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Significant Other

Significant Other: Staging the American in China

Claire Conceison
Copyright Date: 2004
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    Significant Other
    Book Description:

    Chinese views of the United States have shifted dramatically since the 1980s, with changes in foreign relations, increased travel of Chinese citizens to the U.S., and wide circulation of American popular culture in China. Significant Other explores representations of Americans that emerged onstage in China between 1987 and 2002 and considers how they function as racial and cultural stereotypes, political strategy, and artistic innovation. Based on fieldwork in Beijing and Shanghai, it offers a unique view of contemporary Mainland Chinese spoken drama from the perspective of a Western academic who is both a Chinese studies scholar and a theatre practitioner. Claire Conceison’s close readings of recent plays take into account not only the texts of the plays themselves and other primary sources, but also production contexts, creative origins, artistic collaboration, and audience reception. Identifying the American as China’s "significant Other," Conceison introduces the complex cultural relationship between China and the United States, situating it in both the long history of Sino-Western relations and the present dynamics of post-colonialism. She then examines the emergent discourse of Occidentalism, tracing its origins and recent circulation and repositioning it as a discursive strategy to analyze appearances of Americans on the Chinese stage. Conceison maintains that Chinese staging of American characters—often played by local actors made up and costumed as Americans, and more recently played by foreigners themselves—reveals cultural norms and attitudes regarding the United States, reflects Sino-American political relations, articulates Chinese national and cultural identity, and signifies innovation in spoken drama as an art form.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6431-6
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. 1-12)

    Julia Kristeva’s description of how it feels to dwell in the gaze of ordinary citizens in China is typical of the experience of many foreigners who spend time there. During my first stay in Beijing, in 1985, routine daily occurrences included being followed in the streets, being surrounded by a large crowd whenever I stood still, and being analyzed by complete strangers for the duration of bus rides—strangers who were unaware that I understood what they were saying. Their comments would range from guessing my nationality to discussing my weight and accouterment. It is difficult to describe the effect...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Setting the Sino-American Stage
    (pp. 13-39)

    With Hong Kong securely back in its possession and a booming economy accompanied by a recent surge of neo-nationalism, China crossed over into the new millennium with renewed visions of unity and superiority. The implications of this ethos for Sino-American political and cultural relations cannot be overstated, and yet, positioning China in the spectrum of postmodern subjectivity remains a daunting challenge. Crucial to our project of examining Chinese images of the American Other on the spoken-drama stage is recognizing the complex and shifting history of interactions between China and the United States, and understanding China’s unique circumstances in the postcolonial...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Occidentalism (Re)considered
    (pp. 40-67)

    The Marx quote above is one of two epigraphs that preface Edward Said’s seminal textOrientalism,¹ in which he postulates the now widely accepted theory that the “Orient” exists as a region constructed culturally, politically, and intellectually by the hegemonically dominant “Occident” and as such is denied agency to represent itself. Closer examination of the plays selected for this study, particularly in regard to how both the Oriental and Occidental Other are constituted, shows that the “unrepresented”canrepresent themselves—and furthermore, that they do so through a seductive manipulation of Western Orientalism and its unexplored discursive Other, Occidentalism, which...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Immigrant Interculturalism: China Dream
    (pp. 68-89)

    Among Said’s claims inOrientalismis not only that native Oriental scholarship is generally ignored by Western academics but that Oriental scholars themselves “want to come and sit at the feet of American Orientalists, and later to repeat to their local audiences the clichés characteriz[ed] as Orientalist dogmas.” He concludes that “such a system of reproduction makes it inevitable that the Oriental scholar will use his American training to feel superior to his own people.”¹ Thus, any attempt at self-representation on the part of non-Western intellectuals is unavoidably “contaminated” by the very Western education that is employed as a tool...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Exilic Absurdism: The Great Going Abroad
    (pp. 90-119)

    The complicated and unsettling cultural dynamics emerging from cases like that ofChina Dreamplaywrights Sun Huizhu and Fei Chunfang are crucial to discourses of immigration and exile, and central in distinguishing the two. The discourse of immigration is one of evolution, permanence, assimilation, and unidirectional migration, though accompanied by persistent longing for one’s place of origin. Exile, by contrast, is immediate, alienating, and carries the hope of being temporary. Sun and Fei’s plans for their lives in America shifted radically between these two perspectives: they began with a prolonged period of study with the possibility of return, and then...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Cultural Cross-Examination: Bird Men
    (pp. 120-136)

    The layers of meaning in Wang Peigoing and Wang Gui’s playThe Great Going Abroadreflect the transitional period of 1989—1991, when idealism about the United States became complicated by the aftermath of June Fourth. Simultaneously expressing antiestablishment resistance and orthodox neonationalism, the two Wangs engaged in a practice that was not unfamiliar to them. As established artists with national reputations and a history of risky projects with political themes, they wisely avoided public attention and major cities, thereby dodging the spotlight of government censorship.

    In contrast, Guo Shixing was an amateur playwright notching his first public production with...

  10. Black-and-white plates
    (pp. None)
  11. CHAPTER 6 American Self-Representation: Student Wife
    (pp. 137-166)

    The 1995 production ofStudent Wife(Peidu furen)¹ was the inaugural production of the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center (Shanghai huaju yishu zhongxin), an economic and administrative merger of the Shanghai People’s Art Theatre and its neighboring Youth Spoken Drama Troupe. LikeBird Men, Student Wifewas a box-office success, selling out its two-month run at the highest ticket prices ever charged by a Shanghai professional theatre company up until that time.²

    As a new beginning for the arts center, it was fitting that the production itself would offer something entirely new: foreign actors playing leading roles. The popularity of the...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Anti-Americanism: Dignity and Che Guevara
    (pp. 167-190)

    On the heels of the closing of Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center’s production ofStudent Wife,mounting political tension between the United States and China peaked when the Clinton administration granted a visa to the Republic of China (Taiwan) president Li Denghui. Though traveling to the United States under the auspices of an “unofficial visit” to attend his reunion at Cornell University (where he received his doctorate in agricultural economics in 1968), the diplomacy involved came perilously close to official recognition of Li, which would have constituted a breach in U.S. policy toward Taiwan (the American government officially withdrew its recognition...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Self-Occidentalism: Swing
    (pp. 191-224)

    Close examination of the creation, evolution, and production of the playSwing(Qiuqian qingren), staged in Shanghai in 2002, simultaneously leads us into the most recent developments in Chinese spoken drama and takes us back to the first play addressed in this book, thus serving as a suitable case study with which to conclude our examination of Occidentalism and staging the American in contemporary Chinese spoken drama. The same playwrights who created the first complex articulation of the American Other on the contemporary Chinese stage inChina Dreamalso scripted its latest incarnation in a play in which the production...

  14. Epilogue
    (pp. 225-232)

    In pulling together this investigation of Occidentalist representations of the American in Chinese plays of the past fifteen years, the endurance and ambivalence of the stereotype and the complex substance of processes of identification once again emerge as prominent and problematic. This study ends as it began, with considering the subjectivity of the spectator (or actor) who is “othered,” although, as clearly evidenced, articulations of Occidentalism in the plays included here involve parallel processes as well. The range of interpolations of the American Other that occur in these plays, for diverse and sometimes even cross-purposes, reflects the variety of manifestations...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 233-274)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 275-290)
  17. Index
    (pp. 291-298)