Dialects as Untamable: How to Revolutionize Cantonese Opera?

  • Laikwan Pang
Part of the Chinese Literature and Culture in the World book series (CLCW)


While yangbanxi pieces were meant to forge a new revolutionary subjectivity among the people, a practical issue inevitably arose, which was the different capabilities of the many Chinese citizens to enjoy and reenact these pieces. Despite being the ultimate embodiment of the revolutionary spirit, these yangbanxi pieces were culturally specific, and people’s appreciation and learning of these pieces did not operate in a cultural vacuum. China is a huge country with a vast, culturally diverse population, but the Cultural Revolution was a highly homogenous political program that promoted a social ideal for all Chinese people to achieve. As such, the tensions between the center and the margin were always strong during this period, although they were not easily detectable. The regime aimed to offer a unified image of the country and its people, and the propaganda culture deliberately suppressed regional tensions. As Richard Kraus asserts, “Maoist central control over culture enabled the center to portray a nation of greater unity than was in fact warranted. The Cultural Revolution superficially homogenized ethnic, economic, and even gender differences.”1 What remains less explored in the existing Cultural Revolution literature is the dialectics between the core and the periphery, and between the model and the copies, which helped make the Cultural Revolution such a unique historical event.


Chinese Communist Party Exchange Workshop Cultural Revolution Musical Arrangement Military Company 
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  1. 1.
    Richard Curt Kraus, The Cultural Revolution: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 57.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Bell Yung, “Model Opera as Model: From Shajiabang to Sagabong,” in Popular Chinese literature and Performing Arts in the People’s Republic of China, 1949–1979, edited by Bonnie S. MacDougall (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984), 144–164.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Wu Youheng, Sbanxiang fengyun lu (Record of the Storm in the Countryside) (Guangzhou: Guangdong renmin chubanshe, 1962).Google Scholar
  4. 13.
    Bell Yung, Cantonese Opera,: Performance as Creative Process (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 129.Google Scholar
  5. 14.
    Liang Peijin, Tueju yanjiu tonglun (Discussions of Cantonese Opera research) (Hong Kong: Longmen shudian, 1982), 179–180.Google Scholar
  6. 26.
    For a historical study of the development of the Cantonese opera tunes and singing style, see Huang Jingming et al., “Shitan yueju chanqiang yinyue de xingcheng he yanbian” (An Attempt to Study the Formation and Transformation of Cantonese Opera Singing System) in Tueju yanjiu wenxuan 2 (2008): 123–150.Google Scholar
  7. 27.
    Liang Puijin, Tueju yanjiu tonglun (General Studies of Cantonese Opera) (Hong Kong: Longmen shudian, 1982), 180.Google Scholar

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© Laikwan Pang 2016

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