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(Mis)reading Ibsen: Chinese Noras on and off the stage and Nora in her Chinese husband's ancestral land of the 1930s as reimagined for the globalized world today.

The curtain rises to reveal a stage in semi-darkness--with spotlight on a young female Chinese musician upstage, dressed in red and playing jingerhu, a two-stringed traditional Chinese music instrument, and another young Chinese actress in full dan (female role) costume singing a traditional Peking opera song.

As this short overture transits into the opening scene of the play, we see a Chinese home of a yesteryear decor, simply furnished, and two men in their forties, one dressed in a long-sleeved Chinese jacket and one in suit and tie. The man in traditional Chinese attire, Han Ermao, writes on a scroll of red paper with ink and brush while the man dressed in Western clothing, Ruan Ke, comments on Han's calligraphy. Apparently it is the eve of chunjie (spring festival), the Chinese New Year.

Enters a woman in her thirties, a European woman in silky traditional Chinese dress, returning from holiday shopping, who greets the two men in Chinese with noticeable foreign accent: "Nimen hao" (How're you guys). Han, also speaking Chinese, asks Nora to come and take a look at the red scrolls he and Ruan Ke have written and adjudicate whose calligraphy is better. She praises both and hugs and kisses Han who admonishes her, half-jokingly: "We the Chinese are not used to this [public display of affection], a habit of yours you can't rid of even after this many years [in China]."

Thus begins the 1998 production (reproduced in 2001 and 2006) of Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House mounted by China's Central Experimental Theater (zhongyan shiyan huaju yuan) in Beijing, in which Nora follows her Chinese husband Han Ermao (Chinese transliteration of Helmer) to his ancestral land of the 1930s, further complicating the theme of individualism and gender equality with interlingual, intercultural, and transnational twists and tensions. (1)

The reception history of Ibsen in China has been well documented by scholars both in and outside China, especially the reception history up to the early 1990s. (2) One of the recurrent themes in such studies is that for a long while, especially in the early decades of the twentieth century, Ibsen's influence in China had been more in the realm of social reform than in the imaginary world of the theatre. In the last decade or so, there has been a backlash in China, not against Ibsen himself, but against members of the May Fourth (New Culture Movement) generation such as Hu Shi (1891-1962). Hu Shi and kindred spirits had introduced Ibsen to China, appropriating the Western playwright as a champion of sorts, and making Nora, the heroine of A Doll's House, a rallying cry for the cause of women's liberation--a gross misreading (wudu), as some scholars have charged recently, that reduced the "real" and "true" (zhenshi, zhenzheng) self of one of the greatest modern playwrights into disjointed fragments and misused him most egregiously. (3)

It would be tempting to offer a deconstructionist truism that "all reading is misreading" (4) by way of apologizing for Hu Shi and his May Fourth generation kindred spirits, which according to Edward Said would amount to "an abrogation of a critic's responsibility" because it is "perfectly possible to judge misreadings (as they occur) as part of a historical transfer of ideas and theories from one setting to another." (5) If, for the purpose of this discussion, we think of Ibsen--his life, career, and entire oeuvre, dramatic and otherwise--as a "strong" text, to borrow from Harold Bloom, it would prove only inevitable that he would invite and engender many strong misreadings instead of being easily reduced to simple or simplistic readings. In the case of Hu Shi and other Ibsen enthusiasts of the May Fourth generation, their "strong" misreadings of Ibsen were not motivated by "anxiety of influence," to rebel against their literary peres and stake out their own place in literary history with their creative supremacy, but by an acute anxiety for the existential crisis China was facing then and by an acute sense of urgency for the renewal of its people and culture. (6) They saw in Ibsen what China direly needed to rekindle a glimmer of hope: the beacon light of freedom and individualism. In Nora, they saw a champion and role model for the millions of Chinese women suffering from millennia-long feudal patriarchal oppression.

In this "fixation" on A Doll's House and indeed in this clear-eyed "misreading"--perhaps missing other important plays by Ibsen and missing important Romantic, Symbolic, and Modernist elements in his dramatic works, despite Ibsen's own protestations--Hu Shi and his May Fourth comrades were not alone in the world in the early decades of the twentieth century It is the prerogative of scholars today not only to look back and find the earlier generation amiss and lacking, but also to try to put out their own brand of misreadings via a melange of critical lenses available to them today, although the "true" and "real" Ibsen will probably remain as elusive and as defiant of such valiant attempts to pin him down definitively as ever. It is equally the prerogative of this generation of dramatic artists to reimagine Ibsen, as they have been doing in the last couple of decades, e.g., the Chinese-English bilingual production of A Doll's House under discussion, by introducing new twists, issues, and themes into the oeuvre of the nineteenth-century Norwegian playwright and to make him as relevant and resonant in the globalized world we live in today as ever before. (7)

Chinese Noras On and Off the Stage in the Early Decades of the Twentieth Century

Lu Xun (1831-1936), often regarded as the standard-bearer of modern Chinese literature, mentioned Ibsen in a 1907 essay on European Byronic poets with iconoclastic proclivities, being particularly impressed with the motto of Dr. Stockmann, hero of An Enemy of the People, that "the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone." (8) After returning to Shanghai from Japan, Lu Jingruo (1885-1915), a key member of the Spring Willow Society (chunliu she) that had staged a bold adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin in Tokyo in 1907, tried to mount adaptations of A Doll's House, The Wild Duck, and Hedda Gabler but failed to do so before he died in 1915. (9) In that same year Hong Shen (1894-1955), another important early modern Chinese dramatist, published in Fiction Monthly (xiaoshuo yuebao) a two-page synopsis of A Doll's House titled Jiaoqi (Lovely Wife). It was Hu Shi (1891-1962), however, who in 1918 gave a full-throated introduction of Ibsen to China via a special issue of New Youth (La Jeunesse, Xin qingnian) edited by Chen Duxiu, who in 1921 would become one of the founding members of the Communist Party. For this special Ibsen issue of the magazine, Hu Shi not only cotranslated the full text of A Doll's House but also wrote a nearly 10,000-word essay titled "Ibsenism" (Yiboshen zhuyi) (10) that pretty much set the tone of the reception of Ibsen in China for decades to come. (11)

In this extensive essay, written while finishing his PhD studies at Columbia University in New York, Hu Shi analyzed what he perceived as the main themes embodied in Ibsen plays, i.e., family, social forces (law, religion, and morality), and tensions between individual and society and then summed up what he thought was the essence of Ibsenism: (12)
Ibsen's philosophy is unwavering realism. In his plays Ibsen gave such
full display of the truths of family and society that it touched our
hearts, opened our eyes to the hidden darkness and corruption, and made
us realize that there was no other way to save family and society other
than through reform and revolution. This is what Ibsenism is all about.
It appears to be destructive when in reality it is constructive. It is
just like a doctor treating a patient: the doctor diagnoses first,
finding out what exactly is wrong, and then writes up a prescription
for the cure.

