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Xiqu in London: A Cross-Cultural Performer's Perspective

Sun, April 3, 10:45am to 12:45pm, Washington State Convention Center, Floor: 2nd Floor, Room 213


Following the UK Beijing Opera Society (1995-2006), the London JingKun Society (2002-2013) and later the University of London Chinese Opera Network have taught and performed xiqu, especially Kunqu, in London. The author of this paper, a member of the second organisation before it ended its activities, and a founding member of the latter in 2014, approaches the question of xiqu abroad from an amateur performer/researcher perspective. The paper first situates the activities of these two societies in the history of performance of xiqu in the United Kingdom, with reference to the work of non-Chinese xiqu performers such as Ione Meyer, Gaffer Pourazar and Jo Riley. Secondly, the author examines the various organisations— including the Chinese Embassy, the British Museum, the City of London festival – which invite or support the activities of xiqu in London. Most importantly, by investigating Mainland Chinese and UK responses to the performance of xiqu by visibly non-Chinese or mixed-race groups, the author seeks to destabilise both narratives of xiqu as an emblem of Chinese essentialism and Western categorisations of xiqu as "world music" or a part of multicultural tokenism. Instead, the author argues that positioning xiqu as immigrant or world theatre obscures its universal expressivity and that the presence of non-Chinese xiqu enthusiasts and performers deserves to be acknowledged as neither new nor exotic but a long-standing and natural consequence of the flow of people and ideas.