Traditions and Transitions in Eighteenth-Century Qu Poetry
The Case of Jiang Shiquan (1725-1785)
The 18th century marks a significant transitional period in the development of classical Chinese theater. It witnessed the decline of the yabu or ‘elegant drama’ (referring to Kun-style theater) and the rise of the huabu or ‘miscellaneous drama’ (also known as luantan, ‘cacophonous strumming’, referring to all other styles of regional theater). It also signalled a shift of focus from the page to the stage, with increasing attention given to the performance aspects of theater as opposed to drama as a form of literary composition. Jiang Shiquan (1725-1785) serves as an illuminating case study for our understanding of this transitional period. On the other hand, he was renowned as a classical poet, a master of qu poetry, and the last major playwright in the Qing dynasty. Yet, on the other hand, one can see clearly in his works new trends and styles of writing responding to the rise of local theaters. Focusing on Jiang Shiquan’s works, this paper aims to explore the competing styles of qu poetry as well as the changing roles and self-perception of a playwright in 18th century China.