What would be the cure for the ills of China? Hu Shi continued, (13)
Societies and countries are constantly evolving; therefore, one cannot
place all hope of cure on any one medicine.... Moreover, each society
and country is different: what works for Japan may not work well for
China; what works for Germany may not necessarily work for America....
Although Ibsen does not want to prescribe treatments, he keeps telling
us that a good way to keep society healthy and fit is " wipe clean
all the viruses.... to have all the time (virus fighting) white blood
cells like Dr. Stockmann.

Hu Shi's use of the term "Ibsenism" may have been inspired by Bernard Shaw's The Quintessence of Ibsenism, a long essay published in 1891 by way of addressing the reception of Ibsen in England, especially the stormy controversy between Ibsenites who celebrated him as a hero and champion of women's liberation, and anti-Ibsenites who denounced him as vulgar, nasty, obscene, hateful, loathsome, horrible. (14) One of the main points Shaw was trying to make is that
social progress takes effect through the replacement of old
institutions by new ones; and since every institution involves the
recognition of the duty of conforming to it, progress must involve the
repudiation of an established duty at every step.... If women had not
repudiated the duty of absolute submission to their husbands, and
denned public opinion as to the limits set by modesty to their
education, they would never have gained the protection of the Married
Women's Property Act or the power to qualify themselves as medical
practitioners. (15)

For women in China then there was no such law to protect them. However, the women's rights movement was already under way at the time Ibsen was introduced to this ancient country of the orient where women for centuries had been bound by the repressive "Three Obediences and Four Virtues," (16) the worst and most visible emblem of the patriarchal control and domination of women being the millennium-long institution of foot-binding. In fact, articles advocating gender equality had begun to appear in Chinese newspapers as far back as 1870s, calling on Chinese women to follow the role models of Mu Lan, Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), Madame Roland (1754-93), Joan of Arc (1412-31), and so on. (17) Many women responded. The boldest among them at the turn of the century, such as Qiu Jin (1875-1907), stepped forward to challenge the social institution of arranged marriages and to seek individual freedom, equality, and opportunities for education. Qiu Jin died for that at quite a young age. (18) The opportune arrival of Ibsen's plays in China, especially A Doll's House, as introduced and promoted by Hu Shi and others, provided another much-needed rallying cry for the cause of women's liberation.

Therefore, given the existential crisis and the many social ills China was suffering from at the dawn of twentieth century, this misreading of Ibsen by Hu Shi, based on an extensive reading of Ibsen's plays and letters (most likely various English renditions available at the time) is as sensible, perceptive, and indeed clear-eyed as one could expect from anyone back then. And it is what one would expect from any passionate and socially responsible scholar or artist who would not hesitate to throw his or her learning and talent into the causes of liberty and equality as well as cultural and human renewal.

In this misreading of Ibsen, selective, partial, and perhaps appropriating only a portion from the "true" and "real" whole of the courageous artist that had taken Europe and indeed much of the world by storm, Hu Shi was not alone. He was in the company of not only luminous figures of the time such as Bernard Shaw (although Shaw did end his long essay by stating that the quintessence of Ibsenism is that "there is no formula" (19)), but also the many other "Hu Shis" in Japan, Korea, America, and other parts of the world who were also appropriating Ibsen, especially Nora of A Doll's House, as a rallying cry for women's liberation and other worthy causes. (20) Even as recently as in the 1980s, Ibsen was "drafted" for political causes, e.g., the 1988 production of An Enemy of the People in the former German Democratic Republic, one year before the Berlin Wall fell, mounted to criticize the country's political system and realities and to intervene in its course of development. (21)

Hu Shi and the special issue of the New Youth magazine harbingered a wave of Ibsen enthusiasm that swept across major cities of China from Beijing to Shanghai--much in the same vein of "Art and literature as vehicle for dao" (wen yi zai dao), the mantra for Chinese writers and intelligentsia from time immemorial, and the same movement to borrow from the West to renew and modernize China that had been raging on, despite the many catastrophic setbacks, since the post-Opium War decades, including translations of Western sociopolitical classics by Yan Fu, literary classics by Lin Shu, and dramatic adaptations by young members of the Spring Willow Society in Japan.

One of the most notable adaptations of Ibsen (22) during those early decades is the May 5, 1923 performance of A Doll's House, under the Chinese title Nala (Nora), by students of Peking Normal College for Women to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the May Fourth Movement. (23) This early performance of the Ibsen play, based on a "faithful" Chinese translation still highly acclaimed today, (24) is particularly significant because it was staged by young female students of one of the earliest women's colleges in a country where "ignorance is a woman's virtue" (nu zi wu cai bian shi de) and other such repressive "teachings" had held sway for millennia, and where lawful access to basic elementary education for girls, let alone higher education, had not been won until only a decade or so before. (25)

The performance venue was New Bright Theater (xinming xiyuan), one of the first modern, Western style theatres in Beijing built in 1919 during the peak of the New Culture Movement. Some of the most famous traditional Chinese opera artists had performed here, e.g., Mei Lanfang (1894-1961) in the celebrated dan role for the Peking opera classic The Tipsy Imperial Consort (Guifei zuijiu) during the theatre's grand opening celebrations. (26)

It is not clear whether the performance of the young student actors benefited from the guidance of a professional artistic director and whether they (mostly science majors) cared as much about acting and theatre as an art as they cared about a sociopolitical cause, as had been the case of their exceptionally talented Spring Willow Society brethren when they were mounting their bold adaptation of Uncle Tom's Cabin in Tokyo. Neither is it known today what set design, costumes, and makeup (e.g., did they don wigs to look more European?) were employed to create an illusion of reality, as would be expected for the production of a realistic "problem play" such as A Doll's House. Based on several comments published afterward in the newspapers, the event, the first known performance of an Ibsen play in China, was not as successful as one would have hoped. In fact, despite the best efforts of an enthusiastic all-female cast, the audience began to appear restless as early as the long dialogue between Nora and Mrs. Linde in act 1, when the two high school friends catch up about what has transpired in their respective lives since they last saw each other; some audience members began to leave before act 2 was over; and very few stuck to the end to see Nora slamming the door and leaving home to venture into the big wide world.

