Haili has sent me her dissertation, which is about the Yue opera's evolution in the post-Mao era. It's fascinating. A lot of her argument concentrates on the financial aspects of production (which are always crucial, of course), and the shift from a Maoist model of Communist art funded entirely by the state to what she calls "marketisation". During the Cultural Revolution, there was no Yue opera at all (and there are some horror stories about what happened to the performers), and only approved pieces like my old friend The Red Detachment of Women (which is "quoted" in Nixon in China) were approved. Yueju was revived under Deng Xiaoping, and started to accommodate itself to the demands of a new audience. Strangely, in becoming more commercial, Yue also seems to have become more radical, at least in terms of gender politics. Haili explains how a piece called Butterfly Dream, which was aimed at a younger, more Westernized, female audience, uniquely ended with the female protagonist turning against her husband (who has disguised himself as a young seducer in order to test her out). What Haili doesn't discuss is how the fact of an all-female cast affects this perceived feminism in the piece: is it easier for a female protagonist to rebel against the male when that male is in fact female, or does the all-female Yueju provide a safe space in which experiments in feminism can be conducted?
I find her view that the market is the equivalent of freedom strange - though I can see why it may currently feel that way in China. The problem is that in the long run this will mean that it gets more difficult to experiment in the arts, and blandness will set in.
Market forces come into their own for us today, though. Our insurance broker has sent us a hefty invoice for renewal of our combined commercial policy. I'm about to sign the cheque when I decide it's a ridiculous amount, and phone another broker who contacted us when we joined ITC. The phone call saves us £500 a year.