UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Modernist visions beyond the horizon of history : the theatricality of Bai Wei’s rarely staged plays Zhu, Zhixuan


Bai Wei 白薇 (1894-1987) is one of the most prolific women playwrights in early 20th-century China. From 1925 to 1934, she published fifteen plays that expressed concerns for common people’s (especially women’s) living conditions, reflected on the drawbacks of the national revolutions, and, later, championed leftist ideals, many of which garnered huge popularity and were frequently reprinted. Despite their considerable quantity and popularity, these plays were rarely staged. Due to the lack of staging opportunities, their unconventional modernist style, and the paucity of production records, these scripts have been largely deemed unproducible and low in theatricality by theatre scholars and critics both now and then. In this thesis, I aim to challenge the arbitrary correlation between Bai’s small number of staging records, unconventional style, and the assumed lack of theatricality. Through a detailed production analysis of four aspects of Bai’s plays (acting, casting, set design, and stage effects) based on historical records found in Bai’s original works, Republican China newspapers and journals, as well as biographical and autobiographical accounts of Bai’s life, I argue that Bai’s rarely staged neo-romantic scripts are embedded with rich theatrical intentions and implications. They represent a cutting-edge vision of modernist theatre that could not be accommodated by the social and material conditions in Republican China. Furthermore, in her later realistic plays, Bai, instead of completely discarding the early style, hones the rich theatricality in her neo-romantic plays into an integral part of her realistic theatre that allows her to fully engage the general public fully without compromising her feminist politics, her impulse for subjective representation, or artistic visions for a holistic theatre. I thus challenge the stereotypical conceptualization of the early 20th-century Chinese spoken drama history as wholly dominated by social realism and an androcentric nationalist ideology. Further, I seek to interrupt a critical tradition that disavows the theatricality inherent in Bai Wei’s plays, a tradition that continues to marginalize her work and keep it from production.

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