The feeling of being watched: lived Confucianism and theatricality in Kuo Pao Kun’s mid-1980s monodramas
ABSTRACT The first plays Kuo Pao Kun (1939-2002) wrote after being released from detention in 1980 coincided with a concerted effort by the Singapore government to formalise the Confucian basis upon which it claimed that Singapore society and its increasing economic success were built. Kuo was no traditionalist, but The Coffin is Too Big for the Hole (1985), and No Parking on Odd Days (1986) can be interpreted as expressing — and producing — the lived experience of the ordinary in ways that are informed by a Confucian sensibility. In this article, I contextualise these plays with reference to the Singapore government’s “Confucian turn” in the 1980s, and then demonstrate how they provided an intermediate domain between the state and the individual for exploring the classical Confucian concerns of moral action and ritual within a rapidly modernising society.
KEYWORDS: Kuo Pao Kun; Confucianism; monodrama; political theatre
Paul Rae is Associate Professor of Theatre Studies at the University of Melbourne. He has published widely on contemporary theatre and performance theory, with a focus on the Asian region. He is author of Theatre & Human Rights (2009) and Real Theatre: Essays in Experience (2019), and a former editor of the journal Theatre Research International. He is at work on two new books: Performing Islands and Mousetraps: Adventures in Theatrical Capture.