Storytellers, Sermons, Sales Pitches, and other Deceptive Features of City Life

Kevin Conrad Schoenberger Jr

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


This paper draws on scholarship in performance history, art history, cognitive humanities, and the anthropology of urbanization and markets to argue that theatrical conventions like “fourth wall” illusion and asides first developed in China’s Song-Yuan period and matured in the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries under the special influence of new demands of city life, commerce, and print culture. As anthropologists argue that participation in markets requires temporary, imaginative suspension of other roles and identities, so suspension of disbelief in mimetic portrayals (as opposed to storytelling evocations) of fictional characters with fictional minds requires “leaving one’s identity at the theater door.” Song-Yuan Chinese theater, like Japanese Noh of the Muromachi and later periods, accomplished this in a mediated fashion by including star characters to focus on and “spectators’ representative” characters to identify with. Drawing inspiration from the protean, promiscuous space and punning humor of printed miscellanies and annotated vernacular fiction, the late-Ming comedy Ge dai xiao 歌代嘯 (A song for a laugh) “flattens” the “asymmetric” (mediated) structure of the traditional Yuan form it takes for its model by stringing together a series of loosely related vignettes featuring buffoonish “side” characters in a generic town setting.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129–164
JournalCHINOPERL: Journal of Chinese Oral and Performing Literature
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020

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