Article Title

(Mis)reading Ibsen: Chinese Noras On and Off the Stage and Nora in Her Chinese Husband’s Ancestral Land of the 1930s as Reimagined for the Globalized World Today


Shouhua Qi


A recurrent theme in recent Chinese scholarship on Henrik Ibsen (1828—1906), a towering figure in the annals of modern Chinese arts and literature, is that this Western playwright was grossly “misread” by the May Fourth generation of intellectuals and his plays, particularly A Doll’s House, was misused egregiously for the women’s liberation cause. This essay argues that given the enormous oeuvre of Ibsen’s work and given the existential crises China was facing at the dawn the twentieth century, such “misreadings” are as clear-eyed and sensible as socio-politically responsible. While it is the prerogative of scholars today to look back and find the earlier generation woefully amiss, it is what a new generation of artists have done to reimagine Ibsen on the stage—not just Nora, but also her siblings in other important plays by introducing new twists, issues, and themes into their cultural afterlives in China that have contributed the most to open up new vistas for understanding. Wu Xiaojiang’s 1998 bilingual production of A Doll’s House (reproduced in 2001 and 2006) is one of such valiant efforts to make an old Western classic anew and resonant with young and educated theater goers today. One salient feature of this provocative bilingual production is the interjection of classic Peking opera into this classic Western play, which results in two-way, dialogic tensions reverberating profitably between the hypo- and hypertexts across the rugged terrain of interlingual, intercultural, and transnational communication and understanding.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.