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SHAW The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies 23 (2003) 155-166

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A Fabian Socialist in Socialist China

Wendi Chen

G. B. Shaw was first introduced to China by a number of progressive intellectuals and social reformers in 1918. In the pre-1949 years, that is, before the establishment of the socialist People's Republic of China (PRC), Shaw had been respected primarily as an audacious iconoclast and witty satirist firing away at conventional thinking. In the post-1949 years, when literature and art were strictly subordinate to political interests, Shaw was chiefly valued as a socialist writer attacking the evils of the capitalist system. Hence he was believed to have much to offer to the New China. In 1956, the young regime staged a grand commemoration honoring Shaw's 100th birthday. The cultural bureaucracy orchestrated a variety of activities—conferences, performances, special exhibitions, and publication of his translated work.

Looking closely at the 1956 Shaw celebrations, one notices that it was not so much Shaw the Western dramatist but Shaw the Socialist who was being feted. Shaw was conveniently employed by the Chinese cultural authorities to serve several related purposes: (1) to propagandize the superiority of socialism over capitalism during the Cold War; (2) to promote the Hundred Flowers campaign; (3) to provide an example for Chinese writers with bourgeois backgrounds, and (4) to assist Chinese cultural authorities in creating a favorable international image of China by extending China's literary repertoire beyond Soviet literature. As far as China was concerned, Shaw was evidently a man for all seasons. After serving as an inspiration to the 1920s new thinkers, then as a defiant force against imperialist aggression in the 1930s, Shaw was now regarded as a close ally to socialist countries in the Cold War period. [End Page 155]

Centenary Celebration of Shaw's Birth in 1956

The major official event took place on the evening of 26 July 1956, in the big ballroom at the Beijing Hotel, where more than one thousand people assembled for official speeches and performances. Many distinguished political leaders, as well as writers, artists, and foreign diplomats, were present. Mao Dun, director of the World Peace Council, and also president of the All-China Writers Association, delivered the opening address. He praised Shaw's plays and emphasized Shaw's personal contacts with China, saying: "The Chinese people deeply love Shaw's comedies, so full of intelligent political discussion and bitter satire. During his lifetime this playwright also had some personal contact with the Chinese people." 1 A reference to Shaw's meeting with Lu Xun could not possibly be omitted from this occasion. It was not merely a meeting of two well-known writers, but a symbol of friendship between progressive thinkers of the East and West. Tian Han, president of the Chinese Dramatists Association, gave a speech entitled "Learn from the Great Masters of the Realist Drama." He reviewed the influence that Ibsen and Shaw exerted over the modern Chinese drama. 2 After the speeches, excerpts from The Apple Cart and Mrs Warren's Profession were performed by students from the Beijing Cinema Actors' Troupe and the Central Academy of Dramatic Art, two prestigious institutions for training actors in China.

Other commemorative activities included a conference sponsored jointly by the Beijing Library, the equivalent of the Library of Congress in the United States, and the Beijing Working People's Cultural Palace. The Beijing Library also staged a special exhibition, displaying photos, books, and essays written by and about both Shaw and Ibsen, two Western dramatists greatly revered by the Chinese cultural authorities of the time. Outside Beijing, in Shanghai, Tianjin, and Shengyang, similar activities took place. This occasion also saw the publication of a three-volume Selected Plays of Bernard Shaw by the People's Publishing House, the most prestigious official publisher in the country. 3 Before 1956, fifteen of Shaw's plays had already been published in Chinese translation, several of them in multiple versions. However, this was the most serious and systematic effort on the part of the Chinese to publish Shaw...


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