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150024 PS MA - Introductory Seminar (Literature and Culture) (M2) (2020W)

Performance, Politics, and Pop: Avant-garde Theatre in Contemporary China

6.00 ECTS (1.00 SWS), SPL 15 - Ostasienwissenschaften
Continuous assessment of course work


Note: The time of your registration within the registration period has no effect on the allocation of places (no first come, first served).


max. 25 participants
Language: English


Classes (iCal) - next class is marked with N

Course dates (Digital - Synchronous learning on Moodle)

Attendance of the first session on 09/10/2020 is mandatory. Any apologies must be sent in writing to the course leader. The first session will take place online on Moodle (Big Blue Button). Depending on the Covid-19 situation and the number of participants, we will then discuss whether to continue online or switch to classroom-based learning.

Friday 09.10.2020 15:00 - 17:00 Digital
Friday 16.10.2020 15:00 - 17:00 Digital
Friday 23.10.2020 15:00 - 17:00 Digital
Friday 06.11.2020 15:00 - 17:00 Digital
Friday 20.11.2020 15:00 - 17:00 Digital
Friday 04.12.2020 15:00 - 17:00 Digital
Friday 18.12.2020 15:00 - 17:00 Digital

Friday 09.10. 15:00 - 17:00 Digital
Friday 16.10. 15:00 - 17:00 Digital
Friday 23.10. 15:00 - 17:00 Digital
Friday 30.10. 15:00 - 17:00 Digital
Friday 06.11. 15:00 - 17:00 Digital
Friday 13.11. 15:00 - 17:00 Digital
Friday 20.11. 15:00 - 17:00 Digital
Friday 27.11. 15:00 - 17:00 Digital
Friday 04.12. 15:00 - 17:00 Digital
Friday 11.12. 15:00 - 17:00 Digital
Friday 18.12. 15:00 - 17:00 Digital
Friday 08.01. 15:00 - 17:00 Digital
Friday 15.01. 15:00 - 17:00 Digital
Friday 22.01. 15:00 - 17:00 Digital
Friday 29.01. 15:00 - 17:00 Digital


Aims, contents and method of the course

Title: Performance, Politics, and Pop: Avant-garde Theatre in Contemporary China

This seminar focuses on contemporary mainland Chinese experimental theatre (shiyan xiju). It begins with an historical overview of modern drama (huaju) and theatre since the early twentieth century to subsequently look at developments in the post-Mao period and particularly at the advent of a contemporary avant-garde (xianfeng) in the 1990s.

One aim of the seminar is to outline key authors, genres, styles, and approaches to playwriting, directing, acting, and stage design, highlighting how these have changed along with changes in the social, political, cultural, and economic life of the country in the transition from the Republican period to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, through the Cultural Revolution, and beyond.

The principal aim of the seminar is to take the theatre of Beijing-based dramatist and director Meng Jinghui (b. 1965) as a case study to investigate the aesthetic characteristics and ideological disposition of the contemporary avant-garde in the context of the post-1989 trauma on the one hand and, on the other hand, of the commercialization of the cultural field with the advent of a commodity economy in the reform era.

Meng’s creative trajectory illustrates the impact of mass culture and popular trends on society and the arts, and the complex interweaving of culture, politics, and market forces in this period. Meng’s dialogical approach encapsulates a shift from the radical and politicized forms of “pure” avant-garde that defined the early-to-mid 1990s to the “pop” avant-garde phenomenon which he pioneered at the turn of the twenty-first century. To understand this shift, the course traces the main stages of development of Meng’s creative trajectory – the so-called Meng style (Meng shi) – in the light of theories of intercultural performance and of the avant-garde and considering whether or not, and to what extent, prevailing (and prevalently Western-centric) perspectives on these notions suit the Chinese experience. Meng’s “absurdist” experiments (e.g., "I Love XXX"), cross-cultural collages (e.g. "Put Down Your Whip, Woyzeck"), satirical adaptations (e.g., "Accidental Death of an Anarchist") and popular productions of contemporary Chinese dramas ("Rhinoceros in Love") are surveyed along with more recent productions ("Teahouse") that have gained him international attention.

