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Peng Xu

Assistant Professor in Premodern Chinese Literature and Culture



  2. Phone: (610) 690-6831
  3. Kohlberg 305

Assistant Professor in Premodern Chinese Literature and Culture
B.A.; M.A. Peking University
Ph.D. University of Chicago

My current research explores innovative ways to engage the vast amount of dramatic texts produced in late imperial China. This endeavor to find effective reading strategies has brought me to combine archival research, philology, and close reading with the relatively new approaches germane to the living traditions of Chinese theater—performance studies, sound culture, and visual and material culture. My current book manuscript, entitled “The Courtesan’s Drama: Women and Chinese Elite Theater, 1570-1600,” challenges the longstanding assumption about the male dominance in the dramatic canon of China—that male professionals and literatus-playwrights created the Chinese canon of performance and play-texts, respectively. I have published essays on the courtesans’ vocal training and the physical conditions of their performances in T’oung pao and the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies.

My emphasis on material conditions of historical performance resonates in a second book project in earlier stage of development, which explores Chinese scroll painting as a prop in Ming theater. This study shifts focus from earlier categorization of the timeless, symbolic meanings of Chinese props to the material side of props in their specific dramaturgical and historical contexts. To promote the interest in the visual and material dimensions of premodern Chinese drama, I am organizing an international symposium sponsored by ACLS/Henry-Luce foundation, “Art in Drama: Reading Dramatic Texts at the Interstices of Performance Culture and Visual Culture” (Oct. 2019).

Meanwhile, since 2015, I have been planning a third book on the new spatialities and acoustic experiences of Peking opera associated with the arrival of modern sound technologies; an initial piece appears in a peer-reviewed special issue of CHINOPERL I co-edited with Professor Margaret Wan, “Chinese Opera, Xiqu, and New Media, 1890s-1950s” (2017).

In addition to Advanced Modern Chinese and Classical Chinese, I teach a variety of thematic classes in English. These include “Introduction to East Asian Humanities,” “Peking opera and Globalization,” “Women Writers in Premodern China,” “Chinese Drama and Performing Arts,” “Senior Colloquium: Senses and Sensibilities in Chinese Literature,” and “The Martial Arts Tradition in Chinese Literature and Theater.” An undergraduate student’s final paper for my drama course was accepted by the annual conference of Chinese Oral and Performing Literature (2014), a major conference in the field of Chinese theater studies. I am committed to developing pedagogical cooperation on teaching East Asian performing arts between different institutions. I initiated and am co-organizing “A Pedagogy Workshop on Teaching East Asian Performing Arts at Liberal Arts Colleges” (May 2019).

Lastly, I was trained by several masters of Chinese opera in a male-role vocal style popular in the early twentieth century. Since 2010, I have traveled to deliver lecture-demonstrations, recitals, and interactive workshops at American colleges and universities. Recent extramural efforts include organizing a concert called “An Evening of East Asian Vocal Arts” (Nov. 2018) with guest artists invited from China, Japan, and Korea, for which I am also one of the chief artists.

Prof. Xu's CV