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One as Form and Shadow: Theater and the Space of Sentimentality in Nineteenth-Century Beijing

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Read as a form of social document, one of the most interesting areas of life illuminated by the huapu (“flower-guides,” that is, theatergoers’ lists, rankings, and descriptions of the Beijing theater’s boy-actors), is what they show us in relation to literati leisure in nineteenth-century Beijing. In this paper I employ the spatial/relational tropes of parergon, ekphrasis, and heterotopia to consider how huapu texts are positioned as supplement in relation to the staging of dramatic works, to boy-actors’ performance and embodiment of erotic fantasy, as well as to performance and play among aspiring paragons of gentlemanly refinement. Doubly turned away from the stage and from public events, huapu celebrate several levels of subjective taste and deploy varying tropes of social exchange, and it was by playing with these things that they also recorded and reproduced a literati need to play with contemporary confusion around the place of private and public discourse.

10.3868/s020-003-014-0015-4
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/content/journals/10.3868/s020-003-014-0015-4
2014-06-18
2017-11-23

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