Loading Events

« All Events

  • This event has passed.

Gender Studies Workshop – Acting the Part: Gender and Performance Onstage

April 23, 2021 @ 9:00 am 5:30 pm

Presented via Zoom Webinar
Registration Required
Register at: https://harvard.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_LZDsfUQ1Rwm2YW8IYxGS-A

Gender as a form of performance is nowhere more clearly articulated than on the theater stage (and in opera-based films). On stage, the male and female characters are enacted by artistic mimesis based on a set of assumptions about what constitutes maleness and the femaleness. Theater is also a great unifying force in standardizing these notions and it offers stage characters larger than life-size power to influence the audience. In turn, gender is not only a form of social performance, but through theater, the artistic form embodying the normative ideals of gender roles become formalized. This is true both in terms of acting technique and the social values contained within the system of gestures. This is especially evident in the role of the female or male impersonators in opera performances in whose art the ideal form is essentialized. However, gender ideals and stereotypes vary with time and place. At the same time, these “essences” also change over time, and theater is the ideal platform to challenge the inherited conventions, while often reaffirming their underlying values. True to the spirit of theater, its license of playfulness also gives it a subversive potential. The issue of gender performance is likewise tightly linked to identity. The performance of gender roles on the theater stage of Chinese diaspora communities, for example, also engages with the issue of gender in the context of race and Asian identity.

This workshop explores the issues of performing gender identity on stage. Topics may include: gender impersonation – fanchuan 反串; actor training in genderized roles; subversion of gender norms on stage; gender performance, identity and ideology in times of national upheaval, migration and social change.

Hsu Pei Hung 許培鴻, documentarian/cinematographer
Eileen Cheng-yin Chow, Duke University
Xing Fan, University of Toronto
Xu, Peng, University of Hawai’i
Ted Hui, Harvard University
Matthew Sommer, Stanford University
Catherine Yeh, Boston University
Emily Wilcox, William & Mary

Wai-Yee Li, Professor Chinese Literature, Harvard University
Ellen Widmer, Mayling Soong Professor of Chinese Studies, Professor of East Asian Studies, Wellesley College
Thomas P. Kelly, Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University

AGENDA (All Times EDT)


Friday April 23 [all times listed are EDT]

9:00-9:10 AM
Welcoming address by Eileen Cheng-yin Chow (Duke University) and Catherine Yeh (Boston University)

9:10-9:50AM Documenting Peony: a conversation and visual presentation with

photographer/ filmmaker Hsu Pei Hung 許培鴻 and Eileen Cheng-yin Chow

[10-minute break]


10:00-10:15AM Xing Fan (University of Toronto): “Beyond Filling Female Blanks: In Search of Theoretical Frameworks for Gender Representation in Asian Theatre Historiography”

10:15-10:30AM Discussant Tom Kelly (Harvard University)

10:30-10:45AM Discussion on source materials and paper

[15-minute break]

11:00-11:15AM Peng Xu (University of Hawai’i): “Little Kitten Opera”: The Female Performance of Masculinity on the Public Stage in Shanghai, 1890s–1910s

11:15-11:30AM Discussant Tom Kelly (Harvard University)

11:30-11:45AM Discussion on source materials and paper

[1-hour lunch break – we will reconvene at 12:45PM]


12:45-1:00PM Ming Tak Ted Hui (University of Oxford): “The Political Implications of Crossdressing Before the Fall of the Ming”

1:00-1:15PM Discussant Ellen Widmer (Wellesley College)

1:15-1:30 Discussion on source materials and paper

[15-minute break]

1:45-2:00PM Matthew Sommer (Stanford University): “The Persecution of M-F Crossing in Qing Dynasty China” (Stanford University)

2:00-2:15PM Discussant Ellen Widmer (Wellesley College)

2:15-2:30PM Discussion on source materials and paper

[mid-afternoon 30-minute coffee break – we will reconvene at 3pm]


3:00-3:15PM Catherine Yeh (Boston University): Unveiling the Orchid Hand: Mei Lanfang’s Art of Female Impersonator and the Redefinition of Gender in Peking Opera

3:15-3:30PM Discussant Wai-Yee Li (Harvard University)

3:30-3:45PM Discussion on source materials and paper

[15-minute break]

4pm-4:15PM Emily Wilcox (William & Mary): “Ethnic Presence and Ethnic Absence: Qemberxanim’s Bodily Discourse and the Making of Female ‘Uyghur Dance’ in China”

4:15Pm-4:30PM Discussant Wai-Yee Li (Harvard University)

4:30pm-4:45PM Discussion on source materials and paper

4:45-5:30PM General discussion and concluding remarks


April 23, 2021
9:00 am – 5:30 pm
Event Category:


Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

Subscribe to the Events Newsletter

Be the first to know about upcoming events.