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Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute

Chenyin Tang

PhD Studentship in Western Opera in Maritime Sinosphere (1842-1945)

Chenyin Tang's Photo

Hi, I'm Chenyin Tang and I am a Leverhulme Trust Doctoral scholar studying within the Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute, University of Southampton.

I came to study in the Music Department of University of Southampton in 2015. Before that, I studied French horn in Shanghai Conservatory of Music since 2008. My PhD project is concerned with the global-scale diffusion of western opera, particularly in East Asia and investigates the role of port cities and maritime communication in the globalization of Western opera in the modern era.

My PhD project is concerned with the global-scale diffusion of western opera, particularly in East Asia and investigates the role of port cities and maritime communication in the globalization of Western opera in the modern era. It will contribute the perspective of maritime networks of trade and communication to our understanding of this issue. As case studies, it will trace the route of Western opera troupes to three destinations: Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. The three cities were (and are) part of one maritime system, and share common features. They are located within the ‘Sinosphere’ (areas including but not limited to greater China where Chinese-speakers are in the majority) and at the same time have always been profoundly shaped by migration from all over the world. Thus this project considers part of the history of Western opera’s continuing success as Europe’s dominant cultural export. It will work towards a view of the Western opera house as the space in which all kinds of migrants could come together to experience a cultural artifact that was also a marker of economic distinction (Bourdieu), even under colonial and quasi-colonial conditions. The precondition for this coming together under the sign of opera was maritime trade. The central question is: how did the consumption of Western opera by both colonial audiences and the ‘new’ Chinese-speaking ‘middle classes’ establish the genre as a new art form in a new place? The thesis will argue that maritime networks are the key to the answer, in the maritime Sinosphere and more widely. It will ask: how did such global processes, carried from across the world by maritime networks, help make the global triumph of Western opera possible?

The thesis draws methods from maritime and economic history as much as musicology. It considers opera as a phenomenon of cultural consumption made possible by maritime networks. It will examine the following overlapping aspects:

Understanding the crucial role of maritime networks in the spread of Western opera in the Sinosphere will help stakeholders in the creative industries (e.g. opera houses) and heritage sectors (museums and archives) in East Asia to understand that far from ‘receiving’ Western opera in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, these cities were among the crucibles in which its current global popularity was forged.

My supervisors are Dr Thomas Irvine (Humanities/Music), Dr Helen Paul (Social, Human and Mathematical Sciences/Economics), Prof. Mark Everist (Humanities/Music), Prof. Chun-zen Huang (National Taiwan Normal University/Director, GraduateInstitute of Ethnomusicology).

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