A Cruel World: Boundary-Crossing and Exile in The Great Going Abroad

  • Claire Conceison


Both the storyline of the 1991 play Da liuyang (The Great Going Abroad) and the story of its production are narratives of the dangers and exhilaration of border crossing.1 In the play, as in its production process, boundaries are contested through adventures of great risk, yielding both tragedy and triumph. In keeping with Una Chaudhuri’s definition of geopathology as “the characterization of place as problem”2 and her identification of protagonists of contemporary drama as displaced subjects inclusive of exiles, immigrants, and refugees, The Great Going Abroad presents the geopathic trauma of exile through its protagonist—and he, in turn, embodies the internal exile of his bold and daring creators, Wang Gui and Wang Peigong.


Cultural Revolution Economic Campaign Chinese Citizen Identity Crisis Birthday Party 
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  1. 2.
    Una Chaudhuri, Staging Place: The Geography of Modern Drama (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  2. 11.
    Wang Gui supervised as executive director the Shanghai People’s Art Theatre production of W.M. directed by Hu Xuehua. For more on W.M. and the controversy it generated, see Tom Moran, Down from the Mountains, Back from the Villages: Wang Peigong’s WM (M.A. thesis: Cornell University, 1988) or Yan Haiping’s critical introduction to the anthology Theater and Society (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1998), which also includes Moran’s translation of the play.Google Scholar
  3. For the script published in Chinese along with reprinted concurrent critical commentary,see Li Haiquan, ed., Yon zhengyi de huaju juben xuanji (Selected Controversial playscripts) (Beijing: Zhongguo xiju chubanshe, 1988).Google Scholar
  4. 14.
    This term translates loosely as “Beijing School”, in contrast to “haipai” (Shanghai School). The phrases “jingpai” and “haipai” are still often invoked to describe the approach of a certain director or playwright, or the style of a specific play. One critic, in discussing The Great Going Abroad, called it “jingban haipai” indicating that it is a fusion of the two styles, exhibiting characteristics of both trends. He notes its origins in Beijing, but maintains that it has a strong “Shanghai School flavor”, listing Shanghai School characteristics as “disregarding tradition; rather strong innovative consciousness; ability to assimilate artistic benefits of the ancient and modern Chinese as well as the foreign for their own use; and... any artistic method can be used as long as the play is good to watch and fascinates the audience.” (Lin, “Da Liuyang daigeile women shenme”, 25). For more on jingpai/haipai, see Claire Conceison, “International casting in Chinese plays: a tale of two cities”, Theatre Journal 53 (spring 2001), 277–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 31.
    The tremendous increase in Chinese citizens going overseas during the 1980s and 1990s is commonly referred to as “chuguo re” (“going abroad fever”); by one estimate, the number of Chinese students going abroad to pursue advanced degrees between 1984 and 1998 rose from 4000 to 120,000. See Zhang Minjie, “Liumei xueren de ‘bianji xintai’” in Qingnian yanjiu (January 1997), 45. Translated in Chinese Education and Society 31:2 (March/April 1998), 93–101.Google Scholar
  6. 32.
    See Hsin-sheng C. Kao, “Yu Lihua’s blueprint for the development of a new poetics: Chinese literature overseas”, in Nativism Overseas: Contemporary Chinese Women Writers, ed. (Albany: SUNY Press, 1993) pp. 81–107.Google Scholar
  7. For discussions of exile in contemporary literature, see María-Inés Lagos-Pope, ed., Exile in Literature (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1988);Google Scholar
  8. Angelika Bammer, ed., Displacements (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994);Google Scholar
  9. Michael Seidel, Exile and the Narrative Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986);Google Scholar
  10. and Andrew Gurr, Writers in Exile: The Identity of Home in Modern Literature (Sussex: The Harvester Press, 1981).Google Scholar

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© Charles A. Laughlin 2005

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  • Claire Conceison

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