Date of Award

Summer 8-2015

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Donald S. Sutton


This dissertation is a study of the social and cultural history of the new actresses in early Republican Beijing. It shows that the female players, previously banned by the Qing dynasty, entered into a male-dominated profession and carved out a niche for themselves in the highly competitive entertainment business. As they stepped out of the inner quarters and became illustrious opera stars, actresses placed themselves at the center of multiple gazes and discourses. Displaying their physical charm and artistic talent on stage, they became agents of theatrical innovation and developed a distinctive repertoire and performance style. From stage to social life, the early actresses fashioned new femininities that deviated from both Confucian sentimentalism and the May Fourth notion of supreme love. They played a critical role in the formation of a variety of urban publics and animated a dynamic social process of negotiation between the traditional and the modern, the public and the private, the regional and the national, as well as between the personal and the communal.

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