Gleaning from the published comments, one could conclude that the failure had as much to do with the level of acting by the amateurish students (e.g., untrained female students playing, rather awkwardly, the male roles of Helmer and Krogstad) as with the habit and behavior of the audience who relished much more the singing, dancing, and gymnastic/martial art feats provided by traditional Chinese opera than the long, drawn-out dialogues characteristic of modern Spoken Drama, and who felt much more at home in the noisy teahouses, the usual venues for traditional Chinese opera, cracking sunflower seeds, drinking tea, chit-chatting, and bursting into loud cheers (in the case of this particular performance, cheering inopportunely because they didn't quite follow or appreciate what was going on). Spoken Drama as an art as well as a form of entertainment was still too "foreign" to them and Nora's demand for dignity and independence was still quite new too. The poor acoustic effects of the theatre, where even those in the front rows could not hear well what the actors were saying on stage, didn't help draw the audience in and sustain their interest either.

Such unbecoming (when measured against Western theatre decorum) habit and behavior of Chinese audiences was still very much on the mind of Arthur Miller when he traveled to Beijing in the spring of 1983 to direct a Chinese production of Death of a Salesman and remained a nagging concern of his all the way to the opening night. (27) It persists well into the twenty-first century, even in the contemporary, well-equipped theatres of China today, although it often manifests itself in the form of a small sea of flashing, glaring lights as many audience members (mostly young college students) seem to be too busy snapping pictures and video-recording with their smartphones to let themselves be fully drawn into what is unfolding on the stage.

Interesting enough, among those who left the performance of Nala early on May 5, 1923, were Chen Xiying (1896-1970), a Peking University professor who had studied at the University of Edinburgh and University of London and returned to China with a PhD degree, a rare "national treasure" back then, and Xu Zhimo (1894-1931), an important early twentieth-century poet who had studied at Columbia University in New York and King's College, Cambridge. Chen was not pleased by the published criticisms of those early "defectors," dismissing them as unworthy of the new plays because such important concepts as "humanity" and "dignity" were nowhere to be found in their brains. So Chen wrote an impassionate response titled "See New Plays and Follow New Fads" (kan xinju yu xue xinchao) to defend his honor, blaming his premature exit on the level of acting (too amateurish!) and the maddening noise in the theatre. (28) Xu Zhimo, also incensed by the outcry from enthusiastic supporters of the show, contended in a published response titled "What Do We See When We Go to a Play" (women kanxi kan de shi shenme),
The immortal value of the Ibsen's play is not in her [Nora's]
liberation or no liberation, dignity or no dignity. Nala's immortality
lies in his [Ibsen's] art. Isms are nothing but short-lived fads; they
disappear as easily as they come. Only the spirit [xinling] realized by
the artist in his work will never or is unlikely to fade.

In that same year of 1923, Lu Xun came to the women's college campus and gave the famous "What Happens to Nora after She Leaves" speech, laying out for his young audiences the two equally undesirable but very likely outcomes for Nora: to be corrupted by the evils out there or to return and suffer under the same old regime of oppression--unless she gains economic independence and can stand on her own feet. About two years later, in 1925, Lu Xun would personify the dire consequences of love and liberty unsecured with reliable economic resources in his well-known short story "Regretting the Past" (Shangshi).

The young students of the women's college, however, did not want to be corrupted, or forced to go back (if they had already left), or live to regret the choices (for love, dignity, and liberty) they had made. They remained defiant and politically engaged to effect changes. In the years immediately after their historic (albeit not so successful) performance of the Ibsen play, their political engagements and protest movements got so intense that in 1925 the ministry of education of the warlord Duan Qirui's government decided to shut down the college. (29) The government went so far as to recruit physically strong women from rural areas to literally drag or carry the students, two to one each, out of the campus and force them onto busses to be shipped home. Later that year, under the pressure of protests from over three thousand Beijing students, workers, and other residents rallying in support of the students, the government relented and reopened the school.

Indeed, there was never any "misreading" A Doll's House on the part of the government--its subversive subject matter and sociopolitical messages. In 1924, when 26 Drama Society (ershiliu jushe) in Beijing was staging a production of the play, it was interrupted both during the rehearsals and the actual performance (in the YMCA, Beijing) on the excuse that it was immoral to have male and female actors mixing on the same stage. (30) Vehement protests eventually forced the police to give some ground and allow the drama society to perform the first act of the play. Since the play has only one setting (the home of the Helmers) and does not involve change of set design, the actors simply pushed on from act 1 to act 2 to act 3 without the police ever catching on--until the entire performance was over. (31)

About ten years later, in 1935, government officials in Nanjing, capital city of the Nationalist Government (on and off between 1912 and 1949), did not "misread" either the subversive sociopolitical messages embodied in a young elementary school teacher playing the role of Nora on the stage. Wang Ping (1916-90) had grown up in a very strict traditional family. (32) Passionately interested in the theatre, especially the still new Spoken Drama, she joined the amateur Windmill Art Society (mofeng yishe) while a normal school student and was cast in the leading role of Nora for the art society's production of the Ibsen play during the New Year's celebrations. As it happened, Wang Ping's school principal also bought a ticket for one of the performances and recognized her in the role of Nora. Perhaps as much a hypocrite as Torvald Helmer, the principal found the young teacher's role in the play too damaging to the school's reputation and her continued presence at his school too morally corrupting not to act: he fired her. To make matters worse, the education bureau of the City of Nanjing followed the dismissal with an order banning all schools from hiring the young teacher. Stung by the public shame, among other things, Wang Ping's father locked her up in the attic and schemed to marry her off right away. With the help of friends, Wang Ping escaped and began a productive career in acting first and later in film directing (her accolades including some of the best known Chinese films made from the 1940s to the 1980s), therefore giving her own resounding answers to the question "What happens to Nora after she leaves?"

In 1936, the year immediately following the so-called Year of Nora in China, while her new life as a freed Nora had just begun, Wang Ping crossed paths with someone who had recently played the same role, albeit on a much bigger stage. By the time she was about to debut as the latest Chinese Nora in Shanghai, oft-dubbed the Paris of the Orient, Lan Ping had already left home--where she had known her share of ignominy growing up as an illegitimate child, working as a child laborer in a cigarette factory (although for only a few months), and smoldering in an unhappy marriage; had already had her stint in jail for her involvement in Communist organizations; and had already tasted the bitter sweetness of free, romantic love and the exhilarating excitement of the stage. (33) So she was more than ready when opportunities came knocking on the door.

