Flirting with Modernity: Actresses and Urban Publics in Early Republican Beijing


Luce/ACLS Early Career Fellowships in China Studies – Long-Term




My book is a social and cultural history of the newly emerged opera actresses in early Republican Beijing. I challenge the accepted view by showing that actresses shaped the profession, repertoire, and performance no less profoundly than actors. I argue that the interaction between actresses and urban publics amounted to a frivolous but complex engagement with modernity, as they negotiated between the private and the public, the sexual and the virtuous, as well as the theatrical and the authentic. This project contributes to history of love and courtship; incorporates gossip, rumor and scandal in discussion of public space; and points to the neglected role of cultural conservatives in shaping the Chinese modern through a creative reconfiguration of sociability, morality, and subjectivity.