Street Theater and Subject Formation in Wartime China: Toward a New Form of Public Art

Xiaobing Tang, University of Michigan
Public performance of "Put Down Your Whip," 1939. Jinri Zhongguo [China today]
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Based on archival research, this article presents a succinct history of the street theater movement in China through the 1930s. It examines how complex discourses and competing visions, as well as historical events and practices—in particular the War of Resistance against Japan—both shaped and propelled the movement. The author focuses on theoretical and practical issues that promoters and practitioners of street theater dealt with and reflected on in three succeeding stages. Observing that the street theater movement hastened the formation of a modern national imagination, the author argues that the movement presented a paradigmatic development as it foregrounded the imperative to engage rural China as well as the need for participants to acquire new subject positions. 

Keywords: street theater, public culture, subjectivity, avant-garde, spoken drama, Xiong Foxi, Tian Han, Sino-Japanese War, modern China