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Icons of Modernity: Hamlet and Ophelia in Chinese Confucian Culture

Prof A. Huang // Public Presentation on Global Hamlets at Rhodes College, Oct. 5, 2012
by Alexa Huang on 5 October 2012

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Transcript of Icons of Modernity: Hamlet and Ophelia in Chinese Confucian Culture

Three Faces / Phases fascination with and reaction against the Victorian pictorialization focus on an objectified and sexual Ophelia giving the voiceless a voice "Fair Ophelia" 1851-1852 2006 2006 John Everett Millais, Opheia May 1930 Anna May Wong (1905-1961), first Asian-American movie star Evelyn Waugh entertained the prospect of Anna May Wong playing Ophelia Prince of the Himalayas, dir. Sherwood Hu (Tibetan film) The Banquet (aka Legend of the Black Scorpion), dir. FENG Xiaogang Western Ophelias Asian Ophelias moral agency Hamlet, dir. Yang Jung-ung (2010), Yohangza Theatre Company (South Korea)

Space Theatre, Adelaide, Australia Dir. Joshua Funk, Second City (Chicago-based sketch comedy company), starring Brian Gallivan and Colleen Foy Chinese Ophelias FENG Xiaogang’s The Banquet
and East-West Cultural Exchange Feng Xiaogang’s The Banquet 夜宴 (Ye yan; China and Hong Kong, 2006)


Empress Wan (Gertrude)

Emperor Li (Claudius)

Prince Wu Luan (Hamlet)

Qing Nü (Master Yin's daughter) (Ophelia)

Master Yin (Yin Taichang) (Polonius)

General Yin (Yin Sun; Master Yin's son, Laertes)

Chamberlain

Governor Pei (Pei Hong)
“Chinese Occidentalism” – Chinese uses of the “West” as others against which to define what it means to be “Chinese” Involves a discourse of similarity to the U.S.
Includes a vital discourse of difference (Chinese nationalist texts point to Western “selfishness,” “materialism” and “impersonal coldness” versus Chinese “beneficence,” spiritualism,” harmony,” and “warmheartedness”
New Chinese Occidentalism depicts Americans as aggressive, militaristic, and threatening
What can be done about nationalist “Chinese Occidentalism” and “American Orientalism”? American and Chinese cultural products (such as films) celebrate our common humanity. Translation and cultural exchange can reveal our shared challenges (modernization, globalization, the human condition)

Cultural products (such as The Banquet) that raise awareness of our common humanity can serve as a vital counterweight to the discourses of difference and threat Alexander Huang’s Chinese Shakespeares: Two Centuries of Cultural Exchange

The masks in the film serve several functions Identity markers

Conceal emotions

The theme of surveillance (watchful eyes behind masks)

Dead emperor’s helmet and dark mask = ghostly dimension (bloody tears)

Empress Wan: “The most sophisticated performer uses his or her own face and turns it into a mask.” Alexander Huang’s Chinese Shakespeares: Two Centuries of Cultural Exchange, pp. 230-234

Controversy surrounding The Banquet The Banquet is a feature film screened at film festivals in Venice and Cannes

Critiqued by both Chinese and European viewers, because of its dual identity

Initially promoted as a Shakespeare film with martial-arts elements Alexander Huang’s Chinese Shakespeares: Two Centuries of Cultural Exchange, pp. 230-234

Controversy surrounding The Banquet Nearly all European judges found the film to be too Shakespearean in outlook to be a viable Chinese film to interest Western audiences

Yet most Chinese critics regarded the film as a disappointing, indulgent costume epic aimed at a “completely non-Chinese audience” Take note of moments in the film in which the images are conveying information that is not reflected in characters’ action and dialogue.

How do these images develop the film’s themes, narrative, and meaning? Icons of Modernity
Hamlet and Ophelia in Chinese Confucian Culture Alex Huang
George Washington University
acyhuang @ gwu.edu Transhistorical: two ideas or genres from different historical periods coexist

Political: "Chinese Hamlet syndrome"

Tool for empowerment: women characters, local artists Interpretations of Hamlet in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong Anji (near Shanghai) Hamlet as a "modern" subject in an "old" art form: jingju Lao She (pen name of Mr SHU Qingchun, 1899-1966)

China's "Hamlet syndrome"

Novella "New Hamlet"

Chinese transliteration of Hamlet = Hamuleite

Protagonist named TIAN Liede Ferdinand Freiligrath: "Germany is Hamlet" (1844)

China's Hamlet syndrome, 1930s
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