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Uncle Tom's Cabin and Modern Chinese Drama WALTER 1. MESERVE and RUTH I. MESERVE • MODERN DRAMA IN CHINA, according to Chinese drama historians, dates from mid-1907.1 It was at this time that a group of Chinese students studying in 1apan produced a play version of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Six years previously Lin Shu2 (1852-1924) and WeiLi had translated Mrs. Stowe's novel under the title The Negro Slave Sighs to Heaven. Reacting to the Sino-1apanese War of 1894, the exclusion of Chinese from the American continent, and, indeed, the depressed condition of the Chinese people, the translators saw both a political and a humanitarian purpose in this work. As Lin Shu wrote in an epilogue to the work, "[we] have translated this novel not because we wish to show our gift for relating sad stories and to evoke the reader's tears without justification, but rather because the approaching shadow of slavery over our race has impelled usio sound a note of warning to the public.,,3 Tokyo in 1907 was the "headquarters-in-exile" of the new revolutionary party led by Sun Vat-sen. That same year Chinese students in Tokyo organized the Spring Willow Society, China's first modern drama company. In rebellion against their past, they looked to the West for inspiration in drama and theatre rather than perform their own traditional opera and drama. After they had successfully produced La Traviata and Dumas fils' La dame aux camelias, they decided to adapt Uncle Tom's Cabin because it seemed to reflect the resistance to national oppression which deeply concerned them. The two adapters, Tseng Hsiao-chu and Li Hsi-hsiang, created a five-act play4 with the Chinese title, The Negro Slave Sighs to Heaven. Put into rehearsal for three months and produced on 1une 1, 2, 3, 1907, at the Hongojar (Hongo-za) Opera House in Tokyo, it was the first full-length modern play ever produced by the Chinese. An ambitious undertaking, the play required that some actors. perform in more than one role, and there were many 57 58 WALTER J. AND RUTH 1. MESERVE spectacular scenes, some departing from Mrs. Stowe's novel, such as the grand ball scene with Japanese, Indians, and Koreans in their native costumes.s As both Tsao Yu (b.1910) and Tien Han(b.1898), major dramatists in modern China, have stated, these productions in Tokyo mark the beginnings of modern drama in China - an introduction to plays with plots and dialogue, scenes and acts, realistic decor and lighting, plays mirroring contemporary life or founded on historical fact. To many people in 1907 it was obvious that the Chinese needed a new way of looking at life. It became equally clear why both the French and American plays found receptive audiences at this time among the Chinese. Nearly thirty years6 later Tsao Yu explained the situation: "In La dame aux camelias we found our plight reflected in the same bonds of narrow matrimonial conventions, while in Uncle Tom's Cabin we were sincerely sympathetic because we knew by bitter experience the sufferings and humiliations of an oppressed race." It was not, Tsao Yu stated, a simple coincidence that Uncle Tom's Cabin had been performed. . Soon after the Tokyo performance of The 1Vegra Slave Sighs to Heaven some members of the Spring Willow Society returned to China where, in Shanghai, they helped form what might be termed a second Spring Willow Society. The remaining original members, including the two adapters of Uncle Tom's Cabin and a principal actor, Ouyang Yu-chien (1888-1962), who was to play a major role in the 1957 Communist revival of the play, remained in Tokyo where they brought out Tasca the following New Year's Day. In China, however, Shanghai was the right place to initiate modern drama. Three years previously, in 1904, a new approach to theatre had first been tried at the Shanghai Lyceum Theatre by Wang Chung-sheng, but the attempt had been short-lived. With the appearance of the Shanghai Spring Willow Society, Wang and Jen Tien-chih staged Uncle Tom's Cabin for a month in the autumn of...


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