Uncrossing the Borders, the most recent monograph by theater scholar Daphne P. Lei, examines changing representations of ethnic borderlands, female suicide, and gendered patriotism in China's theatrical tradition.

Taking a diachronic approach that covers more than a dozen genres across roughly eight centuries, Lei traces what she calls “border-crossing drama”—plays in a cluster of four interrelated story cycles, all based on historical figures from the Han dynasty who famously crossed the border between the Han and the Xiongnu, a powerful nomadic society to the north with whom the Han was frequently at war. The central figure in these four stories—and indeed, the main subject of Lei's book—is Wang Zhaojun, a Han consort sent to marry a Xiongnu chieftain as part of a “peace-alliance marriage” (heqin) in 33 BCE. The second major figure is Cai Yan (also known as Cai Wenji, b. 177?), a talented female writer who...

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