“Kunqu Masters on Chinese Theatrical Performance” Won Translation Award

“Kunqu Masters on Chinese Theatrical Performance” Won Translation Award


American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR) recognizes Wintergreen Kunqu Society (WKS) sponsored English-book Kunqu Masters on Chinese Theatrical Performance with an Honorable Mention award under the 2023 Translation Prizecategory.

The award ceremony is held on November 10, 2023 at the ASTR annual conference in Providence, Rhode Island.  Chang Tong-Ching, president, and Charles Wilson, vice president, of the WKS presented at the ceremony to receive the award on behalf of the editor Josh Stenberg of the book.  

ASTR is a professional theater and performance academic research organization based in the United States. The recognition of this book at its annual conference award ceremony will increase people’s awareness of the art form of kunqu andattract scholars, teachers, and students of Asian performance, theatre, and dance to learn about kunqu performance.

Kunqu theatre is one of the oldest and most refined performing art with a history of 500 years in China, commonly known as the mother of Chinese classical theater. But it is still little known to the Western theatre community. The first milestone of Kunqu made in the Western performing art history was Lincoln Center’s 1999 production of a large kunqu play The Peony Pavilion” in New York.  It took 19 hours in 3 days to perform 55 episodes and caused a sensation in New York. The second milestone was the recognition of kunqu by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2001 as “a masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

The book Kunqu Masters on Chinese Theatrical Performance consists of translated performer narrations that illuminate how kunqu has been taught andtransmitted over the past century. This is the first English book focused on kunqu theatrical performance published in the West.  ASTR’s recognition of this kunqu book would be the third milestonekunqu will no longer be absent from the world theatrical stage

The purpose of WKS sponsored this translation is to create a record and faithfully present the development of kunqu performances and unique oral teaching process to Western art communities in English-language. In the past, this information was only available to those who are familiar with Chinese language and Chinese traditional theatre. Offer such information in English can provide useful teaching materials about kunqu to academic researchers, performers and theater lovers who do not understand Chinese language. This book demonstrates that the existing kunqu plays and performances in China are the brainchild of successive generations of artists, rather than the masterpieces of a few artists.

Kunqu Masters on Chinese Theatrical Performance obtained permission by Hong Kong Master Studio and selected 12 representative lectures from the 110 lectures of the Chinese edition published in 2015, covering the master actors of the four major kunqu troupes, funded and supervised by the Wintergreen Kunqu Society in the United States, and edited by Josh Stenberg who currently teaches at the University of Sydney in Australia and organized a team of 4 translators.  The translation began in 2016 and the book was published in September 2022.  It took the team six years to complete. Being recognized by the ASTR for the team’s hardwork is our biggest prize.


Language: English

Hardcover: 468 pages  

Price: £120.00 / $195.00

ISBN-10: 178527807X

ISBN-13: 978-1785278075

Dimensions: 15.3 x 2.6 x 22.86 cm

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Ocean of Sin: Fleeing Down the Mountain 2019【孽海記】《下山》

Ocean of Sin: Fleeing Down the Mountain 2019【孽海記】《下山》

The Freer and Sackler Galleries Exhibition “The Last Empresses of China: 1644-1912” (紫鸾金凤:清代宫廷皇后艺术与生活大展 2018-19年美国巡展)


Shanghai Kunqu Troupe 上海崑劇團

Sackler Pavilion, Freer and Sackler Galleries
Independence Ave at 12th St. SW, Washington, Dear Charles: 20560
June 9, 2019

Watch Live Performance on Smithsonian’s Facebook

(At 33:00)

Hou Zhe and Ni Hong 侯哲、倪泓


Ocean of Sin: Fleeing Down the Mountain 孽海記:下山】  


The performance history of Ocean of Sin is contested and obscure, but the text is believed to be of Ming origin. “Ocean of sin” is a Buddhist metaphor for a life of sorrow and storytellers’ adaptation of Buddhist source material. Since monasteries are typically constructed on hills, “fleeing down the mountain” implies both literal flight and descent into the ordinary realm of human society.

