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«By Jing Xu Master thesis Center for Ibsen Studies UNIVERSITETET I OSLO Spring semester, 2008 1 Acknowledgements Two-year master program in Ibsen ...»

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Ibsen in China

His reception and influence analyzed in time order

By Jing Xu

Master thesis

Center for Ibsen Studies


Spring semester, 2008



Two-year master program in Ibsen studies offers me many unforgettable

experiences. Besides many valuable achievements related to Ibsen studies, I also learn

how to study intensively as well as how to write the master thesis.

I owe my gratitude to all the people who have made it possible to complete this thesis. Without their help and support, this thesis can not be finished on due time.

First and foremost, I would like to express my deep gratitude to my supervisor, Professor Jon Nygaard, for his continuous support, constructive suggestions and encouragement. It is my pleasure to learn knowledge from him.

My deep gratitude goes to all the teachers in the whole master program, including Professor Atle Kittang, Professor Astrid Sæther, Professor Frode Helland, Professor Jon Nygaard, Professor Kamaluddin Nilu, Ms. Andersen Anette Storli, Ms.

Maria Faskerti, Ms. Randi Meyer, and many other guest lecturers from abroad. Their excellent teaching has helped me to understand Ibsen from several different aspects.

In addition, I am also grateful to Brit Elin Førsund who has arranged and organized many student events, thanks for her patience. My gratitude also goes to two ladies working in the Ibsenbiblioteket: Ms. Maria Faskerti and Ms. Randi Meyer.

With their help, the searching work becomes easier.

I am grateful to all my friends both in Oslo and at home. They have helped with my research work and have encouraged me when I feel upset, including Hu Aihua, Xue Fei, Qian Huizhen, Zhao Ke, Zhang Lili, Chen Xiaofei, Yu Taojie, Tang Yanling, Gao Wen, Zheng Liang, Wang Lei, Li Yinhe, Sun Jinchang, Liu Ximeng, Chang Jing and I especially thank Hu Aihua and Chen Xiaofei for helping me with my language.

Last but not least, my deepest love and gratitude to my family, especially my great parents, who have expressed their love and support since I came to Norway, particularly throughout the writing time for this thesis. They unconditionally support me all the time in every detail of my life. I devote my first piece of academic work to my parents and grandparents.

2 Table of Contents Acknowledgements

Table of Contents

Chapter One Introduction

Chapter Two 1907-1917: Debut of Ibsen in China

Chapter Three 1918-1928 Ibsen: a great thinker or an outstanding dramatist?

Chinese Translations of Ibsen

Lu Xun and the earliest Ibsen essay in China

Hu Shi and his Ibsenism:

The “Nora theme plays”

Ibsen’s plays were performed on Chinese stages

Ibsen plays’ aesthetic and dramatic value were found by Chinese intellectuals and then be used in China


Chapter Four 1929—1948 Ibsen-style dramas blossom all over China


Literary critiques aspect

Yu Shangyuan’s critique

Xiong Foxi’s critique

Other literary critiques:

The performance aspect

Other types of literary creation in China

Chinese Translation of Ibsen’s plays in this period

Drama and performance aspects

Chapter Five Cao Yu


Ibsen’s influence on Cao Yu


The opening scene

The retrospective exposition



Male characters

Female characters




Chapter Six 1949 - present: Ibsen and his plays in China


In the 1980s when Ibsen and his plays regained Chinese people’s attention

1990s - present

Yue Opera Edition Hedda Gabler

Importance of audience’s responses to the performance:

3 Chapter Seven Conclusion


Other sources

4Chapter One Introduction

During the last 100 years, and particularly when he was first introduced in China, Ibsen has been regarded as a revolutionary fighter or as a thinker by Chinese people.

Western critics, however, have treated him as an outstanding dramatist. Why and what caused the difference? It is very important for present scholars, especially the Chinese to look back and find what really happened when Ibsen was in China and analyze his reception and influence in China.

In general, Ibsen’s influence in China can mainly be summarized in two aspects, namely social political and artistic1. The fact that Chinese critics and intellectuals have defined Ibsen differently in China causes an extended national-scope debate.

