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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 7 October 2015

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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.”
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
Alexa Huang
George Washington University

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
Full transcript