East of West pp 125-140 | Cite as

The Making of a Revolutionary Stage: Chinese Model Theatre and Its Western Influences

  • Xiaomei Chen


Until recently, literary and cultural critics of Chinese theatre would never have imagined in their wildest dreams that the study of “modern revolutionary model plays” (geming yangbanxi)—the only form of literature and art officially promoted during the ten years of the Cultural Revolution in China—could attain significance comparable to that associated with the study of Shakespearean plays, which obtained prominence even in non-Western countries. As those countries formed their own literary traditions, they looked toward the Occident—and therefore, by definition, toward the canon—for literary and artistic criteria. When China, from 1980 to 1982, hastened to resume the production of Shakespearean plays after the death of Mao, it saw justification in the high art of the Renaissance for denouncing the low art, the non-art, or the pseudo-art of the revolutionary model theatre, which was devalued as political propaganda of the worst kind.1 China’s obsession with Shakespeare at a time of national crisis and of new nation/state building in early post-Mao China presents an interesting reversal of what Stephen Greenblatt terms “marvelous possession,” the European stratagem of co-opting non-European peoples by taking possession of their properties, which Greenblatt identifies as a feature of the Age of Discovery.2 In the Chinese case, Shakespearean plays and the aesthetic values they supposedly embodied, that is, the “wonder of the old world,” stimulated the revival of the Chinese people’s own culture in the post-Mao era.


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© Claire Sponsler and Xiaomei Chen 2000

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  • Xiaomei Chen

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