Propagating ‘Chinese invention’ through landscape performing art: sublimating the arts to nationalism

By Quan Liu

Landscape performing arts (LPA) is a series of large-scale performances that was developed in China. The performances use natural scenery in open-air theatres, characterized by fixed locality and daily performances, coupled with spectacular visual and audio effects using modern stage technologies. They employ hundreds of local amateur performers who display their traditional culture through music and dance to both domestic and international tourists. Chinese media present the LPA form of theatre as a ‘Chinese invention’. The general concept of LPA highlights the Chinese traditional philosophy of harmony between humans and nature, and the traditional aesthetic shanshui (mountain water) to evoke a quintessential ‘Chinese’ scene, essence and tradition. The first 2003 performance of Impression Liu Sanjie has spawned a colossal LPA industry, each LPA adopting regional cultural characteristics. LPA has become a national brand for Chinese theatre. The format is internationalizing (it has been exported to Vietnam and Malaysia, for example), thereby allowing China to assist other countries in developing their cultural tourism industry.

This paper examines how the power of the Chinese landscape has been exploited by the party-state to propagate Chinese invention through LPA. One critical question about the development of the creative industry in China involves the paradox between mobilization (encouraging public creativity) and control (limiting liberality of ideology). China’s authorities in the reign of President Xi have focused on both strategies simultaneously. To explore the underlying principle of this seemingly self-contradictory policy, LPA is used to analyse the nationalistic affirmation of ‘Chinese invention’. The paper appropriates theories related to landscape and the sublime. Concepts relating to the sublime from Kant, Burke, Li Zehou and Wang Ban will be employed as theoretical instruments to deconstruct the notion of ‘Chinese invention’ within LPA and to expose the misguided discourse and nationalistic propaganda created to justify and promote it.

The research finding is that, on the one hand, the sublime emotionality of Chinese invention centres and unifies the loose contingency of individual experiences and the heterogeneity of subject-positions in the interest of covertly resolving the tension between mobilization and control of the creative industry. On the other hand, it cultivates aggressive individual and collective voices recruited in the party-state’s interest while resisting foreign forces. Arguably, hegemonic sensations are fabricated by the state apparatus in the country’s cultural landscape in order to cultivate belief in the inventiveness of the nation.

page: 150 – 165
Prometheus: Critical Studies in Innovation
Volume 39, Issue 3
SKU: 390302

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