The big poster placed outside the brand new Golden City Theater (jincheng da juyuan) in a foreign concessions area of this most Westernized city in this part of the world bore her name right next to that of Zhao Dan (1915-80), already a big star then and one of the greatest modern Chinese actors. (34) A quote from Lan Ping in the program says that when she first read A Doll's House, she was still a young girl who had no real experience and understanding of the world. It was Nora, who had gradually become her heroine, that had inspired her, and it was her wish that all women who were treated as playthings by men would become Noras and stand up for their dignity. (35) As she would recall many years later to Roxane Witke, an American writer, Lan Ping gave a rather fiery representation of Nora as a woman rebel to the thunderous applause of a 1,780-seat theatre filled to capacity. Applauding thunderously at the end of a show was not something Chinese audiences habitually did back then, as Lan Ping herself observed to Witke. (36)

This production of the Ibsen play had a successful run for two months, and when it was over, this extraordinary Chinese Nora continued to run--from Shanghai to Yenan, the base of the Chinese Communist Party during those difficult years. In 1938 she would assume the real-life role of being the third wife of Mao Zedong (1893-1976), thus embarking on a long march, so to speak, to political stardom as the most powerful as well as most maligned woman in Chinese history since Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908).

Along the way in 1936, the two Chinese Noras would meet on stage in a Chinese adaptation of The Storm, a five-act play by the nineteenth-century Russian playwright Alexander Ostrovsky (1823-86). In this production, Lan Ping, now a rising star, played the leading role of Katia (Katerina), a young married woman who struggles with forbidden love for another man, whereas Wang Ping played her tyrannical mother-in-law Kabonov, who together with her son makes Katia's life a living hell. A bit too earnest in playing her role realistically, perhaps, Wang Ping's Kabonov gave her daughter-in-law such a hard time on stage that Lan Ping would nurse the trauma for a long time to come. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), when at the peak of her power as Madame Mao, Jiang Qing (as Lan Ping had morphed into since her Yenan days) remembered to find her yesteryear tormentor on the stage and have her locked up in jail for three years.

The stories of the two Pings outlined above are only two among many Chinese Noras born from adaptations as well as appropriations into "original" dramatic and fictional works by some of the most important modern Chinese writers. (37) Indeed, during the war-torn decades, there were quite a few other noteworthy performances of A Doll's House. For example, in a 1939 adaptation in Shanghai, not long after the city had fallen to the invading Japanese army, the story was set in the war-scarred city on the New Year's Eve of 1938; all the characters now assumed Chinese names; and its themes became hardships under Japanese occupation. Similarly, in the war-time capital of Congqing, the theme of national liberation was inserted into another adaptation of the Ibsen play by a left-leaning drama society. The Nationalist government censors would not approve the production unless the political theme was cut. The actors agreed to compromise, although during actual performances they managed to restore all that had been cut to satisfy the government censors. (38)

Nora in Her Chinese Husband's Ancestral Land of the 1930s--as Reimagined for the Globalized World Today

By 1998, when the Central Experimental Theater in Beijing was mounting the Chinese-English bilingual adaptation of A Doll's House, Ibsen had been performed in China for over 90 years. Now that women in China, who proverbially hold up half of the sky, enjoy many of the liberties that women only a couple of generations ago could only dream of, how can directors make Nora's fight for dignity relevant today? Or rather, how can they make the "old" Western classic resonant with Spoken Drama audiences of a new era--mostly young people in their twenties and thirties? The answer is to somehow concoct a time-travel scheme and rearrange Nora's marriage so she falls in love with a young Chinese studying in Europe back in the 1930s, marries him, and follows him to his ancestral land far away from home. Suddenly, the century-old story acquires a new life and throbs with refreshing possibilities again.

This time-travel scheme was very much the brainchild of Wu Xiaojiang, the play's director. In the late 1990s, as Wu would recall in an October 2006 interview for a repeat production of the same bilingual adaptation, there was such a sense of a global village and indeed a sort of euphoria that it seemed now so much easier to communicate between China and the outside world. However, his own experience with foreigners in China--many of them long sojourners--tells a different story: Although there are no apparent barriers for them to communicate, he speaking some English and they some Chinese, they fail to connect and understand each other at deeper, more substantive levels, in terms of beliefs and ideas, so much so that they sometimes argue passionately: he finds them "ridiculous" (huangtang) and they find him equally "ludicrous." (39) So in this bilingual production Wu wanted to focus on the difficulty of intercultural communication due to language barriers.

If the inspiration for the bilingual production was his experience in the 1990s, why not put Nora in the China of the living present then? Wouldn't such a production speak to the audiences more directly, hence striking more immediate emotive as well as intellectual chords with the audiences? After all, at this time in Beijing and other big cities in China more than a few "foreign babes" were living in this new land of opportunities, some forming romantic relationships; a handful eventually tying the knots with the locals. (40) Wu, however, felt that the living present is still raw and needs the distance and filter of time, especially with an "old" classic such as the Ibsen play. Putting Nora in the 1930s, Wu explained, would also enable him to introduce more Chinese elements, including scene designs and costumes. Moreover, since the living conditions back then were not as good as today, it would be more challenging for Nora to adapt, thus making her efforts all the more impressive and her failure an even more resounding reminder of the difficulties of intercultural communication.

What Wu Xiaojiang did not include in his explanations was the larger sociopolitical as well as mass-cultural environment that must have found itself into the calculations. This was a time--only eight or nine years after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown--when things began to pick up again, especially after Deng Xiaoping's 1992 Southern Tour, during which Deng, who had just retired from the supreme leadership position, reasserted his reformist platform and commitment to China opening up to the outside world. It was a time when mass culture and entertainment began to resume where it had left off right after 1989, only with a vengeance on a tsunami-like scale. One of the big crosscurrents in this tsunami was the so-called "red classics" {hongse jingdian) and "red themes" {hongse zhuti), old and new films, shows, and songs, etc., celebrating the heroism of the Chinese Communist Party leaders and veterans, especially from its beginning to its eventual victory in the late 1940s, a feverish development enflamed by nostalgia felt by many who found themselves a bit lost in the "get-rich" hustle-and-bustle raging all around them. Another big current in mass entertainment was a frenzied escape to the past, as if there were no today or tomorrow--the distant past such as the Tang or Qing dynasty or the not-so-distant past such as the Republican era. The Qing dynasty, for example, gave the 1990s the sensational hit My Fair Princess (huanzhu gege), a costume drama set in the eighteenth century during the Qianlong Emperor's reign. (41) A revived interest in all things of the decades of War of Resistance against Japan and the Civil War between the Nationalist government and the Communist forces led to the so-called "Republican era fever" (minguo re, minguo feng) that persists to this day--things from fashion to furniture to food to new films and TV shows made about that period, e.g., the 2007 hit movie Lust, Caution. (42) Tossing their manes, so to speak, in these crosscurrents were waves upon waves of pop culture and entertainment products from the West, from fast food to rock 'n' roll and heavy metal to Hollywood blockbusters (haolaiwu dapian) such as Basic Instinct (1992), True Lies (1994), and Saving Private Ryan (1998), vendors of pirated VCD copies of these and other films crowding alleys and sidewalks in just about any city one happened to visit.