Sent in childhood to a temple by his parents, Benwu (“Essence-is-Nought”) has grown into a lusty and virile Buddhist acolyte monk. He has lately been brooding over the tedium of his monastic routines. One day, left alone in the temple by the abbot, he flees down the mountain.

As luck would have it, during his flight he encounters a young woman with the Buddhist name Sekong (“Lust-is-Empty”), a novice in much the same state of mind. Sekong was dedicated by her parents to a Buddhist temple in her childhood, and in a previous scene (“Longing for Ordinary Life 思凡”), she has resolved to flee the temple.

The two escapees fall in love at first sight–his lascivious overtures answered by coquettish flirtation. Before long, they join forces to make their escape together and flee the strictures of devotional life.

The Butterfly Dream: Matching Making 2019 【蝴蝶梦:说亲】

The Butterfly Dream: Matching Making 2019  【蝴蝶梦:说亲】

The Freer and Sackler Galleries Exhibition “The Last Empresses of China: 1644-1912” (紫鸾金凤:清代宫廷皇后艺术与生活大展 2018-19年美国巡展)


Shanghai Kunqu Troupe 上海崑劇團

Sackler Pavilion, Freer and Sackler Galleries
Independence Ave at 12th St. SW, Washington, DC 20560
½ block from Smithsonian Metro Stop

Watch Live Performance on Smithsonian’s Facebook

Shanghai Kunqu 2019 Freer Sackler


I. The Butterfly Dream: Matchmaking 【蝴蝶梦:说亲】

“Matchmaking” is a short and humorous scene taken from a much longer and complex Ming drama chuanqi 传奇 called The Butterfly Dream, a traditional story which fictionalizes the life of Zhuangzi zhuang 莊子, an ancient Chinese philosopher (flourished, 350 and 300 B.C.E.).  As told by the traditional story, Zhuangzi traveled a lot, leaving his young wife at home. On the road, he once saw a widow fanning the wet earth covering a new grave, and learned that she wanted the earth to dry up and harden so that she could remarry—she had vowed to her deceased husband that she would not remarry until the earth in his grave dried up. This incident prompted Zhuangzi to contemplate on the institution of marriage and to want to test his own wife’s devotion to him. Thus, he returned home, and faked his own death, making his wife a widow.

“Matchmaking” begins Zhuangzi’s young wife, Madame Tian, lamenting her loneliness as a new widow. Her lament, however, quickly changes to her dreaming of marrying the young scholar who has come to visit Zhuangzi—the young scholar, needless to say, is the transformed Zhuangzi. Thus, the widow approaches the young scholar’s old servant (transformed from a large butterfly) and asks him to serve as a match maker.  Through the dialogues and interactions between the young widow and the old servant, the old servant agreed to be her match maker.  The scene delivers a comical drama that highlights human emotions, desires, while making fun of the Chinese institution of marriage.

The Jade Hairpin 2019 【玉簪记】

The Jade Hairpin 2019 【玉簪记】

Freer and Sackler Galleries Exhibition “The Last Empresses of China: 1644-1912” (紫鸾金凤:清代宫廷皇后艺术与生活大展 2018-19年美国巡展)

Shanghai Kunqu Troupe 上海崑劇團

Meyer Auditorium, Freer and Sackler Galleries
Independence Ave at 12th St. SW, Washington, DC 20560
½ block from Smithsonian Metro Stop

The Play

The Jade Hairpin 玉簪記 is a chuanqi 传奇 play by Gao Lian, written around 1570, some seventy years before the fall of the Ming dynasty. The play is divided into 33 scenes, but it would always have been common for scenes to be presented individually as selections rather than in sequence. The result is that certain scenes have very well-developed individual performance traditions. Chuanqi, sometimes translated as “marvel plays,” are the long scripts that in the Ming were the major drama genre.

