Lesson 8: Intercultural Conscious


  • Richard Schechner, "Internatural Themes"
  • Patrice Pavis, "Toward a Theory of Interculturalism in Theatre?"
  • Erika Fischer-Lichte, "Interculturalism in Contemporary Theatre"
  • Peter Brook, "The Culture of Links"
  • Ariane Mnouchkine, "The Theatre is Oriental"
  • Rustom Bbarucha, "Somebody's Other:
    Disorientations in the Cultural Politics of Our Times"
  • Eugenio Barba, "Eurasian Theatre"
  • Jerzy Grotowski, "Around Theatre: The Orient-the Occident"
  • Clive Barker, "The Possibilities and Politics of Intercultural Penetration and Exchange"

Performance as Mirror

  • Performance reflects cultural, sociopolitical, economic background.
  • Such reflection is not necessarily transparent and straightforward—Hollywood craze about fantastic musicals during the time of depression.
  • Art can serve as an escape and a distorted and distorting mirror.

Kunqu Macbeth vs. Beijing Opera Macbeth


  • Very Chinese—both thematically and formally
  • Formally—drawf figures, acrobatics, long water sleeves, empty stage, alienation effect (prologue and epilogue).
  • Thematically—the play eliminates Macbeth's moral responsibility by emphasizing divine ordain, omen, superstition, ghosts and spirits; there is no positive Duncan.
  • Why is it so Chinese? What is it trying to say?


  • Shakespearean or un-Shakespearean? Chinese or un-Chinese?
  • In many ways Chinese—music, stage, character types, acrobatics, choreography, etc.
  • Thematically—like《血手記》, the play also justifies Macbeth's regicide by (A) making Duncan look really stupid and suspicious, and in a way deserves to be killed; (B) making Lady Macbeth dominate; (C) rationalizing murder of Banquo (for Lady Macbeth is pregnant), making excuses for Macbeth, beautifying him.
  • Philosophically—like《血手記》, also making this event part of an ongoing human history—history repeats itself, all men are greedy and ambitious and stupid, etc.
  • It is not a personal tragedy, but a comedy of human folly.
  • Chinese Macbeths—much smaller than Shakespeare's, lacking his sensitivity, noble sentiments and profound feelings.
  • The play is also very un-Chinese compared to《血手記》.
  • Formally—the mountain spirit wears no water sleeves or unique costumes. She does not conform to either Western or Chinese aesthetics (a deliberate artistic choice, not by necessity).
  • What is going on? How do we explain this phenomenon?



The Mountain Spirit

Macbeth Chasing Banquo's Ghost


Historical Approach:

Chinese Opera in Early 20th Century

  • Late Qing—over-population, famine and riots plus corrupted bureaucracy, bad policy, incompetent regime.
  • In addition, Western and Japanese imperialism, humiliating contracts and wars.
  • The country encountered enormous turmoil—politically, socially, economically.
  • A desperate urge for change in every aspect ( reform, revolution).
  • Drama-wise, traditional opera gave place to modern-dress drama, "civilized drama" (wenming xi).
  • 1919 May Fourth Movement—new literature, colloquial, addressing contemporary problems.
  • Severe criticism of old drama by reform-minded young intellectuals.

Criticism of Traditional Chinese Theatre


文學乃是人類生活狀態的一種記載。人類生活隨時代變遷,故文學也隨時代變遷,故一代有一代的文學。……一種文學的進化,每經過一個時代,往往帶著前一個時代留下的許多無用的紀念品;這種紀念品,在早先的幼稚時代本來是狠有用的,後來漸漸可以用不著他們了,但是因為人類守舊的惰性,故仍舊保存這些過去時代的紀念品。在社會學上,這種紀念品叫做「遺形物」(Survivals of Rudiments)。如男子的乳房,形式雖存,作用已失;本可廢去,總沒廢去;故叫做「遺形物」。……所以在中國戲劇進化史上,樂曲一部分本來可以漸漸廢去,但他依舊存留,遂成一種「遺形物」。此外如臉譜,嗓子,台步,武把子,……等等,都是這一類的「遺形物」,早就可以不用了,但相沿下來至今不改。西洋的戲劇在古代也曾經過許多幼稚的階段,如「和歌」(Chorus)面具,「過門」,「背躬」(aside),武場,……等。但這種「遺形物」在西洋久已成了歷史上的古蹟,漸漸的都淘汰完了。這些東西淘汰乾淨,方才有純粹戲劇出世。……再看中國戲臺上,跳過桌子便是跳牆;站在桌子上便是登山;四個跑龍套便是一千人馬;轉兩個彎便是行了幾十里路;翻幾個觔斗,做幾件手勢,便是一場大戰。這種粗笨愚蠢,不真不實,自欺欺人的做作,看了真可使人作嘔!