Wang Songlin2 propounds in his article “One—Hundred–Year’s Reception of Ibsen in China” that there are three climaxes of Ibsen study in China during the last 100 years: The first climax was around 1920s when Ibsen and his plays were initially accepted in China. The sharp criticism of social reality presenting in his “problem plays” attracted many Chinese intellectuals’ attention. The second climax was around 1950s when Ibsen’s plays were frequently performed on the stage in China. The last climax was about 1980s when Ibsen revived in China. In Wang’s article, he regards this period as the revival of staging and multi-perspective criticism of Ibsen.3 Since the last climax when Ibsen “returns to China”, there has been more and more Chinese institutes initiated research on Ibsen and his dramas. An increasing number of Chinese intellectuals show their interests on this study, for example, Tan Kwok Kan, He Chengzhou, Wang Zhongxiang and Wangning have published several articles related to “Ibsen in China”, and most of these articles have received favorable comments from the international Ibsen institutes. At the same time they expect to learn further from the first-rate Ibsen scholars abroad. Moreover in recent years several international Ibsen conferences and research seminars have been held in China and 1 Tan, 1984,P11 2 Wang Songlin: a PhD candidate at the college of Chinese Language and Literature, Central China Normal University 3

Wang, One—Hundred–Year’s Reception of Ibsen in China, I cited his article from the website:

http://zwwxjt.blog.163.com/blog/static/18947982200782810419701,which was published on Sept. 28, 2007 5 other countries in the world, which makes the topic of “the influence of Ibsen in China” progressively popular.

Over the years many valuable publications regarding “Ibsen in China” have been presented on different literary areas, such as, translation works, journals, periodicals, critiques and articles. Besides there are a lot of performances of Ibsen’s dramas performing in China. Scholars have extended the study to a wider field when discussing Ibsen’s effect on China, not only from the society aspect, but also his influence on Chinese modern drama. According to the sources I collect, I will try to focus my thesis on Ibsen’s reception and influence in China, besides analyze his different status in China respectively following the time order one after another. I will subdivide the first climax of Ibsen’s influence in China into two parts: from 1907 to 1917 and from 1918 to 1928. I choose 1918 as the dividing line, because it was the year before the May 4th Movement broke out.

In general, before the May 4th Movement, Ibsen and other outstanding western writers attracted the attention from several contemporary Chinese intellectuals. Chinese people found that Ibsen’s plays hide spirits of rebellion, pursuing for freedom, expecting for liberation, which were lost in most of those people’s minds. Moreover many Chinese intellectuals considered that Ibsen’s plays unmasked the truth of the real society which was completely incurable. Lu Xun first found Ibsen’s value and his spirits, therefore in 1907 Lu Xun published Wenhua Pianzhi Lun, in which he announced a voice from Dr. Stockman in Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People: “—the most powerful man is the one who stands most alone…”4 And then in 1918 along with the publication of “Yibusheng Zhuanhao” (Ibsen Issue) coming out in Xin Qingnian (New Youth), a door was opened and it welcomed Ibsen and his works to come in. Hu Shi has mentioned in his thesis Ibsenism that Ibsen’s works show essences of the family, society and individuality, in addition his plays expose that the society is controlled by three forces, namely law, religion and morality, at the same time people show off their hypocrisy.

The May 4th Movement exploded in 1919 at that moment Ibsen and his plays had 4 Ibsen: An Enemy of the People, 1902 6 already played significant roles inside Chinese intellectuals’ minds. It has been known that Pillars of Society, A Doll’s House, Ghosts and An Enemy of the People are regarded as Ibsen’s social problem dramas5, in the 1920s all of them were translated into China and the Chinese intellectuals knew these four realistic problem plays very well. Nora’s voice: “I am first and foremost a human being”6 and Dr. Stockmann’s slogan: “the most powerful man is the one who stands most alone…”7 encourage many Chinese innovators.

At that time Western drama was brought into China and grabbed by the Chinese intellectuals for our own use. Ibsen’s social problem dramas influenced many of the Chinese activists in the May 4th Movement, Nora was treated as their admirable idol.

