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No Limitation of Time or Space

On the Chinese theater stage, per formers reproduce the activities of everyday life in a highly symbolic way. It is precisely through these highly abstract but meaningful modes of expression that the audience is led to an understanding of what is taking place on the stage. This is quite different from the Western drama, which puts emphasis on leading the audience into an illusion.

In the West, when audiences enter a theater, they will immediately find that dramatists try every possible way to create an environment separated from real life, to make the audience concentrate on the play and find themselves in an atmosphere produced only by the stage. Hence, Western dramatists take the stage as a fixed space. The painted and shaped setting creates the particular scene required by the drama. All disputes among characters are represented, developed and solved within this special scene. In the same scene, the audience will feel that the extended time of the plot is generally identified with the actual performing time. The Western concept of drama is based on the imitation theory put forward by Aristotle, requiring that art should truly reflect life. (Fig.1 -4)

In China, dramatists neither rely on stage techniques to create the illusion of real life, nor care if the size of the stage is big enough to represent the plot or not; nor require that the time of a plot should be generally identified with the performance time. The Chinese stage does not have any setting. The establishment of a stage environment depends on the characters' movements. An environment is only created by such movements; without the characters' movements, the stage is only an abstract space. 0n the Chinese stage, time is also highly flexible, with no limitation, and is completely decided by the contents of the play. How are time and space created on the Chinese stage? As a matter of fact, it is a very simple matter Before the appearance of any characters, the stage is bare of scenery, and the audience is not aware of where or when the story is to take place. It is only through the actors' singing, recitation and miming that they are led to an understanding of what is taking place on the stage. From this, we can see clearly that the setting of a play on the Chinese stage is created entirely through the performers' actions and the contents of the songs. (Fig.1 -5)

The lack of limitation of time and space in Chinese theater depends mainly on abstract modes of expression, besides the continuity of entry and exit. A player comes onto the stage from a supposed entrance, and leaves through an imaginary exit. The coming and going of 3 character indicates the change of environment and promotes the development of the plot; this is quite different from the Western stage system of dividing acts by backgrounds. For instance, in Women Generals of the Yang Family, when Mu Guijing appears on the stage in daily costume, accompanied by a maid, the stage is supposed to be a hall in the Tianbo Residence, where Mu Guiying comes back onto the stage in a military uniform, followed by a group of women generals. At this moment, the stage is supposed to be the drill ground where Mu Guiying is to drill her officers and men. Then she exits to her barracks. The entry-and-exit form in the Chinese opera is often accompanied by the players singing, reciting, miming and engaging in combat, as well as by music, to present the changes of time, space and atmosphere, thus making the stage like a flowing scroll painting.

When performing in an opera, an actor may easily signal a transfer from one environment to another through his or her actions. For instance, when an actor waves his whip, saying,”I have covered a thousand li(one li=1/2 km), and my horse has crossed ten thousand mountains,” the Chinese audience will understand immediately that he has made a long journey form one place to another.(Fig.1-6)

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