Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Jean Graham-Jones

Committee Members

Peter Eckersall

David Savran

Esther Kim Lee

Subject Categories

American Studies | Asian American Studies | Chinese Studies | Critical and Cultural Studies | Dance | Ethnic Studies | Ethnomusicology | Performance Studies | Race and Ethnicity | Theatre History | Visual Studies


Monkey King, Asian American performance, Kungfu / Jazz, Critical Race, Casting, Musical Theatre


Wukongism offers one of the first non-western epistemic frameworks to examine theatre and performance that traverse beyond the shifting taxonomies of national, cultural, racial boundaries, and in particular, Asian/American theatre and performance. Wukongism, or shapeshifter consciousness, is built on the narrative of Sun Wukong the Monkey King, a supernatural shapeshifting character from the 16th century classic Chinese novel Journey to the West. Juxtaposing physical shapeshifting (plastic surgery and performing of the racialized face) with institutional shapeshifting (reinventing and eliminating invisible and hypervisible boundaries), this dissertation project posits Wukongism as a means to examine the varying, fluid, and precarious ways minoritized subjects shapeshift to engage in creative and performative acts of survival, resistance, and art making. Through processes of Kungfu/Jazz, minoritized entities produce knowledge of the self, complicate power dynamics, generate new art forms, and advance socio-cultural transformation.

I use two shorthand terms Kungfu and Jazz, both of which have distinct minoritized origins, to depict intricate interactions between the two cultural production processes of boundary formation (or reinforcement) and boundary elimination (or crossing). Kungfu indicates the process that prioritizes boundary formation (or reinforcement), when boundary elimination (or crossing) also occurs without taking predominance; Jazz refers to the opposite—the process favoring boundary elimination (or crossing) rather than boundary formation (or reinforcement). Kungfu/Jazz emphasizes the concurrence of and traversing between Kungfu and Jazz. When used to describe shapeshifting processes, these two terms are detached from their respective geographic regions of genesis—Kungfu is dissociated from Asia, and Jazz from America.

The three chapters of my dissertation elucidate three different types and phases of Wukongism—transmissive Wukongism (Asian performers traveling to the US), immersive Wukongism (Asian American cultural production in the US), and revelatory Wukongism (performing “Asian” face globally). Wukongism bridges Asian studies, Asian American studies, and American studies. Each chapter begins with a historically significant Monkey King performance: the first Monkey King production in the US by a Chinese performing arts company (1978); the first non-xiqu Monkey King production by an Asian American artist (1990); and the first Monkey King production by a US mainstream theatre company (1995). Then, in the spirit of Wukongism, each chapter shapeshifts into a non-Monkey King case that illuminates a new art form or practice generated by the minoritized entities—respectively “kungfu dance theatre,” “manga opera,” “Wukongist casting”—and thereafter transforms back to another Monkey King performance in the next chapter. This dissertation therefore performs Wukongism. The Coda of this project explores Wukongism’s Other—US dominant and capitalist cultural entities traveling to and performing in East Asia. I consider primarily Asian and Asian American cases in this dissertation, but Wukongism may be applied to other forms of minoritized performance. I hope Wukongism inspires more research projects on theorizing minoritized performance, especially those creatively built upon minoritized narratives and perspectives.