Reviewed Elsewhere: Wing Chung Ng, The Rise of Cantonese Opera.

Michael Berkowitz's picture
Wing Chung Ng. The Rise of Cantonese Opera. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015. 288 pp. $60.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-252-03911-9.
 
Wing Chung Ng's book The Rise of Cantonese Opera is an excellent social history of Cantonese opera from the mid-nineteenth century to the outbreak of the Pacific War. Focusing on three geographical areas—South China, Southeast Asia, and North America—it draws on an impressive array of primary source material and contributes to a growing body of scholarship in Chinese theatre studies focused on regional histories and transnational perspectives. ... his innovative approach allows us to understand Cantonese opera as a social and economic institution: through Ng's account we trace the formation and evolution of actors' guilds, learn how theatre companies operated financially and navigated competition in the market, and piece together the many external factors—from immigration law to gang activity, taxation, and local political rivalries—that shaped the lives of the actors, musicians, playwrights, patrons, and audiences in the ever-changing world of Cantonese opera.
 
A pioneer in Chinese diaspora history, Ng is at his best in his portrayals of the dynamic relationships that emerge between places through the circulation of people. Whether it is the economically driven tacking between rural and urban stages along the Pearl River Delta, the merging of commercial tastes between Guangzhou and Hong Kong, competition with artists from other regions of China, or the market pressure valve provided by overseas Chinese communities, Ng presents a fascinatingly interconnected account that allows the reader to see Cantonese opera as both resolutely local and a hub with spokes stretching out in all directions.