Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

1 - Alternative Histories: Resisting Traditional Opera's Interpretation of Historical Knowledge in 1930s Sichuan

Saturday, July 7
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Juniper, New Building

I aim to demonstrate and analyze the process of transformation of the knowledge of the past – disseminated and received through a theater performance – into an “alternative” and an ultimately harmful and politically suspicious history in 1930s China. This paper, therefore, will delve into the question of how alternative histories come to be.


On the basis of opera repertoires from the late 1920s and the 1930s as well as discussions and critiques published in the leading journals from Chongqing, I will demonstrate the role of the local intelligentsia in taking the fight against traditional stories and worldviews based on the knowledge of history derived from operas. The change in transmitting and interpreting the past was meant not only as an institutional change, but also as a radical change of accents in teaching the past (different heroes, different villains) and a fundamental revision of history according to the ethno-nationalist worldview.


In Sichuan, opera was the main source of information about history as well as about the relevance of past experience for their lives. After the Japanese conquest of Manchuria, many intellectuals and writers in the region, for the first time, went on first a limited, then an all-out, violent verbal attack against traditional theater because of the vision of history it disseminated. The local elites denied respectability and reliability to the popular history transferred though opera and tried to make it into an alternative and thus fake history, replacing it with a normative, national, politically sanctioned and motivated version of the past.

Igor Chabrowski

Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

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1 - Alternative Histories: Resisting Traditional Opera's Interpretation of Historical Knowledge in 1930s Sichuan



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