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British Modernism and Chinoiserie$
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Anne Witchard

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780748690954

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748690954.001.0001

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Staging China, Excising the Chinese: Lady Precious Stream and the Darker Side of Chinoiserie

Staging China, Excising the Chinese: Lady Precious Stream and the Darker Side of Chinoiserie

(p.177) Chapter 9 Staging China, Excising the Chinese: Lady Precious Stream and the Darker Side of Chinoiserie
British Modernism and Chinoiserie

Diana Yeh

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter examines the production and reception of Lady Precious Stream by Shih-I Hsiung in the context of British sinophilia in the early twentieth century. This at once comprised a fascination with China circulating among modernist intellectuals and artists, including Bloomsbury circles, and the rather more denigrated vogue for mass-marketed Chinese exotica among the wider public. Lady Precious Stream provides an opportunity to explore the interconnections between the two. The production drew on long established traditions of chinoiserie, making much of 'Chinese-esque' costumes, vases, tapestries, fans. The reception of the play was contradictory. Some hailed it as a highbrow masterpiece, for its non-naturalistic conventions and minimal scenery, which, they argued, freed audiences from the realism of English theatre and placed the Chinese theatre ahead of the most advanced producers in the West. Others, however, responded far less favourably, and characterised Lady Precious Stream, in Northrop Frye’s words, as a ‘slickly tailored piece of Chinoiserie’. By considering the contradictory nature of the play’s production and reception, this chapter interrogates the politics of authorship, identity and exclusion in terrains of chinoiserie and Modernism.

Keywords:   Lady Precious Stream, Shih-I Hsiung, Theatre, sinophilia, Northrop Frye

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