China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - A Farewell to Arms: Metamorphoses of Meng Jinghui's (Avant-Garde) Metatheater in Contemporary China

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Roosevelt Room 4, Exhibit Level

Meng Jinghui is the most prominent and controversial experimental theater director in contemporary China. He made his fame as a leading avant-gardist in the early 1990s by boldly pushing various thematic and aesthetic boundaries in his theatrical productions. But since the turn of the century his works have generated heated debates on whether he has betrayed the avant-garde spirit in order to kowtow to the mainstream market. Current scholarship on this issue lacks a clear and consistent definition of the “avant-garde” and a nuanced analysis of what has and has not changed in Meng’s theatrical praxis. This paper aims to engage with the ongoing debates on Meng by examining his ubiquitous use of metatheater over two decades.


Metatheater is the theater about theater, actualized often in the use of play within the play, role playing within the role, literary reference, and self-reference. Metatheater plays a central role in Meng’s early works which foreground and attack the hypocrisy of politics and rigid moral codes. Although Meng continues with many of his formal experiments and social criticisms, his use of metatheater, unlike his other experimental techniques, reflects significant changes in his thematic choice and political stance. Since the late 1990s, he uses metatheater mainly for self-mockery or as slapstick gags. From a historical perspective, political antagonism in Meng’s early works was a defining hallmark of his avant-gardism, and his later retreat from political antagonism, his “farewell to arms,” should shed important light on avant-gardism in both Meng’s works and Chinese experimental theater. 

Hongjian Wang

Purdue University, Illinois

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2 - A Farewell to Arms: Metamorphoses of Meng Jinghui's (Avant-Garde) Metatheater in Contemporary China



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