Translating Peking opera for the London stage
: Lady Precious Stream

  • Lisha Xu

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Peking Opera remains one of the most widely-staged forms of Classical Chinese Opera in China today. The overall aesthetic impact of Peking Opera in performance reflects Confucianism’s emphasis on the harmony – cosmic, social and personal – that arises from the observance of the natural order of things, making it highly-formulaic and strictly codified in performance. Both in terms of form (characterisation, setting, and prescribed acting skills), and of narrative (thematic values and storytelling) Peking Opera is an eminently traditional art that has changed in minimal ways since it first developed in the mid-nineteenth century. Its roots, moreover, lie explicitly in the folk culture of ancient China, so that onstage it works within a set of audience expectations that are honed and refined both by an accumulated performance tradition and wider cultural knowledge. Peking Opera, in this way, derives from and contributes to a performer-centred tradition of making theatre, emphasizing the artifice of spectacle rather than the realism of character and situation. It contrasts sharply, in this regard, with the dominant modes of drama in the West, in which individuated characters tend to be depicted through processes of psychological and social realism. The central question of this study, therefore, is concerned with how Peking Opera might be translated for performance in the English-speaking world. Lady Precious Stream, the first English-language production of Peking Opera on the London stage (1934) by a Chinese translator (S.I. Hsiung), serves as an extended case study in this regard. Through it, we analyse Hsiung’s strategies for negotiating the formal and narrative codes that bind Peking Opera performance into its characteristically unified harmonious aesthetic. In other words, translation for performance is considered here as a form of writing that both recognizes the demands of spectatorship, as well as the rights and interests of the original.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsQueen's University & China Scholarship Council
SupervisorDavid Johnston (Supervisor) & Sue-Ann Harding (Supervisor)


  • Peking opera
  • translation for performance
  • cultural hybridity
  • parallel narratives
  • translator's creativity

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