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“Dialogue Across Time and Space” — Chinese and Australian scholars share insights on Tang and Shakespeare

Accompanying the exhibition titled “Dialogue Across Time and Space” in Commemoration of the 400th Anniversary of the Deaths of Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu, a same titled panel discussion was held in the China Cultural Centre in Sydney on 23rd September.

Co-hosted by the China Cultural Centre in Sydney and China Studies Centre (The University of Sydney), and supported by the Australia China Institute for Arts and Culture, this panel discussion is focused on retelling the life stories, social contexts, major works and thoughts of these two masters, and seeks to shed light on the distinctions and similarities between Western and Eastern cultures, philosophies and values of the 16th and 17th century.

Started by individual speeches from each panelist, insightful perspectives were shared with the participating audience. 

Having directed Shakespeare’s famous play — Richard III in Chinese Mandarin, Director Xiaoying Wang, Vice President of the National Theatre of China, had the opportunity to adopt Tang Xianzu’s method and traditional Chinese ways to re-interpret and re-create Shakespeare’s masterpiece.

Specifically, two favorable conditions which facilitated the performance of Richard III in the language of traditional Chinese opera and the style of traditional Chinese culture were pointed out by Director Wang. 

“Firstly, the plot of Richard III was all about royal family in royal palace, which resembled that of traditional Chinese opera about kings and knights; and secondly, the flexibility of time and space of the scenes is also similar to the way of narration and time arrangement in Chinese Opera”, concluded by Director Wang.

“Progressive in thinking” and the emphasis on “emotion as opposed to reason” were characterised by Emeritus Professor Colin Mackerras, renowned sinologist from Griffith University, when analysing Tang Xianzu’s life history and literary works. 

“Love is of a source unknown, yet it grows ever deeper. The living may die of it; by its power the dead live again”, he continued by quoting Tang’s famous work Peony Pavilion.

Historical events such as “Protestant Reformation”, “Enlightenment” from the West were also juxtaposed and compared to the Chinese ideology of “Confucianism”, exploring and contrasting Eastern and Western philosophies emanated from 16-17 centuries.

Greatly inspired by Tang Xianzu’s Peony Pavilion, music professor Bruce Crossman from Western Sydney Univeristy, shared his personal creative experience in relation to Tang’s masterpiece.

“The evocative dream-like state, referential of nature and allusive to spirit in Tang Xianzu’s poetic Peony Pavilion I find inspirational in creating sonic dreamscapes suggestive of spirit, allied to visual movement and resonant of place”, said Professor Crossman. 

Moderated by Professor Riegel, three panelists also shared their insights with reference to the “significance of Tang and Shakespeare to the world literature”, “similarities and distinctions between Chinese and Western aesthetics”; furthermore, Director Xiaoying Wang also explicated the deeper cultural sense of Tang’s work by contrasting Confucianism and Taoism in terms of the their advocacies of “entering and renouncing the world”.

The event was ended by opening the floor to the participating audience for a Q&A session, questions as to “how to interpret and appreciate Chinese aesthetics in drama”, and “the aim and significance of translation between different languages and cultures” were brought up and responded by the scholars from both theoretical and practical perspectives. 

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