Examining the Red Corps
: an investigation into the adoption, revolution, and continued development of ballet in China

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    In the mid-twentieth century in the People’s Republic of China, classical ballet was consciously adopted and institutionalised by the state. The systematic adoption of the form was part of a nation building exercise which made use of the bodies of ballet dancers for state ideology. Ballet dancers in China are highly refined and skilled, and are constituted in relation to Maoist thinking which promoted the development of physical virtuosity as a path to developing national health and international status. Under Mao, the cultivation of the physical body made links between individual virtuosity, personal morality and the success of the state. As such, dancers became tools of the revolution.
    These developments in dance reflected the social, ideological and political upheaval of the time, spread all over China, in one of the single largest efforts of this kind in the world’s history. In a short period, the state investment in ballet saw substantial changes in which dance became a legitimate profession, new genres of dance were established, new ways of training the body initiated, and new repertoire created. Classical ballet was successfully reconceptualised from an ‘alien’ genre to an indigenous one. As such, this period of Chinese history provides an excellent site for examining the mechanisms by which ballet is both responsive to and generative in, the socio-cultural political environment. This project highlights not only the large systematic and institutional developments, but also the experiences of the individuals who make up these systems and the effects the developments had on the bodies and lives of the dancers themselves. Using the experiences of dancers in China, it reveals the complexity and nuance of the body engaged in a cultural and artistic practice which reflects and generates socio political production. The dancer herself, her body, much like the dance practice, is an interdisciplinary, transhistorical, transnational site ripe for exploration.
    Date of Award3 Jun 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Roehampton
    SupervisorGeraldine Morris (Supervisor) & Alexandra Kolb (Supervisor)


    • Ballet
    • Ballet in China
    • Ballet body
    • Chinese ballet
    • The Red Detachment of Women
    • Eight Heroines
    • Chinese dance
    • Model work
    • National Ballet of China
    • Liaoning Ballet

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