Willow Society in Tokyo to stage their own spoken theatre in Chinese. The mid 1900s also happened to be the golden era for shinpa. By then, Kawakami had made two more trips to the West beside his 1893 solo tour to Paris, as he and his wife Sadayakko (1871–1946) and their company toured the United States and Europe in 1899–1900 and Europe in 1901–1902.

They sang and talked, which again lasted a long time. The judge tore up the file, threw it to the ground, and talked and sang with the jury. Four women pulled four yellow ropes from a beam above the seats; again I did not know why . . 7 The above quote was published in Shanghai’s most influential newspaper Shenbao (Shanghai News) on February 24, 1876, in the midst of Trial by Jury’s sensational three hundred-performance run since its March 1875 premiere in London. In the play, a bride sues her fiancé for finding new love and breaching the promise of marriage.

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