True love finds way to China

True love finds way to China

A Beijing director brings Shakespeare's classic taleRomeo and Juliet to Hong Kong, set against the Cultural Revolution

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Yin Tao plays Juliet and Li Guangjie plays Romeo (left), in Tian Qinxin's adaption of the Shakespeare classic.
Yin Tao plays Juliet and Li Guangjie plays Romeo (left), in Tian Qinxin's adaption of the Shakespeare classic.
Photo: Hong Kong Art Festival

Beijing theatre director Tian Qinxin interprets love very differently in each of her dramatic forays. In her 2009 production of Eileen Chang Ai-ling's Red Rose, White Rose, love is an experiment. Her adaptation of Lilian Lee Pik-wah's Green Snake last year portrayed love filled with jealousy and temptation.

This year, it is unconditional love that Tian tries to capture in the National Theatre of China's adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet for the ongoing 42nd Hong Kong Arts Festival.

In her remake, the star-crossed lovers are transported from 16th century Italy to a small Chinese town during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. As in the original plot, they fall in love at first sight during a dance festival and vow their loyalty despite opposition from both families, who are sworn enemies.

But, of course, there's a twist. In Tian's version, Romeo belongs to the labourer-based team of Red Guards (a group of young people mobilised by Mao Zedong to enforce Communist beliefs), while Juliet is a young propaganda dancer in another group of Red Guards comprising soldiers' children.

Tian says love in contemporary China has been distorted by a focus on riches, such as dowry requests and families' social status and wealth. It's also burdened by such traditions as matchmaking and approval from parents. She questions whether couples marry nowadays out of greed and selfishness.

The lack of stories advocating unconditional love in Chinese culture is partly to blame for family problems, says Tian.

"We have provided few positive portrayals of true love and lots of examples of schemes to test the loyalty of lovers," she told the weekly SCMP magazine, 48 Hours. "So young people in China don't know where to find teachings about true love and how they can keep their love going after marriage."

She wants more people to understand Shakespeare's idea of love. "With Romeo and Juliet, we're not trying to glorify the deaths of the two lovers, but to admire their true love despite adversity," Tian says.

Popular TV actors Li Guangjie and Yin Tao star as the ill-fated couple. The script, based on the Chinese translation by Zhu Shenghao in 1943, is informal so that the public can understand more easily.

It's not the first time Tian has adapted Shakespeare for the Chinese theatre. In 2008, her version of King Lear was set in the imperial court during the turbulent Ming dynasty.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
True love finds way to China

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