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Famed Taiwan Author Kenneth Pai Returns to Deliver Kun Opera Lecture

NTU is most delighted that the renowned writer Kenneth Pai returned here to his alma mater to present a lecture as part of the seminar, “Kenneth Pai’s Talks on Literature,” this semester. Dr. Pai graduated from NTU’s Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures a half century ago, and is considered among Taiwan’s greatest living novelists. He taught literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara, for 29 years and has also offered courses at Peking University and Soochow University in China. The seminar was made possible by a generous donation from Trend Education Foundation founder Jenny Chang.

To mark this momentous occasion, NTU President Lee made a point of welcoming Dr. Pai at the opening of his lecture on February 25. Due to the great enthusiasm surrounding Pai’s lecture, which covered “The New Aesthetics of Kun Opera,” Trend Education Foundation set up a live internet broadcast, making it available to students unable to enroll in the course as well as to the general public.

The Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature reports that 2,386 students, local and foreign, registered for the course; but, since the lecture hall was too small, 400 students were selected at random to take the class in person. Dr. Pai was delighted by the deep interest in the course shown by students and the public, and hopes it will become a regular aesthetics studies course in the program.

The course takes as its starting point the legacy and reemergence of a rich Chinese culture in Taiwan, and then explores Kun Opera and its diverse artistic expressions. The broad range of topics covered include a diachronistic analysis of Kun Opera’s historical development, the “four skills” and “five methods,” the division of roles, and concepts behind new Kun Opera scripts. The course also addresses the enhancement of people’s listening and viewing experiences during performances through the use of costumes and stage and lighting design, the interweaving of music and movement, and the integration of calligraphy, painting and the guqin zither. The plots and characters of well-known works such as The Peony Pavilion and The Jade Hairpin are also analyzed, all in an effort to present the beauty of this Chinese operatic art.

Other events were arranged in coordination with the teaching of this course. One was the month-long exhibition, “The Birth of the New Aesthetics of Kun Opera—a Photographic Record by Hsu Pei-Hung,” which opened in the NTU Main Library on March 4. In addition, the Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theater of Jiangsu Province in China was invited to present three performances in April. These performances gave the students the opportunity to appreciate Kun opera in all of its depth and texture as it is performed on stage rather than as simply a subject for study.

Kun opera is a sophisticated form of Chinese opera, and although UNESCO has listed it among the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, its survival as a living art is uncertain. Dr. Pai is one of the concerned people working to ensure that Kun opera will continue to be enjoyed live by audiences for years to come.

Chinese version