Watch Live Performance on Smithsonian’s Facebook

Hou Zhe and Hu Weilu


The story is set in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 – 1279).  As children, a match was arranged between befriended families who lost contact as they fled from war. The girl, orphaned, has sought asylum in a Taoist abbey and became a novice there, adopting a religious name. Unbeknownst to her, the abbess is the boy’s aunt.

As the play begins, the boy, Pan Bizhen, arrives at his Aunt’s abbey, to study for the civil service examination, which he has already failed once. There he meets the abbey novice, Miaochang. Without realising that they were intended for one another by their parents, they fall in love almost at first sight.

One evening, Pan expresses his love by playing romantic music on the zither. Miaochang is moved but nevertheless rejects his suit, since she is a novice.  Pan, lovesick, receives a visit from Miaochang and his aunt to comfort him in his illness.  A few days later, Pan visits Miaochang in return. He discovers, by chance, her poem describing her hidden love toward him. Miaochang can no longer hide her love anymore and declares herself.

Learning this, the abbess flies into a rage. She forces Pan to leave for the capital city immediately to take the examination again. Pan and Miaochang are heart-broken. She engages a boatwoman to follow him down the river in order to bid him a fond farewell.

Finally, Pan succeeds in the examination and became a Mandarin. Now his father considers him of age to marry and reveals to him his childhood engagement. Pan realizes that

Inscription 2014 【療妒羹:题曲】

Inscription 2014 【療妒羹:题曲】

Inscription (Tiqu) 療妒羹:题曲

By Shen Yi-Li, a guest artist from Shanghai Kunju Troupe
Music Rearranged by Chen Tao
Music Concert featuring Melody of Dragon Chinese Musical Ensemble

April 26 – 27, 2014
Carlton College Concert Hall, Northfield, MN
Mairs Concert Hall, Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, Macalester College, St. Paul, MN


Shen Yili


The Phoenix Sings 2013 【長生殿:小宴】【梧鳳之鳴】

The Phoenix Sings 2013 【長生殿:小宴】【梧鳳之鳴】

Experience classical and contemporary reflections on the Chinese legend of the phoenix. In a famous scene from the 17th-century kunqu play Palace of Everlasting Youth, an emperor and his consort portray masculine (dragon) and feminine (phoenix) qualities. In the new work “Dreaming of the Phoenix,” mountain spirits sing poetry lamenting the phoenix’s departure. All performances feature accompaniment on Chinese instruments.

Dreaming of the Phoenix 2013 【梧鳳之鳴】

Dreaming of the Phoenix 2013 【梧鳳之鳴】

The Phoenix Sings on the Plane Tree  梧鳳之鳴

By Qian Yi

Freer & Sackler Galleries, Washington D.C.
August 18, 2013

In a new music-theater work by Du Yun and Qian Yi, mountain spirits sing ancient poetry lamenting the loss of peace and prosperity since the departure of the phoenix. The vocalists are accompanied by an ensemble on Chinese flutes, nan-hu, zither, pipa, and percussion.

(Clockwise) Chen Tao, Huang Shirong, Qian Yi and Xing Wentao


Qian Yi



The Palace of Eternal Youth 2011 【長生殿】

The Palace of Eternal Youth 2011 【長生殿】

The Palace of Eternal Youth 【長生殿】 by the Shangai Kunju Troupe

Meyer Auditorium, Freer and Sackler Galleries, Washington, DC

June 18, 2011, 2:00 pm
Performs scenes from the Kunqu Classic: Palace of Eternal Youth

Scene 2: The Pledge of Love《Dinqing 定情》
Scene 19: Complaints in the Pavilion《Xuge 絮閣》
Scene 24: Startled by the Rebellion《Jingbian 驚變》
Scene 25: Jade Burial《Maiyu 埋玉》