How a traditional folk theatre reflected and subverted Chinese popular culture.
In her study of Chinese shadow theatre Fan Pen Li Chen documents and corrects misconceptions about this once-popular art form. Drawing on extensive research and fieldwork, she argues that these plays served a mainly religious function during the Qing dynasty and that the appeal of women warrior characters reflected the lower classes' high tolerance for the unorthodox and subversive.
Chinese Shadow Theatre includes several rare transcriptions of oral performances, including a didactic play on the Eighteen Levels of Hell, and Investiture of the Gods, a sacred saga, and translations of three rare, hand-copied shadow plays featuring religious themes and women warrior characters.
Chen examines the relationship between historical and fictional women warriors and those in military romances and shadow plays to demonstrate the significance of both printed works and oral transmission in the diffusion of popular culture. She also shows that traditional folk theatre is a subject for serious academic study by linking it to recent scholarship on drama, popular religion, and popular culture.