During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the plays of William Shakespeare were considered too “bourgeois” and “patriotic” for attention. Times have changed.
“The development of Shakespeare studies and Shakespearean performance across China since 1984 (when an official Chinese Shakespeare Society was established) has been very remarkable,” said Michael Dobson, the director of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute at Stratford-upon-Avon. So a partnership was formed between Birmingham, Nanjing University and the Phoenix Publishing & Media Group, a leading publisher of Western literature and criticism in translation, to establish the new Shakespeare Centre in Nanjing. The story is in the Times Higher Education Supplement.
Dobson continued: “In some ways, it has resembled the rapid development of academic and theatrical interest in Shakespeare in Japan in the immediate post-war years, but it has been faster and on a bigger scale. Chinese university administrations have clearly felt that the country’s emergence on to the world stage demands a corresponding engagement with world literature, and at the same time a two-way traffic has developed between anglophone theatre companies taking Shakespearean productions to China and Chinese companies showing off their Shakespeares in the West.” His institute has also found itself “playing host to more and more visiting scholars from China.”
Dobson noted that Nanjing had the only English department in China to stage a festival in honor of Shakespeare’s 400th birthday in 1964.
“When the Cultural Revolution began two years later, some of the students involved turned on the professors who had organised it,” he added, pointing out that one of his Chinese counterparts on the Shakespeare project had “written about the whole thing, even interviewing some of the surviving (and unrepentant) zealots who decided that an interest in Shakespeare was bourgeois and unpatriotic.”