Sir Philip Sidney, A Defence of Poesie

[Gorboduc by Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton] is very defectious in the circumstances, which grieves me, because it might not remain as an exact model of all Tragedies. For it is faulty both in place and time, the two necessary Companions of all corporal actions. For where the Stage should always represent but one place, and the uttermost time presupposed in it, should bee both by Aristotle's precept, and common reason, but one day; there is both many days and places, inartificially imagined. But if it bee so in Gorboduc, how much more in all the rest, where you shall have Asia of the one side, and Africa of the other, and so many other under Kingdoms, that the Player when he comes in, must ever begin with telling where he is, or else the tale will not be conceived. Now you shall have three Ladies walk to gather flowers, and then we must believe the stage to be a garden. By and by we hear news of shipwreck in the same place, then we are too blame if we accept it not for a Rock. Upon the back of that, comes out a hideous monster with fire and smoke, and then the miserable beholders are bound to take it for a Cave: while in the mean time two Armies fly in, represented with four swords & bucklers, and then what hard hart will not receive it for a pitched field. Now of time, they are much more liberal. For ordinary it is, that two young Princes fall in love, after many traverses she is got with childe, delivered of a faire boy: he is lost, grows a man, falls in love, and is ready to get another child, and all this is in two hours space. . . .



CPC's Cultural Policy


  • Literature reform—systematic, institutionalized, supported by theory, truly practiced (before and after Liberation)
  • Cultural Revolution (1966-1976)—"smashing 4 olds—ideas, culture, customs, habits"
  • Smashing all old literature and drama—banned most plays, charged and persecuted many theatrical professionals, destroyed many scripts and costumes

KMT's Cultural Policy

  • After 1949, politically marginalized—one China, not us! Taiwan's identity crisis.
  • Refusing to admit defeat, Taiwan emphasizes authenticity and cultural orthodoxy.
  • Ex: careful preservation of ancient treasure, encouragement of traditional arts, etc.
  • Traditional opera—sponsored by government.
  • Traditional opera—as traditional as can be, no new plays, no changes allowed, master-disciple training, convention for convention's sake.

Richard Schechner, "Intercultural Themes"
  • Every culture is constantly changing. It doesn't make sense to stick to or revive a cultural tradition.
  • Cf. Hu Shih's "evolution theory," but Schechner does not say that culture always evolves for the better.
  • Cultural Zoo—purist, bad taste, patronizing, unhealthy.
  • Zoo—totally unnatural, freak show (lions no longer hunt but sleep all day, panda reproduced artificially).
  • Intercultural?—not to learn, but to unlearn prejudices.
  • Our intercultural life—Thai food, American movie, Korean soap opera, Japanese music, French perfume, Italian bag.
  • "Use domestic goods" is a slogan, and it takes conscious efforts; "use foreign goods" is only natural!

Culture Theory

  • On the one hand, culture is man-made, by definition unnatural—nothing sacred in it, only contingent.
  • On the other hand, culture is al-powerful—no escape from it.
  • What is "natural"? Wearing 100% cotton, eating organic food? No!
  • Truly natural—wearing nothing, eating raw meat, sleeping in caves! Also, incest, polygamy, maybe cannibalism too!
  • Whether you like it or not, there is no going back—de-culturation is a myth.
  • Universal, permanent art?—heavenly music? (Mao says no)
  • Transcultural humanity?—maternal love? (Mao says no)
  • One world culture—MacDonald's, Disneyland, Hollywood.
  • Capitalist West mainstream kills minorities (power relation, hierarchy, struggle).

Intercultural Conscious

  • What are they doing?—Brecht, Artaud, Barba, Brook, Schechner
  • Orientalism—forging differences, imposing meaning on the differences, mystifying the differences.
  • Ex: blacks (or Taiwan indigenous) are good at singing, dancing, sports—because they are not good enough to study law, medicine, business, etc.
  • Condescending, patronizing, cultural racist, neo-colonialist.
  • Distorted, unhealthy, fragmented, misunderstood.
  • What are we doing?
  • Liao Qiongzhi's training—you have to walk 2 (not 3) steps and turn right (not left), raising (not dropping) your hand, pointing your fingers (not holding a fist). . . .
  • What for?
  • Wu Hsing-kuo's innovation—you drop the tune of Peking opera, put on totally untraditional costume, using Western materials from Greek tragedy to Shakespeare. . . .
  • What for?
  • What is good? What is our future? Where are we going?


© 2005 by Bi-qi Beatrice Lei. All rights reserved.