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China Humanities Seminar: Forging a Master Key: Li Yu’s 李漁 Theory of Universal Theater

May 1, 2017 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Speaker: S.E. Kile, University of Michigan

Studies of Li Yu’s theorization of playwriting and theatrical performance have generally focused on his creation of a new technical vocabulary for playwriting and performance, the relationship between his theory’s tenets and his own playwriting practice, and the impact of profit-seeking on his ideas. I propose that using technology as an analytical category to examine Li Yu’s linguistic and generic experimentation in his plays and in Xianqing ouji (Leisure Notes, 1671) reveals calculated and strategic efforts to make it possible for his products – in this case, his plays – to be most easily transmitted across the entire empire.

I begin by presenting some of Li Yu’s efforts to cater to an empire-wide audience in his theorization of the language of plays: I consider first his prioritization and standardization of dialogue, and second, his updating of old plays and “generic translation” of plays of Northern provenance into new, universal forms. In creating an ever more regulated generic form, these changes made theater more accessible for audiences, but not for playwrights or performers. To conclude, I examine the innovative ways in which Li Yu sought to transmit performance itself through generic and technological experimentation.


S.E. Kile is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. A specialist in late Ming and early Qing literature and culture, Kile is currently finishing a monograph on the maverick literatus Li Yu. This manuscript approaches texts as material objects and technological innovations: as things that can enfold imagined worlds and transport those lively and inventive worlds across time and space. Recent publications have appeared in differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies and Chinese Oral and Performing Literatures (CHINOPERL).


May 1, 2017
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
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CGIS Knafel K262
1737 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138 United States
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Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

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