Any traditional theater has to engage the changing world to avoid becoming a living fossil. How has Beijing opera - a highly stylized theater with breath-taking acrobatics and martial arts, fabulous costumes and striking makeup - survived into the new millennium while coping with a century of great upheavals and competition from new entertainment forms? Li Ruru's The Soul of Beijing Opera answers that question, looking at the evolution of singing and performance styles, make-up and costume, audience demands, as well as stage and street presentation modes amid tumultuous social and political changes. Li's study follows a number of major artists' careers in mainland China and Taiwan, drawing on extensive primary print sources as well as personal interviews with performers and their cultural peers. One chapter focuses on the illustrious career of Li's own mother and how she adapted to changes in Communist ideology. In addition, she explores how performers as social beings have responded to conflicts between tradition and modernity, and between convention and invation. Through performers' negotiation and compromises, Beijing opera has undergone constant re-examination of its inner artistic logic and adjusted to the demands of the external world.
Li Ruru is senior lecturer in the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Leeds (UK). Brought up in a Beijing Opera actress family, she received some basic training when she was ten. She runs Chinese theatre workshops and regards regular contact with the theatre as essential to her academic work. Having written extensively on Shakespeare performance in China (including a monograph Shashibiya: Staging Shakespeare in China 2003) and on Chinese theatre (both modern and traditional), she has recently concentrated on performer and performance of Beijing Opera, publishing in both Chinese and English.