“Encountering Shakespeare’s Plays in the Sinophone World”
A New Literary History of Modern China, ed. David Der-wei Wang (Harvard University Press, 2017), 924-930. DOI: 10.4159/9780674978898-159
On June 26, 2011, during a three-day visit to Britain China’s premier Wen Jiaobao visited the birthplace of Shakespeare. The event drew much media attention. He alluded to his boyhood love of Shakespeare in his speech to British Prime Minister David Cameron. Wen’s state visit was planned with the goal of projecting China’s newly acquired soft power, but international economic relations and political capital were also at stake. British Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was blunt: “I am hoping that a billion Chinese might see some pictures on their TV of their premier coming and visiting the birthplace of Shakespeare” and flock to Britain in droves.
Art is political. The cultural capital of Shakespeare is evoked in tandem with Chinese modernity. As in other areas of the arts, the involvement of nation states helped to reconfigure the relationships between Chinese, Sinophone, British, and global localities.
This chapter shows how Shakespearean themes and characterization enriched, challenged, and changed Chinese-language theaters and genres. Surveying two centuries of cultural exchange, with a focus on Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China (the Sinophone world), this chapter tells the story of how Chinese and Sinophone Shakespeares have become strangers at home.