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  • Chinese Shakespeares: Two Centuries of Cultural Exchange
  • Siyuan Liu
Chinese Shakespeares: Two Centuries of Cultural Exchange. By Alexander C. Y. Huang. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. 368 pp. 26 illus. Cloth, $84.50 (ISBN 978-0-231-14848-1); paper, $26.50 (ISBN 978-0-231-14849-8).

The topic of Shakespeare and China has attracted a great deal of scholarly attention in recent years, resulting in such monographs as Xiaoyang Zhang's Shakespeare in China: A Comparative Study of Two Traditions and Cultures (Newark: University of Delaware Press 1996), Ruru Li's Shashibiya: Staging Shakespeare in China (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press 2003), and Murray J. Levith's Shakespeare in China (London: Continuum 2004). Alexander Huang's latest addition, Chinese Shakespeares: Two Centuries of Cultural Exchange, blends historical and metacritical analysis that uses case studies to establish a new critical framework in Shakespeare studies. Huang seeks to move away from what he calls "fidelity-derived discourse about cultural ownership" (p. 18) that judges a local Shakespearean work by its proximity to its source or target culture. Instead, he proposes a locality criticism that "focus[es] on the varied and often paradoxical articulations of Shakespeare and China and the tension between their varied localities, emphasizing the cultural space between Shakespeare and China and sustains a heavily trafficked two-way exchange" (p. 34). As such, he rejects the formulation of "Shakespeare in China" and argues that the margin—the so-called foreign Shakespeares—has become the center. His "Chinas" refers to various ideological positions, geocultural locations, and historical periods; his "Shakespeares refer to not only the works but also the reputation and values associated with William Shakespeare" (p. 40). Consequently, his case studies examine Chinese Shakespeares in the Sinophone world as "a transformative process…, as cultural practice…, as texts…, and as performances" (p. 39). [End Page 172]

After a prologue and the first chapter ("Owning Chinese Shakespeares"), which establish his theoretical framework, the remaining six chapters of the book are structured roughly chronologically. His case studies in each chapter are not meant to be representative works of the era but those that substantiate an aspect of his metacriticism. Thus, chapter 2, titled "Shakespeare in Absentia: The Genesis of an Obsession," is focused on the genesis of China's obsession on Shakespeare, using sources mostly from the second half of the nineteenth century before any Shakespearean play was translated or staged. Chapter 3, "Reshaping Moral Criticism: Charles and Mary Lamb, Lin Shu, and Lao She," focuses on Lin Shu's 1904 rewriting of the Lambs' Tales from Shakespeare and Lao She's mid 1930s short story "New Hamlet" as examples of moralistic and allegorical reading of Shakespeare that was impacted by his initial image in China. Chapter 4, "Silent Film and Early Theater: Performing Womanhood and Cosmopolitanism," focuses on the cases of silent film adaptations of The Merchant of Venice and Two Gentlemen of Verona to examine the rising power of the new women and two huaju (spoken drama) productions in Shanghai—an elaborate Romeo and Juliet in prewar 1937 and localized Macbeth in 1945 shortly before the end of Japanese occupation—as examples of cosmopolitanism determined by varying circumstances. Chapter 5, "Site-Specific Readings: Confucian Temple, Labor Camp, and Soviet-Chinese Theater," offers the provocative notion that "the subject matter of a play is not necessarily always the reason for the choice of the play"; the specific geopolitical site itself is. It is supported by three cases in politically charged times: Jiao Juyin's wartime (1942) production of Hamlet in a Confucian temple, English professor Wu Ningkun's reading of Hamlet during the Cultural Revolution, and the staging of Much Ado about Nothing by a Soviet expert in 1957 and its revivals in 1961 and 1979. In chapter 6, "Why Does Everyone Need Chinese Opera?" Huang challenges the overemphasis on the visuality of traditional Chinese theatre (xiqu) while ignoring its textuality through the detailed analysis of a 1983 jingju (Beijing opera) production of Othello that followed line-by-line translation of selected passages as well as Westernized setting and makeup, including the use of black face. Chapter 7, "Disowning Shakespeare and China," addresses the issue of "exchange...