Bold as it was, Wu Xiaojiang's bilingual endeavor was a relatively safe bet because it is an old Western classic that would not invite political second-guessing from censors and left-leaning critics and because a reimagined story of a "foreign babe" married into the China of the 1930s would have the benefit of appealing to prospective audiences caught in both the "Republican era fever" and the almost mindless fascination with all things Western. (43) Indeed, casting foreigners in Chinese theatres and films was quite in vogue at the time, and there were quite a few foreigners (trained, talented, or otherwise) in China, especially in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, who were more than willing, although such casting was not completely unproblematic and would sometimes produce a mixed bag of results. (44) It wouldn't hurt in this case, as it happened that the "foreign babe" being cast for the role of Nora was Agnete Haaland (I960-), a well-established Norwegian actor of film, TV, and theatre, who relished the opportunity because she happened to be in Beijing with her Norwegian journalist husband. Indeed, she enjoyed learning to speak Chinese, to sing classic Peking opera, and to cook dishes of her host country, much as Nora did in the reimagined bilingual production. For her intercultural ventures on the Chinese stage, Haaland was rewarded with thunderous applause at the curtain call of each of the many performances and with a reception held in her honor by the then Norwegian ambassador. (45)

Indeed, around this time in China adaptations of Western classics were carrying the day on the stage thanks to the scarcity of good, original native plays. (46) There was The Three Sisters Waiting for Godot, directed by Lin Zhaohua (1936-), a bold director with many accolades. It was a sensational hit that weds two Western classics--Anton Chekhov's The Three Sisters and Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot--into one theatrical event. There was The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht, directed by Chen Yong of the China National Youth Theatre. And about a year before Wu Xiaojiang's experiment, Shanghai Spoken Drama Arts Center, in partnership with Yellow Earth Theater, a London based British company of East Asian artists, had produced an English-Chinese bilingual production of Shakespeare's King Lear, which was well received in Shanghai, Stratford-on-Avon, London, and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. (47) Therefore, it came as no surprise that, with college-educated young people being the bulk of Spoken Drama fans and with the aid of English and Chinese captions projected on the video screen, Wu Xiaojiang's bilingual production of A Doll's House proved quite a hit.

To categorize this production as bilingual is not completely accurate because the leading actors channeling Nora, Han Ermao (Helmer), Ruan Ke (Dr. Rank), Lin Da (Mrs. Linde), and Ke Luotai (Krogstad) respectively are far from being able to communicate competently, let alone connect at a deeper, more substantive level, in both English and Chinese. Therefore, it is quite a theatrical feat for the cast, talented and well accomplished as they each are, to "strut and fret," to borrow from Shakespeare, on the stage, interact with each other, and sometimes engage in rapid-fire verbal exchanges for the duration of the performance. What steals the show, however, as far as entertainment is concerned, is Ke Luotai sprinkling in some Beijing-accented pidgin English whenever he talks to Nora, which he takes care to enunciate ever so deliberately, his tone running the gamut of being deceptively harmless, innocuous, to being desperate and menacing as he plays his cards to save his job--and his family. Indeed, most of the comic relief for this intense and serious "problem play" comes from such encounters between Ke Luotai and Nora in the form of many hearty laughs from the audience, who perhaps recognize in the former the ridiculously pretentious character of "pseudo-foreign devils" (jia yanguizi) that "strut and fret" in the oeuvre of Lu Xun, e.g., The Story of Ah Q, and many other such characters in literary and dramatic works as well as in real life.

One of the most amazing and provocative aspects of this adaptation, however, is its interjection of classic Chinese opera into this contemporary, albeit sinicized, version of a Western classic. As alluded to earlier, the play opens with a young Chinese actress, upstage, in full dan costume singing a classic Peking opera song:
Ever since I began to accompany the King [Da wang] in his wars to
conquer east and west, I have suffered winds, frosts, and other
hardships year in and year out. I have no regrets but single-minded
hatred for the ruthless Qin [Emperor] who had slaughtered lives like
grass, and inflicted endless misery upon ordinary folks.

This is a "slow singing fast accompaniment" (yaoban) aria from Farewell, My Concubine (bawang bieji), a classic Peking opera created in the early twentieth century based on the tragic love story of the legendary warrior Xiang Yu and his loyal and beautiful consort Yu Ji from the Warring States period (475 and 221 BC). (48) It was a staple in the repertoire of Mei Lanfang, whose performance as Yu Ji remains one of the best to date, and the inspiration for the 1993 Academy award nominated film of the same title directed by Chen Kaige.

This Peking Opera overture, slow and smooth singing accompanied by fast-rhythmed, somewhat urgent playing of the two-stringed jingerhu, creates an uneasy tension, a foreshadowing of sorts for the play. As the Nora/Han Ermao story unfolds, center stage, in spotlight, the warrior/consort story moves ahead too, albeit mostly in the background, thus providing an interesting narrative frame and a provocative intercultural comment and indeed counterpoint to the main story as Nora and Han Ermao struggle, to no avail, to keep intact the myth of their love for each other. In the meantime, intended by Wu Xiaojiang or not, by the mere fact of being interjected into the story of a Western classic as an intercultural interlocutor, the assumptions behind the classic Chinese story get interrogated too. If Nora, in defiance of her father's wishes, chooses to marry a "poor" Chinese student who has little to offer and follows him to his ancestral home of the 1930s to bear the "winds and frosts" of poor China (although by living standards back then the couple enjoys a comfortable bourgeois life), will Han Ermao prove worthy of that kind of love and sacrifice? Is Yu Ji, a well beloved woman in both history and opera representations, who chooses to die for love and honor, a victim of sorts too when compared to what her Western sister chooses to do for herself?

Toward the end of act 1, when Nora asks Han Ermao to keep Ke Luotai at the bank, Han gets annoyed, telling her to forget her Western ideas of equality and try instead to be a "good domestic help" (xianneizhu), a Chinese near equivalent for the Victorian concept of "Angel in the House." Ke Luotais reputation, Han says, has been tarnished by a fraudulent act he committed in the past, although, as Nora points out, Han wants to fire Ke for a more personal reason. This is the moment when Nora begins to feel the pettiness of her husband and to doubt his love for her, although she still hopes for a miracle. At this juncture in the play, another Peking opera aria, sung by the same Chinese actress upstage, is interjected into the theatrical event, offering a chorus-like comment on whether their love could survive the test of the looming crisis.

