EVENT: “Experimenting with Apsara 飛天: Mei Lanfang’s New Opera ‘Fairy Gives Flowers to the Earth’ and Peking Opera Modernism” Workshop (03/07/2014)




Eileen Cheng-Yin Chow (Duke University)

Wai-Yee Li (Harvard University)

David Wang (Harvard University)

Eugene Wang (Harvard University)

Rudolf Wagner (Heidelberg University)

Catherine Yeh (Boston University)

Conference abstract:

Mei Lanfang’s new opera “Tiannü sanhua” 天女散花 performed in 1917 can be considered as a milestone in the history of Peking opera. It was an artistic tour de force: an opera newly written by Mei’s supporters and tailored to him; a new dance arrangement that integrated singing, new types of costumes, a new makeup (including hairdo), and a new stage design and lighting with props. It was also an event of unprecedented social engagement of literati, politicians turned patrons, a new breed of newspaper theater critics, as well as photographers and eventually painters. Billed as a major event at the time it turned out to be a historical moment for Peking opera that also propelled Mei Lanfang to international stardom. The piece was the much discussed highlight of his Japan tour in 1919, and provided one of the advertising photos for his New York 49th  Street theater performance in 1930.

This conference explores the different dimensions of this event as an expression of the 20th century Chinese search for cultural and artistic identity and of Republican period modernity. Scholars will explore the text of the opera (Wai-Yee Li, Harvard University), the performance (David Wang, Harvard University), the echo in film and the press (Eileen Chow, Duke University), Xu Beihong’s paining on the subject (Eugene Wang, Harvard University), the international dimension and impact of the piece (Catherine Yeh, Boston University), and the piece’s relationship with new drama (Rudolf Wagner, Heidelberg University).

With the support of BUCSA and MLCL Boston University.

Time: March 7, 2014. 9 a.m. -5 p.m.

Place: Boston University, CAS Room 200, 725 Comm. Ave. Boston 02215.


Workshop Schedule:


Tea and coffee

9:00 -10:00

Rudolf Wagner, “The Tiannü sanhua Libretto and its Contemporary Buddhist Implications: Choices Made and Options Rejected”

10:00 – 11:00

Wai-Yee Li, “The Allusive Range of the Image of ‘Tiannü sanhua’”

11:00 -12:00

David Wang, “Mei Lanfang and the Theatrics of Lyricism”

Lunch 12noon – 1pm (short films on Mei Lanfang: Hong Kong, 1931; Soviet Union 1935)


1:00 – 2:00

Cathy Yeh, “Mei Lanfang’s ‘Fairy Gives Flowers to the Earth’ and the Inherent Ambiguity of Modernism”

2:00 – 3:00

Eugene Wang, “Who Is the Subject of the Painting – The Actor or Painter? Xu Beihong’s ‘Goddess Sprinkling Flowers’ (1918)”

3:00 – 4:00

Eileen Chow, “Digitizing the Ephemeral: A Modest Proposal for Archiving Mei Lanfang’s Tiannu Sanhua”

4:00 –  5:00 Final discussion