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Linking the Textual Worlds of Chinese Court Theater, ca. 1600-1800

Project description

Unveiling Chinese court drama

An important element of Chinese theater history – Court Theater – remains unknown and neglected in literary and material culture. With an extant corpus of over 20,000 anonymous texts, Chinese court theater’s rich content is waiting to be uncovered, understood and studied. A special framework is necessary to analyze this complex subject. Focusing on the period 1600-1800, the EU-funded TEXTCOURT project will develop a digital archive of court drama texts to connect and link them with their local and global contexts. The project will enable textual studies of Chinese court drama and produce research publications and an anthology of English translations. It will contribute to the understanding of the role of Chinese court drama in world court cultures.


Court theater was a core part of Chinese court and performance culture for centuries, yet its texts have never been amply studied. There are several reasons for this: their low status in Chinese literary history as ‘authorless’ performer’s texts; the vast (20,000+) quantity of texts and the difficulty of accessing them; and the lack of an existing analytic framework to study anonymous Chinese performance texts on such a large scale. Chinese court drama thus remains a ‘closed’ textual world, neglected in literary history. The lacuna is especially glaring given the quantity and richness of the extant texts: performance practices and other aspects of material culture are preserved alongside dramatic content. Furthermore, court theater was among the most ‘outward facing’ of all Chinese genres, shown to foreign ambassadors. Many visitors recorded what was often their only impression of Chinese theater culture.

Chinese court theater thus contains a complex series of closed, disjointed textual worlds. To re-link these textual worlds, this project will build the first digital archive of court drama scripts and related foreign records. Based on this resource, the project will trace internal links between scripts in the textual web of court drama; draw external links to individuals, occasions, and artefacts; and consider cross-cultural links to situate Chinese court drama in its global context.
The project will produce the first textual studies of Chinese court drama, including a court drama textual database, a series of monographs and publications on extended text-based research topics, and an anthology of English translations for the general reader. These outputs will remedy the lack of textual studies on Chinese court drama, contributing towards our understanding of Chinese theater history and world court cultures. The methodology the project develops to study a large corpus of authorless texts could be applied to other Chinese genres such as folk tales and dialect songs.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 991 777,00
OX1 2JD Oxford
United Kingdom

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South East (England) Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Oxfordshire
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 991 777,00

Beneficiaries (1)