As the crisis intensifies in act 2 to the point where Han Ermao goes to the mailbox to retrieve the devastating letter Ke Luotai has sent him, Nora has to improvise and act quickly to stop him in his tracks. So she asks her husband, frantically, to help her rehearse once again a Peking opera aria she has been preparing for the New Year's Eve party. This time, Haaland/Nora sings the aria herself, with clear enunciation despite her European accent, as Han sits down and cheers along:
Han troops've already taken their positions, All around us resound Chu
songs of lament, When Your Majesty have exhausted your might, How on
earth can your humble concubine survive?

In the classic Peking opera this is sung by Yu Ji in response to Xiang Yu's famous "The Song of Gaixia" when it becomes abundantly clear that he is doomed and that there is no way to avoid or reverse what fate has in store for him:
My might plucked up the mountains, My mind enwrapped the world over.
But the times are against me now, Even my precious horse runs no more.
When my precious horse runs no more, What more on earth can I do then?
Oh, Yu Ji, Yu Ji What should I do with you then? (49)

What Yu Ji sings is a "cry lovesickness" tune (ku xiangsi) in classical Chinese musicology, a gut-wrenching song as rendered by Mei Lanfang and other accomplished Peking opera actors. Both Xiang Yu and Yu Ji know at this time that whatever love they have enjoyed for each other is coming to an end, so they are bidding their life-and-death farewell to each other. Yu Ji s song shakes Xiang Yu to the core. In the bilingual production under discussion, Haaland/Nora sings the same song and rehearses the dance in an overly (melo)dramatic, almost comical manner (intended or due to Haaland being still a novice in the art of Peking opera). There is not the same emotive intensity evoked by Yu Ji in the Peking opera, as performed by Mei Lanfang and others--despite the highly stylized acting. The forced festivity (or levity) on the surface can barely hide the trouble gathering underneath and Nora's desperate measure can only postpone for the time being the crisis that is bound to happen.

Having made a fatal mistake by not taking Yu Ji's wise council against launching an inopportune attack on the much superior besieging army from the State of Han, Xiang Yu suffers a crushing, irreversible defeat. Now, right before attempting to break a bloody path out of the besieged city, Xiang Yu suggests, out of love, anguish, and perhaps jealousy, that Yu Ji should consider surrendering to Liu Bang, king of Han, and becoming Liu's woman because he will not be able to take her along and take care of her. Yu Ji is enraged by the mere idea:
What're you talking about, My King? As the old saying goes: just as a
loyal servant will never serve two masters, so an honorable woman will
never marry two men. My King is pursuing grand destiny between heaven
and earth, so how can you be burdened with your humble concubine? Your
humble concubine is willing to do the ultimate to repay the kindness
and love you've bestowed on me.

Close to the end of act 3 in the Ibsen story as reimagined in the bilingual production, when the miracle she has been hoping for does not happen, Haaland/Nora kneels there, downstage, her face--her entire being--a vivid picture of the perfect storm raging inside her as she struggles to make up her mind. That emotively charged living tableau is accented by Yu Ji, behind her, upstage, who struggles with a lethal decision of her own as she paces and dances frenziedly--accompanied by ever faster, more urgent notes gushing from the strings of the jingerhu. No singing is necessary at this very moment. No speech is needed. The two women, one from China's long historical past (as reimagined by way of a classical Peking opera) and one from a Western classic transplanted into the heartland of a country and culture far away from her own (as reimagined in Wu Xiaojiang's bilingual production), now face the same existential crisis of a lifetime. One chooses to stick to her King, to prove her love and loyalty, and to keep her honor by killing herself after dancing a last, heartrending dance for him. One chooses to leave--to begin anew for herself.

Is Nora's decision equally suicidal, essentially martyring herself for her modern Western sense of honor--dignity, individuality, and equality? What will happen to Nora, a young foreign woman, after she leaves the fantasy love nest she has been living in for years and ventures out into the "real" world of the China of the 1930s? Will she be corrupted by the evils out there, crushed, or forced to return to her husband and children? Is there a third, more viable way for her because of who and what she is--some hope of striking out a new career path (other than that of wife and mother), e.g., as a teacher, a newspaper reporter, a translator/interpreter, etc.?

As it turns out, Han Ermao fails to do the honorable thing to save Nora (and to save their love) as she did years ago to save his life out of love. Educated in Europe, Han may have flirted with the modern idea of freedom and equality. However, whatever Western education he has received proves to be no more than skin deep. On her part, despite her genuine and admirable efforts to learn and adopt the culture of her husband's ancestral land, Nora remains essentially her "old" modern European self, as Han declares toward the end of the play: "You're a foreign wife after all." Ironically, the difficulty of cultural transformation is also born out in the "real" world by Hu Shi who was instrumental in introducing Ibsen to China. For all the Western education he had received, his enlightened mind, and his trailblazing endeavors in matters of ideas and literature, Hu proved a filial Chinese son by agreeing to marry the semi-illiterate woman his parents had chosen for him when he was still a young boy. Hu stuck to this loveless marriage to the very end.

It would seem unfair, though, to lay the Nora/Han Ermao failure completely at the door of language barriers and intercultural differences. Han Ermao's failure is also very much a personal one. When his love is put to such a test, when the moment of truth comes, Han would have failed anyway, regardless of whether his wife is Chinese or European. Language barriers and cultural differences only serve to further complicate the challenge of human communication. Even if Nora, Han Ermao, or for that matter, Wu Xiaojiang and his foreign friends had achieved near-native fluency in each other's languages, would that solve the problem or make it any less?

Han's failure is not uniquely Chinese either. There has been no lack of "Han Ermaos" in the West too--if one is to believe the stories told by Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Hardy, and the Bronte sisters, to mention just a few.

Is Nora herself blameless for the failed marriage? She has played along long enough until this "doll house," this pretense, this make-believe, cannot sustain itself any more. To her credit, though, once waking up from the falsehood, she gathers enough courage to face the truth and do something about it.

In contrast, Yu Ji, her Chinese sister and theatrical interlocutor, chooses to sacrifice herself for her man. Her story, as told in the classic Peking opera, has won the hearts of generations of the Chinese. Is the "glory" Yu Ji has enjoyed, if interrogated from a feminist point of view, a product of some sort of male fantasy? Is she, somehow, a victim of the old "honor code" of a patriarchy that says that honorable women should never marry twice while rich, powerful men, such as Xiang Yu and countless others in Chinese history, can take as many wives and concubines as they fancy (although apparently no other women have been written into the Xiang Yu/Yu Ji story)?

