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Chinese Shakespeares

Chinese Shakespeares: Two Centuries of Cultural Exchange

Alexander C. Y. Huang
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Chinese Shakespeares
    Book Description:

    For close to two hundred years, the ideas of Shakespeare have inspired incredible work in the literature, fiction, theater, and cinema of China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. From the novels of Lao She and Lin Shu to Lu Xun's search for a Chinese "Shakespeare," and from Feng Xiaogang's martial arts films to labor camp memoirs, Soviet-Chinese theater, Chinese opera in Europe, and silent film, Shakespeare has been put to work in unexpected places, yielding a rich trove of transnational imagery and paradoxical citations in popular and political culture.

    Chinese Shakespeares is the first book to concentrate on both Shakespearean performance and Shakespeare's appearance in Sinophone culture and their ambiguous relationship to the postcolonial question. Substantiated by case studies of major cultural events and texts from the first Opium War in 1839 to our times, Chinese Shakespeares theorizes competing visions of "China" and "Shakespeare" in the global cultural marketplace and challenges the logic of fidelity-based criticism and the myth of cultural exclusivity. In his critique of the locality and ideological investments of authenticity in nationalism, modernity, Marxism, and personal identities, Huang reveals the truly transformative power of Chinese Shakespeares.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51992-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History, Film Studies, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. A Note on Texts and Translation
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Prologue
    (pp. 1-20)

    Readers travel. Texts are passed to new territories. But myths tend to stay, which is why the space between China and Shakespeare as cultural tokens is exhilarating and frustrating in equal measure. These days, English-speaking metropolitan audiences and jaded cultural tourists have grown used to a Shakespeare who figured prominently in other national cultures, particularly that of Germany, where the notion of unser Shakespeare (our Shakespeare) needs no more illustration than the wedding march that Felix Mendelssohn composed for Ludwig Tieck’s celebrated production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1843). The story of Shakespeare’s worldwide appeal may go like this: In...

  7. Part I Theorizing Global Localities

    • 1 Owning Chinese Shakespeares
      (pp. 23-44)

      One of the possibilities enhanced by the encounter between China and Shakespeare might be found in The Tempest:

      ARIEL: Nothing of him that doth fade,

      But doth suffer a sea-change

      Into something rich and strange. (1.2.400–402)

      Although one cannot say that nothing of Shakespeare or China fades in these historical processes, there has been a sea change in how the world sees them. The cultural space between “Shakespeare” and “China” is a space of (re)writing that is found outside of what is written. It subjects the artists and their local and foreign audiences to see, and be...

  8. Part II The Fiction of Moral Space

    • 2 Shakespeare in Absentia: The Genealogy of an Obsession
      (pp. 47-67)

      For a number of reasons, Shakespeare became all the talk in China before actual performances took place and before literary translations were available, thanks to several groups of intermediaries. Some of these intermediaries included Anglo-European missionaries, translators, and Chinese reformers, who attempted to popularize competing visions of modernity to the general public. The absence of Shakespeare’s plays did not stop the Chinese from constructing a hypercanonical presence of Englishness. What did Shakespeare’s name represent to this public? What exactly did they have in mind when Chinese intellectuals announced their determination to find or inspire a Chinese Shakespeare? Two theoretical questions...

    • 3 Rescripting Moral Criticism: Charles and Mary Lamb, Lin Shu, and Lao She
      (pp. 68-98)

      Fueled by the intruding presence of Shakespeare and by new senses of self created by cross-cultural contacts, the Chinese fixation on Shakespeare’s celebrity biography has developed into complex mechanisms of idealism. Both Shakespeare and China were used as alibis or the pretexts for aesthetic experiments. In the early twentieth century, Shakespeare and his plays had a more important and sustained role in the formation of Chinese literary culture. Various forms of rewriting, rather than reference books and expository essays, became the agent of mediation between Chinese and English cultural texts.

      The production and reception of representations of Shakespeare and China...

  9. Part III Locality at Work

    • 4 Silent Film and Early Theater: Performing Womanhood and Cosmopolitanism
      (pp. 101-124)

      The acts of reading and writing in the broadest sense always involve relationships that are constantly refigured because of historical exigencies. As cultural life in China’s coastal cities continued to gain momentum in urban cosmopolitanism and as new technologies were woven into the texture of daily life, Shakespearean drama shared a cultural space with forms of representation that were new to Chinese urbanites (silent film, proscenium indoor theater, Western stage technologies, illusionist performance). The reciprocal relationship of showing and gaze is rooted in and routed through the question of locality. In the strategic displacement of cultural tokens of Shakespeare and...

    • 5 Site-Specific Readings: Confucian Temple, Labor Camp, and Soviet–Chinese Theater
      (pp. 125-164)

      Some of the most fruitful interactions between the “airy nothing” of a literary motif and its “local habitation”—a physical and felt presence in a local community—can be found in the radical adaptation of Shakespeare to the local exigencies.¹ The power of political theater stands out against Hamlet’s casual comment that the poison in/of theatrical representation is but “false fire” (3.2.266), not to be feared. When theater-making is caught up in ideological wars in a time of political crisis, it becomes a matter of life and death. Although this phenomenon is not exclusive to mid-twentieth-century China or to the...

  10. Part IV Postmodern Shakespearean Orients

    • 6 Why Does Everyone Need Chinese Opera?
      (pp. 167-194)

      Chinese opera Shakespeares seem to cross national boundaries in the global marketplace with ever greater facility and an unprecedented degree of translatability. If film has become the “lingua franca of the twentieth century,” the success of Chinese opera in recent decades is testimony to the rise of Asian visuality in the global scene.¹ David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly (1988) is probably the best-known instance of the iconification of Chinese opera. As both a theater genre and a cultural symbol, jingju (Beijing opera) brought Giacomo Puccini’s opera, Rene Gallimard, and Song Liling into a gripping narrative about the promise and peril...

    • 7 Disowning Shakespeare and China
      (pp. 195-228)

      At center stage stands a dispirited King Lear, who has just taken off his jingju (Beijing-opera) headdress and armor costume in full view of a packed audience. Following his powerful presentation of the scene of the mad Lear in the storm and on-stage costume change, the actor—now dressed as if he were backstage—interrogates himself and the eyeless headdress in a somber moment while touching his own eyes, evoking Gloucester’s blinding and the Lacanian gaze in a play about sight and truth.¹ “Who am I?” he asks. “Doth any here know me? This is not Lear. / Doth Lear...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 229-238)

    In this study’s conclusion lies its beginning. The epigraph to chapter 1, “. . . for the eye sees not itself / But by reflection, by some other things,” bears dwelling upon. It is a useful allegorical resource to further our understanding of the rhetorical and critical construction of Chinese Shakespeares. Shakespeare’s plays have allowed the writers, performers, readers, and audiences to see China through the eye of the Other, but this vision also becomes a projection of the gaze of Shakespeare’s Other. The simultaneous dissociation of Shakespeare from the English Renaissance culture and association of unexpected texts create a...

  12. Select Chronology
    (pp. 239-250)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 251-310)
  14. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 311-340)
  15. Index
    (pp. 341-350)