Inaugural DKU Kunqu Festival Highlights the Role of Premodern Drama in the Chinese Liberal Arts Tradition


From May 10th to 12th, 2024, Prof. Kim Hunter Gordon from Arts & Humanities and Prof. YAO Hui from the Languages & Cultures Center hosted the inaugural DKU Kunqu Festival, exploring how universities can integrate Kunqu into liberal arts curricula and campus life.  Co-funded by the DKU Humanities Research Center and Center for Research into Contemporary China, the event celebrated the launch of both the Yang Shousong Exhibition of Kunqu Artifacts, on display in the university library until the end of June, and DKU’s partnership with the Chinese Theatre Collaborative (CTC), an online portal for teaching premodern Chinese drama and its contemporary afterlives hosted by The Ohio State University. Introductory remarks were delivered by Prof. Wu Xinlei of Nanjing University and Prof. Ye Changhai of Shanghai Theatre Academy.

The festival began with the opening ceremony of the exhibition, followed by an evening of performances by students from DKU’s signature kunqu PE course alongside student societies from Nanjing University and the Shanghai Theatre Academy. On day two, two keynote lectures were followed by panel sessions and a roundtable discussion, before the formal launch of the CTC platform in China and performances by the Kunshan Contemporary Kunju Theatre. On Sunday morning, delegates were joined by members of local Kunshan kunqu societies for a singing gathering in the DKU library teahouse.

Under the theme “Tracing Kunqu: Materiality, Performance, and Memory,” the conference featured leading local and international scholars focusing on three core areas: a panel on “Xiqu and Material Culture,” extending from the exhibition; a panel on “Xiqu and Contemporary Forms,” extending from the China launch of CTC; and a roundtable discussion on “Kunqu in Higher Education.” The event featured keynote speeches from Prof. Patricia Sieber of The Ohio State University, lead editor of the Chinese Theater Collaborative and companion text How To Read Chinese Drama: A Guided Anthology (Columbia University Press, 2022), and Prof. Joseph Lam from the University of Michigan, a former visiting professor at DKU and author of Kunqu: A Classical Opera of Twenty-First-Century China (HKU Press, 2022).