A culture hero: Xiangsheng (crosstalk) performer Guo Degang

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As one of the most popular performing arts of China the inherent function of xiangsheng is entertainment. However, after the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC), xiangsheng was enlisted by the official propaganda machine as a tool for promoting political and social objectives. The transformation of xiangsheng was pioneered in the 1950s by the Small Group for the Improvement of Xiangsheng (Beijing xiangsheng gaijin xiaozu, hereafter referred to as "the Group"), who championed the merging of this grassroots people's form of entertainment, with a political agenda. By the end of the Cultural Revolution, xiangsheng was employed to mock and deride the Gang of Four; however, it was not until the middle of the 1980s that xiangsheng performance started to disengage from its official role and gradually resume its indigenous social function as genuine satire. In the recent decade, one emerging xiangsheng master, Guo Degang, has been very influential in carrying out this transformation. Just as the members of the Group shifted the social function of xiangsheng from entertainment to the political tool of "serving the party," Guo Degang has been turning its focus back to "serving the people" as a means of entertainment and social criticism. This article will examine how Guo has resurrected the essence of xiang sheng, successfully commercialized it in a market economy, and simultaneously deconstructed the official discourse through grassroots means.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-103
Number of pages22
JournalAsian Theatre Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

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