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New Opera, Labor Unions and Actors' Troupes: the Reformation of Teochew Opera in the Early 1950s

Li LIN (Sun Yat-sen University)
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The state introduced a series of reforms to traditional opera in the early 1950s, namely changing actors, changing drama, and changing system, referred as the reformation of opera for short. The reformation of opera took on different forms in various parts of the country. In the Chaoshan region of Guangdong, the cadres in charge of the reformation of opera as well as actors used two sociocultural resources, new opera and labor unions, to build a platform for cooperation. They set up labor unions within opera troupes, introduced new dramas, gradually banned old dramas, and altered the power structure of opera troupes. What they have done resulted in a radical change in both the form and substance of Teochew opera. These changes triggered developments at another level. Because audiences did not accept new (or reformed) opera, opera troupes went bankrupt. Thus, the authorities were compelled to instruct the actor unions to organize the Associations for Managing Workers to take over those opera troupes, giving rise to a tripartite power structure consisting of Committees for Reforming Opera, Associations for Managing Workers, and opera troupes. The human agency of various persons (including troupe masters) and the interaction of many factors in the process led to this result.

Journal of History and Anthropology