This line of (mis)reading, i.e., Nora also serving as a counterpoint and critique to the celebrated character of Yu Ji, intended by Wu Xiaojiang or not, adds another intriguing layer of significance to this bilingual production of the Ibsen play. Indeed, there is no missing or mistaking the two-way, dialogic tensions reverberating profitably between the hypo- and hypertexts, to borrow from Gerard Genette. And the cultures that have engendered the two texts and many variations in between are quite a bit richer for it.

Western Connecticut State University


(1) Description and discussion of this bilingual production A Doll's House (Wanou zhijia) is based on an official video recording originally available at and accessed via (a Chinese equivalent of

(2) See Elisabeth Eide, China's Ibsen: From Ibsen to Ibsenism (London: Curzon Press, 1987); Kwok-kan Tam, Ibsen in China 1908-1997: A Critical Annotated Bibliography of Criticism, Translation and Performance (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2001); and Kwok-kan Tam, Terry Siu-han Yip, and Frode Helland, eds., Ibsen and the Modern Self (Hong Kong: Open University of Hong Kong Press, 2010); Chengzhou He, Henrik Ibsen and Modern Chinese Drama (Trondheim: Akademika Publishing, 2004); and "Interculturalism in the Theatre and Chinese Performances of Ibsen," Ibsen Studies 9 (2009): 119-35.

(3) See Wang Ning, "Reconstructing Ibsen as an Artist: A Theoretical Reflection on the Reception of Ibsen in China," Ibsen Studies 3 (2003): 71-85; Chen Aimin,"Nuxingzhuyi, gerenzhuyi, haishi zibenzhuyi? Tang dui yibosheng 'Wanou zhijia'de wudu" (Feminism, Individualism, or Capitalism? On Misreadings of Ibsen's A Doll's House), Waiguo wenxue yanjiu (Foreign Literature Review) 6 (2009): 128-33; Song Jianhua, "Dongshi xiao pin: Lun zhongguo xiandai wenxue xushi zhong de 'nala'xianxiang" (Ugly Eastern Woman Imitating Sick Western Beauty: On the "Nora" Phenomena in Modern Chinese Literature), Fujian luntan (Fujian Forums), Humanities and Social Science Edition 10 (2011): 44-53; and Wang Tongxing, "Lun wusi dui yibosheng xiju de wudu" (On May Fourth Misreading of Ibsen Plays), Juzuojia (Playwrights) 4 (2011): 91-97.

(4) As expounded, for example, in Paul de Man, Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979); J. Hillis Miller, "Walter Pater: A Partial Portrait," Daedalus 105, no. 1 (Winter 1976): 97-113; and "The Critic as Host," Critical Inquiry 3 (1977): 439-47.

(5) See Edward Said, "Traveling Theory," in The Edward Said Reader, ed. Moustafa Bayoumi and Andrew Rubin (New York: Random House, 2000), 205.

(6) Graham Allen, Intertextuality, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2011), 130-32.

(7) Recent Chinese productions of other Ibsen plays, e.g., An Enemy of the People, The Master Builder, Ghosts, Peer Gynt, Hedda Gabler, and The Lady from the Sea, are the subject for another article under review for publication by another journal.

(8) Tam, Ibsen in China, 34-35.

(9) Ying Xi," Yibosheng xiju zai zhongguo heshi kaishi shangyan" (When Ibsen's Plays Were First Staged in China), Zhongguo xiandai wenxue yanjiu (Modern Chinese Literature Research) 2 (2003): 10.

(10) Hu Shi, "Yiboshen zhuyi," in Xianshi zhuyi pipan: Yibosheng zai zhongguo (Critical Study of Realism: Ibsen in China), Chen Chun and Liu Hongtao, eds. (Nanchang: Jiangxi Higher Education Press, 2009), 23-32. Unless otherwise noted, all translations of and from Chinese sources, both primary and secondary, are mine.

(11) This issue also included a biographical introduction of Ibsen and translations of two other Ibsen plays, An Enemy of the People and Little Eyolf

(12) Hu Shi, "Yiboshen zhiyi," 30.

(13) Ibid., 32.

(14) Bernard Shaw, The Quintessence of Ibsenism (New York: Dover Publications, 1904), vii-3.

(15) Shaw, Quintessence, 4.

(16) The repression of the Chinese women under the much "celebrated" virtues of loyalty, obedience, industry, and unselfish sacrifice reminds one of their European sisters who had been put on the pedestal of idealized femininity "celebrated" in such works as Coventry Patmore's long poem "The Angel in the House" (1854), only that they seemed to have fared worse and that "liberation" came to them much later. This portion of discussion draws from Shouhua Qi, Western Literature in China and the Translation of a Nation (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 79-82.

(17) See Zhang Chuntian, "Fanyi de zhengzhi yu jieshou de keneng: wusi qimeng huayu zhong de wanou zhijia" (Politics of Translation and The Possibility of Reception: A Doll's House in the May Fourth Enlightenment Discourse), Yunmeng Xuekan (Journal of Yunmeng) 29, no. 4 (July 2008): 103-7.

(18) Unhappily married, Qiu Jin (1875-1907) left her hometown in Xiamen, Fujian Province and traveled to Japan to study. There she joined the anti-Qing movements. Upon returning, Qiu Jin started a women's magazine to promote women's independence through education and professional training and to encourage them to resist oppression from social institutions such as family, arranged marriage, government, and foot-binding. During a failed uprising in 1907, Qiu Jin was arrested and beheaded soon after. A feminist known for wearing Western male dress as well as her fiery, uncompromising sprit and eloquence in her essays and poetry, Qiu Jin seems an apt Chinese answer to George Sand (1804-76) and others.

(19) Shaw, Quintessence, 69; perhaps Shaw meant this statement both artistically and morally.

(20) See Yuan Yingyi," 'Nala' xingxiangde chongsu zai hanguo wuchanjieji wenxue zhong de zuoyong: Lun Cai Wanzhi de Zouchu wanou zhijia hou" (The Role of Nora as Reconstructed in South Korean Proletarian Literature: A Study of Cai Wanzhi's After Leaving the Doll's House), Dongbeiya waiyu yanjiu (Northeast Asia Foreign Languages Research) 2 (2015): 41-46; Annette Andersen, "Ibsen in America," Scandinavian Studies and Notes 14 (1937): 63-109,115-55; Olav K. Lundeberg, "Ibsen in France: A Study of the Ibsen Drama, Its Introduction, Vogue and Influence on the French Stage," Scandinavian Studies and Notes 8 (1924): 93-107; and C. R. Decker, "Ibsen's Literary Reputation and Victorian Taste," Studies in Philology 32 (1935): 632-45. For tensions between the feminist and art camps' reading of Ibsen, particularly A Doll's House, see Joan Templeton, "The Doll House Backlash: Criticism, Feminism, and Ibsen," PMLA 104 (1989): 28-40. See Erika Fischer-Lichte, Barbara Gronau, and Christel Weiler, eds., Global Ibsen: Performing Multiple Modernities (New York: Routledge, 2011) for studies of Ibsen adaptations in America, the Antipodes, Canada, Japan, etc., and use of Ibsen for political causes. See also Sun Jian and Frode Helland, eds., Ibsen Across Cultures (Shanghai: Fudan University Press, 2012).

