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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 1, No. 11 June 15, 1938

New Theatre Movement in China

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New Theatre Movement in China

Just a little over 32 years ago, a small group of students in Tokyo look over modern Japanese drama, organised the "Spring Willow Society" and presented in translation such plays as "La Tosca" and "La Dame aux Camelias." Shortly afterwards the group transferred its plays to Shanghai and thus was born the new Chinese Theatre movement.

The public took a stand-offish attitude because the new art was without music and for countless years the Chinese mind has associated art with music. The old music-drama has formed a means of escape from humdrum existence, and the ordinary man was not willing to be brought up against the problems of life that stared him In the face every day and that is what this western drama meant. Also a conservative element of the Chinese was always against anything having Its roots in Western culture. Rut the students and intelligentsia representing modern youth, demand realism and truth, to face situations rather than escape and poetry.


The new theatre has been very greatly affected by political unrest and agitation. The early period. 1906-1916, was marked by dearth of native plays and no progress was made till 1919, when activity was at fever pitch to rouse patriotism against the Japanese.

Another period was ushered in when Chinese students returned home from abroad, but the plays were too scholarly and smacked of Westernism, thus making the productions for the most part unintelligible for the masses. The fourth period, which is still in progress is characterised by attempt to appeal to the people and many proletarian plays are presented—the radical nature of the literature being greatly influenced by the "May 30th incident" (when British police fired on students and workmen).

In the early days, plays often had no texts. The leading man assembled his cast, talked over the main bones of the plot and walked on to the stage. If an actor tailed to turn up, any man handy was crabbed, made up and forced to take the role—of course. If an important actor was late, the rest would improvise for half an hour, or till he turned up.

Most modern Chinese plays lack feeling and conviction,' plot and characterisation, and the public much prefer translation of Western dramas, adopted to suit Chinese characters and customs.

Tuen Han is one of the most gifted and prolific writers connected with the new movement today. His early plays were characterised by very little plot and poetic dialogue, but after coming into contact with students of Shanghai, he produced plays dealing with social questions of proletariat and anti-imperialist nature. Other notable writers are Hung Shu and Wong Quincey.

Rural Education.

An attempt has been made by a Professor H'suing to reach the masses in the country and he himself, wrote several plays for the Mass Education Programme at Tinghsien.

In 1932, Professor H'suing left the Peking National Fine Arts College and went to Tinghslen to experiment with drama, find out what the peasants wanted, and the beat method of spreading the work over the districts.

Pretty well ever since its beginnings over 30 years ago, the new drama has been in the hands of amateur theatrical groups of educational institutions and groups of society folk to appear for charity. As a result, in l934. the Chinese Travelling Dramatic Association was organised. The Association is endeavouring to give performances of the first flight and put drama on a self-supporting basis.

The actors and technicians of this group give their services gratis—only if the play draws a full house do the actors receive a bonus of a dollar. The Association, however, pays the living expenses of the group; meals are simple; even laundry and haircuts are provided. Any surplus money goes into purchasing costumes, props., etc.

The company gets up at 8 a.m. rehearses till noon and again during the afternoon.

Stage Today.

At the present, the stage is one of the most powerful weapons of propaganda, as used by the Soviet dramatic troupes to spread ideas and revolutionary programmes among the peasants. But in the Chinese theatre is the crying need for vision and technically trained men to direct the movement.

Much of the acting is mediocre there is need for good actors and finally, there is the need for men to write plays that are actable: plays presenting the problems and lives of Chinese women today.