Role of the Chou (Clown) in Traditional Chinese Drama

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This is the first Western language book to examine the chou (“clown”) role-type in traditional Chinese drama — a role-type credited with so much importance that some critics insist that “without the chou, there would not be drama.” This assertion is evaluated through an analysis of historical documents and translated play texts, fieldwork research, and from the perspectives of ethnomusicology and anthropology. The resulting analysis of the role-type, considered across different eras of history and modes of performance, teases out the central joking mechanisms employed by the chou role in a variety of social contexts. The performance of comedy as a part of exorcistic festivals and funeral rituals is investigated, while also examines the function of the chou in providing moral teaching. This book contains 1 black and white photograph and 11 color photographs.


“The centrality of the clown figure, known as the chou, in traditional Chinese theatre is the starting point for this book. What might loosely be called the ‘clown’ is to be found in virtually every performance tradition in the world. What emerges from this study is a number of striking parallels and similarities to mechanisms of performance occurring over and over again in a variety of cultures. ... This book is a vital contribution to a growing area of study that for many reasons, historical, political and linguistic, has for a long time remained only partially known to the Western reader.” - Dr. John McCormick, Department of Drama, Trinity College, Dublin

“Dr. Ashley Thorpe’s book will be of great interest to theater historians, students of clowning and students of twentieth-century Chinese culture. ... This book is research on the basis of both scholarly rigour and personal experience, and paints a vivid picture of the clown and his centrality in popular theatre performance.” - Dr. David Wiles, Professor of Theater and Head of Department, Royal Holloway, University of London

“Dr. Ashley Thorpe has managed not only to put the chou figure of the Chinese theater under a microscope, he has also opened a very significant window for a greater understanding of the traditional Chinese theater as a whole.” - Dr. John McCormick, First Director of Drama Department, Trinity College, Dublin

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Foreword by Dr. John McCormick
1 The Jester, the Jing and the Tradition of the Admonishing Actor
2 Mirth and Morality: The Rise of the Chou in the Traditional Drama
3 Approaches to Acting the Chou in Contemporary China
4 Only Joking? The Relationship between the Chou and Percussion in Jingju
5 Devils, Disease and the Chou as a Co(s)mic Figure
6 Inversionary Gods and Funeral Clowns: Teasing and Transformation in Vernacular Religion, Fiction and Theater
Appendix A: Description of Chou Movements in Kunju
Appendix B: Layout of a Traditional Temple Stage
Appendix C: List of Chinese Dynasties

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