(21) See Barbara Gronau, "An Enemy of the People as a 'Trojan Horse': Frank Castorf Stages Ibsen in the German Democratic Republic 1988," in Global Ibsen, 215-24.

(22) This portion of the discussion draws from Tarn, Ibsen in China, 196-210.

(23) For a brief history of Peking Normal College for Women, see ( is a Chinese online encyclopedia similar to Wikipedia both in concept and in editorial practices)

(24) This is a Chinese rendition by Pan Jiaxun (1896-1989), who began to translate Ibsen (Ghosts), Oscar Wilde (Lady Windermere's Fan), and Bernard Shaw (Mrs. Warren's Profession) while still a student in the foreign languages department of Peking University and published his translations in 1919 in the university magazine New Tides (Xinchao). A Doll's House was one of five Ibsen plays he translated and published with Shanghai Commercial Press 1921 to 1923.

(25) In 1907 the Qing government issued a decree on female education signifying the lawful status of girls' schools in China although it was limited to elementary, middle, and normal schools. The first women's colleges in China were established by Western missionaries, e.g., North China Union Women's College and West China Women's College (1908), and Jinling Women's College (1915). In 1919 the Nationalist Government issued laws to make women eligible for higher education and established a women's college in Beijing. See " Woguo nuzi daxue de lishi, xianzhuang he weilai" (Past, Present, and Future of Women's Colleges in Our Country),

(26) This portion of discussion draws from Zhang Zhongliang, Xueshu shimao de xianjing (Pitfalls of Scholarship Fads) (Taipei: Showwe Information Co, 2006), 88-89; Chen Chun and Liu Hongtao, Xianshi zhuyi pipan: Yibosheng zai zhongguo (Critical Study of Realism: Ibsen in China) (Nanchang: Jiangxi Higher Education Press, 2009); and Zhang Chuntian, Sixiang shi shiye zhong de Nala: Wusi qianhou de nuxing jiefang huayu (Nala from the Perspective of Intellectual History: The Women's Liberation Discourse Before and After the May Fourth) (Hong Kong: Xinshuo Wenchuang Press, 2013), 24.

(27) See Arthur Miller, Salesman in Beijing (New York: Vikings Press, 1984).

(28) English translations are based on quotes in Zhang Chuntian, Sixiangshi shiye zhongde Nala, 24.

(29) Duan Qirui (1865-1936) was a warlord and commander of the Beiyang Army who served as Premier of the newly established Republic of China (1916-20) and its Provisional Chief Executive (1924-26).

(30) What was at work here was probably the millennia-old Confucian ideology "Nan nu shou shou bu qin" (No direct give and take between men and women) that admonished against direct social interaction between the sexes.

(31) Tarn, Ibsen in China, 198.

(32) See "Wang Ping,"

(33) See Ye Yonglie, Jiang Qing Zhuan (Biography of Jiang Qing) (Beijing: Zuojia Press, 1993); and Roxane Witke, Comrade Chiang Ch'ing (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1977).

(34) See Ye, Chapter 4 "Mingxing shengya" (Career of a Rising Star) in Jiang Qing Zhuan; and Witke, Chapter 4 "Left Wing to Stage Center" in Comrade Chiang Ch'ing, 95-115.

(35) Tarn, Ibsen in China, 203-4.

(36) Witke, Comrade Chiang Ch'ing, 101-2.

(37) For a full treatment of the subject, see Shuei-May Chang, Casting off the Shackles of Family: Ibsen's Nora Figure in Modern Chinese Literature 1918-1942 (New York: Peter Lang, 2004).

(38) Tam, Ibsen in China, 201-2.

(39) Bai Ying, "Dang Nala jia dao zhongguo: Yibosheng de Wanou zhijia fupai, yi ying han shuangyu yanchu" (When Nora is Married to China: An English-Chinese Bilingual Reproduction of Ibsen's A Doll's House), Liaowang (Searchlight) News Weekly (October 9, 2006): 60.

(40) See Rachel DeWoskin, Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China (New York: Norton, 2006), which tells the story of the author's intercultural experiences and romantic involvements living in Beijing 1994 through 1999--mostly as the leading actress in a Chinese soap opera titled Foreign Babes in Beijing (Yangniu zai Beijing).

(41) See "My Fair Princess," last modified October 5, 2016,

(42) See "Lust, Caution," last modified October 6, 2016,,_Caution.

(43) To be fair, since Death Visiting the Living (Yige sizhe dui shengzhe de fangwen), a 1985 play that challenged the hitherto accepted concept of heroism in China, Wu Xiaojiang has directed quite a few plays that are bold both in confronting social realities and in artistic experimentations.

(44) See Claire Conceison, "International Casting in Chinese Plays: A Tale of Two Cities," Theatre Journal 53 (2001): 277-90.

(45) Xian Jihua, "Fupai jingdian: Zhongyang shiyan huajuyuan shuangyu paiyan wanou zhijia" (Reproducing the Classic: Central Experimental Theater Reproducing a Bilingual Adaptation of A Doll's House), Xiju zhijia (Home of Theater) (1995), 53-54.

(46) See Mu Qian, "Foreign Plays Fill Vacuum," China Daily (April 16, 1998)

(47) See "Three Sisters Waiting for Godot in Beijing," Playbill (April 8, 1998), See also Shi Qingjing, Samuel Beckett on Chinese Stage (1964-2011): A Study of Intercultural Performances (Tianjin: Nankai University Press, 2015), 85-98.

(48) The 250 years between 475 and 221 BC is called the Warring States Period because of the wars between and among several states (guo) for dominance, including Qin, Han, Wei, Zhao, Qi, Chu (Xiang Yu is known as Chu Bawang), and Yan. The long war concluded with the Qin state's victory in 221 BC and the emergence of the first unified Chinese empire known as the Qin dynasty.

(49) My rendition is based on the translation by Burton Watson, in John Minford and Joseph S. M. Lau, eds., Classical Chinese Literature: An Anthology of Translations, vol. 1, From Antiquity to the Tang Dynasty (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 415.
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Title Annotation:Henrik Ibsen
Author:Qi, Shouhua
Publication:Comparative Drama
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Dec 22, 2016
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