Poetics of Integration and the Making of Modern Chinese Drama: Cao Yu amongst Playwrights




Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Comparative Literature (Interdepartmental Program)

Document Type



The making of modern Chinese drama, departing from traditional Chinese theatre, was an integrative process through which Chinese intellectuals attempted to seek an appropriate aesthetic form in the Western theatrical tradition, in order to convey enlightening ideas, such as social reforms and national salvation, as well as artistic values. Among the many playwrights who made contributions to the construction of this new genre, Cao Yu achieved an organic integration of Western dramatic form and Chinese themes and spirit, striking a balance between social significance and cultural and artistic values. This dissertation aims at a comprehensive study of Cao Yu’s poetics of integration in his creative endeavors from the perspective of intertextuality and the Hegelian formula of “thesis- antithesis –synthesis.” I intend to examine the intertextual relations between his works and other texts, such as Western plays and Chinese literary works, and the sublating relationship among his own plays. Chapter I, the introductory chapter, explores the historical background of modern Chinese theatre, and sets up the methodology for this study. In Chapter II, I read Cao Yu’s first play Thunderstorm as the thesis, and analyze its textual interactions with Sophocles’ Oedipus trilogy, interpreting Thunderstorm as a recontextualization of its Greek counterpart. Chapter III entails a reading of Sunrise as an antithesis to Thunderstorm, investigating its relationships with both Thunderstorm and Anton Chekhov’s works, and understanding it as a further step in Cao Yu’s process of integration. Chapter IV, a study of the final step in this process, takes his Peking Man as the synthesis, exploring its textual relationships within his own plays, as well as with both Chinese literary works and foreign texts. Throughout his integrative process, Cao Yu employed both Western dramatic form and themes in his first play, welded in Western forms with Chinese social reality in his second one, and amalgamated traditional Chinese literary subjects with Western theatre in Peking Man, thereby achieving the ultimate integration. Through the evolution of the three plays, Cao Yu, with the accomplishment of a dramatic format compatible with both Chinese and foreign texts, established an outstanding example of modern Chinese drama.



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Committee Chair

Li, Qiancheng



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