Under the inspiration of Ibsen’s problem dramas, Chinese intellectuals emulated Ibsen’s plays and produced several Chinese problem plays, which reflect social contradictions and discuss social problems, for instance, morality, liberty, marriage and poverty, such as, Zhongshen Dashi, (The Greatest Event in Life written by Hushi in 1919), Pofu (A Shrew, 1922, by Ouyang Yuqian); Bingbian (Mutiny, 1925 by Yu Shangyuan); Xinren de Shenghuo (New Personality’s Life by Xiong Foxi), a historical play Zhuo Wenjun (by Guo Moruo), Dachu Youling Ta (by Bai Wei), and others. Hu Shi’s first drama —Zhongshen Dashi (The Greatest Event in Life,) is regarded as the first Chinese problem drama. It is also criticized as the first imitation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House8. In consequence social problem drama became a fashion in the May 4th period and it also brought a mainstream in Chinese literary creation. Since many of those Chinese problem plays ended with the heroine departure plot, critics commented them as departure plays or Nora plays. Those plays manifested the initial Chinese spoken drama feature of realism during May 4th Movement period.

Chinese spoken drama which is also called Chinese new drama emerged along with the May 4th Movement. At first I have to introduce a pivotal term—Chunliu She (Spring Willow Society) which was founded in 1906 by Chinese student Li Shutong 5 He, 2003, P54 6 Ibsen: Ghosts, 1924.

7 Ibsen: An Enemy of the People, 1904 8 Zhao, 2004, P189

–  –  –

As a result of the May 4th Movement, Chinese revolutionary people treated Ibsen’s social problem dramas as avant-garde samples and in consequence Ibsen was accepted as a social revolutionary thinker more than a playwright in China. In a way, Chinese intellectuals use Ibsen as the revolutionary thinker in order to awake people to get rid of the muddle situation.

On the other side, in the 1930s some scholars began to realize in particular that Ibsen was misinterpreted as a thinker by those Chinese reformers when he was first appeared in China. For example, Liang Shiqiu, one of the famous Chinese modern writers, said ‘during the new literary movement, Ibsen’s thinking attracted more attention than his art. So far as the campaign for modern drama is concerned, there has been a big mistake, because Ibsen’s thinking is captured, but not Ibsen’s dramatic art’9… Up till now it is still a popular subject discussing among Chinese Ibsen scholars, for instance in Wang Ning’s article Reconstructing Ibsen as An Artist: A

Theoretical Reflection on the Reception of Ibsen in China, he referred:

Ibsen is largely received not as a dramatic artist but rather, as a revolutionary thinker of strong avant-garde consciousness and ideological tendency in the Chinese context, especially for the characterization of some of his rebellious women, such as Nora and Hedda Gabler who have left so profound impressions to the Chinese audience, as well as drama scholars, that they have even forgot that Ibsen is first of all an artist, or in its narrow sense, a dramatic artist…10 As time goes by, an increasing number of intellectuals got references from the western countries and also re-evaluated Ibsen in China, as a result the attention shifted from considering Ibsen as a thinker to his dramatic art. There are two famous scholars I have to mention in this essay: one is Xiong Foxi and the other is Yu Shangyuan. Both

9 Sun, 1994, P22110 Wang 2003, P71

8 of them got first-hand literary knowledge and thinking from abroad during the time when they were studying in the United States. In Xiong Foxi’s essay—Ibsen the Social Reformer and Ibsen the Dramatist (published in 1929), he pointed out very early about Ibsen’s dramatic achievement. A new viewpoint was given for re-evaluating Ibsen so that more and more Chinese people shifted their focus on Ibsen’s typical writing skills, such as, the depiction of characters, plot and structural technique.

There are two dramatists who can not be ignored when referring Chinese spoken drama: Tian Han and Caoyu, both of whom played very important role in the Chinese spoken drama history because they contributed Chinese spoken drama to mature and brilliant. In He Chengzhou’s doctoral dissertation, he mentioned their significant


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