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In Conversation with Chen Xinyi and her “Religion of Dramatic Art”

24 February 2013 pm​

SOAS University of 

UK Research and Development Centre for Chinese Traditional Culture


School of Oriental and African Studies Chinese Student & School Association

 In Conversation with Chen Xinyi and her “Religion of Dramatic Art”

Known as the Queen of Drama from China, Ms.Chen XinYi has been one of the most celebrated stage directors for the past decades and her 60 or so years of stage career has made her an one of a kind influential figure in the Chinese theatre.

Starting as an actress in the time of the cultural revolution in the ancient city Xi An, Xinyi turned to Direction at the age of 40. Her productions have rangde from traditional Chinese Opera to contemporary naturalistic drama and western opera, in both commercial and subsidized theatres. Her work also toured internationally to countries as far afield as Germany and Finland.

In the 80s and 90s, XinYi’s production of an all women cast Othello won her many awards nationally. Her political drama Shang Yang, which she co-wrote has been reproduced around the country for more than 10 years. Ex-PM of China Zhu Rongji had mentioned the importance of this production in many occasions.

In recent years Xiny has been working as the first Chinese director to bring major western opera productions on stage in China. Her repertoire includes Turandot, La Boheme, Die Fledermaus, Orphan of Zhao, Sun Yat-San and many more. She was recently awarded The Life Time Achievement award in the field of live performance by the Chinese government.

Ms Chen, who has been nominated Cao-Yu Drama Outstanding Director, is a director of great renown in China. ‘It’s our pleasure to have Director Chen today, and to offer a hearty welcome to everyone here. We hope to open a forum for ardent yet harmonious cultural exchange’, said Mrs Qiou-Lin Gui, chair of the UK Research and Development Centre for Traditional Chinese Culture, a non-governmental organisation based in London.


‘I’ve done one thing in my life: I dedicated myself to theatre’ said Director Chen, 75. Speaking with passion, she said ‘Life is too short. I am fortunate to have started developing independent thoughts when I turned 40. What I came to understand was how to distinguish truth from falsehood, good from evil, beauty from ugliness; and, to make what I understand concrete on stage is my religion of dramatic art’. 


At the symposium, Chen presented a series of video clips adapted from her works, to explain her views on dramatic art, freedom and the spirit of freedom that animates the religious passion of individuals. She then engaged in dialogue with the famous playwright Li-Qun Su, chair of London Studies International and special analyst appointed by the UK Research and Development Centre for Traditional Chinese Culture. They exchanged critiques on Chinese history, politics and dramatic art, particularly highlighting the negative effects of Neo-Confucianism, and the subsequent decline of Chinese aesthetics into misguided personal worship, doctrinaire mindsets and political subservience. 


During the symposium, director Chen demonstrated various dramatic movements of Peking Opera, her spirit unaffected by age. Her passion affected every single member of the substantial audience. They applauded and laughed, many hoping the symposium to continue longer. Everyone present agreed that it was a tremendous cultural feast appropriate for the Chinese Lantern Festival.

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