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Chinese Traditional Opera - why is it important for understanding today's China?

Tuesday 3 August 2021, 18:00 - 19:00

In this online talk, BCI teacher Xunnan Li will provide an introduction to Chinese Traditional Theatre (Xiqu ”戏曲”). How does it compare to Western forms of theatre and what can it tell us about contemporary China?

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Chinese traditional theatre Xiqu 戏曲, also known as Chinese opera, is a living form of Chinese indigenous theatre combing various forms of Chinese arts including opera, dance, music, drama and combat.

Drawing from his PhD research and industry experience, Xunnan’s talk will increase your understanding of this ancient art form, draw comparisons with Western theatre and share his observations from promoting Chinese Traditional Theatre to a global audience.

Topics will include:

  1. An introduction to Chinese Traditional Opera “Xiqu” (戏曲)
  2. Chinese Traditional Opera and Western Drama: the key differences
  3. The role of Chinese Traditional Opera in Contemporary China

More about the speaker

A young Chinese man wearing a suit and glasses.Xunnan Li is a scholar, educator, curator, and Chinese/English translator whose works focus on the global acting methodology and the politics of contemporary performance of Chinese Traditional Theatre.

He has worked as a visiting lecturer of Traditional Chinese Theatre and Globalisation Theories in both the UK and China, including Central School of Speech and Drama (UK), Royal Holloway University of London (UK), and National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts.

Xunnan has been working with The Theatre Times, the world’s largest theatre portal, for four years. In 2019 The Theatre Times launched its Annual International Online Theatre Festival (IOTF) to promote theatrical productions from around the world. Xunnan is the artistic director for the IOTF, and through his involvement with The Theatre Times he has helped to make hundreds of plays and theatres accessible online for a broader international audience.

More about Xiqu

The art form dates back to the ancient Tang Dynasty (618 - 907). At many ritualistic events during that period, theatrical plays were widely performed on stage and among groups of people. Xiqu is a category that includes all traditional types of theatre that emerged in ancient China. There are around 260 genres within the category of Xiqu, including Jingju (京剧), Kunju (昆剧),  Hanju (汉剧), and many more. Each genre represents the theatrical traditions of a specific geographical region of China. For example, Jingju, or Peking opera, originated in Beijing in Ancient China.

Image credit

This photo by Malcolm I. Johnson ( was taken in 2015 at a performance of ‘Shakespeare through Chinese Eyes’ by Shanghai Theatre Academy in Leeds.

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