Methods include contextual lectures by the course leader, reading and discussion of specialist texts and relevant critical literature, text and performance analysis, group and/or individual presentations, and individual written work. With the support of selected audio-visual materials, play scripts, and associated scholarship, at the end of the course participants will have increased their knowledge of contemporary Chinese culture, built a foundation in avant-garde history, theory, and criticism, and acquired a comprehensive appreciation of Meng’s iconic status in Chinese and world theatre.

Assessment and permitted materials

Attendance, preparation of seminar materials, participation 15%

Presentation (journal article, book chapter) 20%

Presentation (play and/or performance analysis) 25%

Final written paper 40%.
Deadline: 21 February 2021, submission via Moodle link

Minimum requirements and assessment criteria

The SWS (Semesterwochenstuden) value of this seminar is 1 hour (SWS: 1.00) but it runs in 2-hour slots over 7 sessions.

The seminar is conducted in English and is open to Global Studies, ECOS, and Sinology students. Core viewings such as performance video-recordings, films, and interviews will be made available with subtitles in English, Chinese, or both, and secondary readings in English and Chinese will be provided via the e-learning platform (Moodle). Sinology students who take this seminar should be able to read and analyse Chinese-language texts such as excerpts of play scripts, production transcripts, performance reviews, and scholarly criticism. These students are also encouraged to reference Chinese-language sources in the final written paper.

Each seminar session consists of a brief introductory lecture followed by presentations and group discussions. The purpose of the lecture is to contextualise the main topic of the session, whereas the presentation and discussion focus on the performance video-recordings, films, interviews, and related materials assigned for independent viewing and reading ahead of each session. Participant should take a collaborative and interactive approach. Regular attendance, preparation of seminar materials (readings, viewings) and active participation are essential and count for 15% of the final grade.

A maximum of one unjustified absence (one session) is allowed.

Participants are required to give two presentations: one on a key reading (e.g. journal article, book chapter) that counts for 20% of the final grade, and one centred on the analysis of a play script or performance production that counts for 25% of the final grade. Depending on class size, the presentations can be delivered individually or in a group. Students who do not wish to present orally have the option of showing a pre-recorded slideshow or video presentation. Detailed guidelines will be given at the start of the course.

The final written paper counts for 40% of the final grade. The paper can either build on the content of the presentations or explore a new topic chosen by the student and agreed with the course leader.

All assignments need to be fulfilled to attain a positive overall grade.
The final written paper must be passed to pass the course, regardless of the partial grades achieved in the other assignments.

Late submission penalties: One full grade will be deducted for each
week (or part of a week) of delay, i.e. up to 1 week: -1, up to 2 weeks: -2, and so forth.

Examination topics


Reading list

Conceison, Claire. “China’s Experimental Mainstream: The Badass Theatre of Meng Jinghui.” TDR: The Drama Review 58: 1 (Spring 2014): 64–88.

Ferrari, Rossella. Pop Goes the Avant-Garde: Experimental Theater in Contemporary China. London: Seagull Books/University of Chicago Press, 2012.

Ferrari, Rossella, “The Avant-garde Is Dead, Long Live The (Pop) Avant-garde! Theoretical Reconfigurations in Contemporary Chinese Theatre.” positions: asia critique, 20: 4 (Winter 2012), 1127–57.

Liu Siyuan, Kevin J. Wetmore Jr., and Erin B. Mee. Modern Asian Theatre and Performance 1900-2000. London: Bloomsbury, 2014, pp. 75–142.

Meng Jinghui. I Love XXX and Other Plays. Edited by Claire Conceison. London: Seagull Books/University of Chicago Press, 2017. [+ DVD]

孟京辉 【编】。《先锋戏剧档案》。北京: 作家出版社,2000.

*** A detailed syllabus and reading list will be provided on Moodle at the start of the course.

Association in the course directory

LK 410

Last modified: Mo 05.10.2020 10:09