Faust Made in China: Meng Jinghui’s Irreverent Socio-Cultural Deconstruction of Goethe’s Iconic Masterpiece of World Literature
Li Xia (University of Newcastle, Australia) [BIO]
China’s unparalleled economic rise in the past thirty years and the blistering social transformation associated with it has generated immense interest and apprehension (angst) globally and resurrected in Western media outworn stereotypical prejudices and unfounded fears of the new China as a nation. Regrettably, present Western interest in China is extremely narrow and restricted to statistical economic data and problems such as pollution, distribution of wealth, corruption, human rights, among others, at the expense of a genuine appreciation and understanding of the enormous challenges of reform that China is confronted with. Consequently, the belief that China’s social change and modernisation is driven exclusively by the forces of globalisation (i.e. economic forces) is widespread and little attention is given outside of specialist circles to the new intellectual, technological and artistic-creative energies underlying China’s transformation and self-invention since 1978, factors identified by Deng Xiaoping as absolutely essential for China’s modernisation program.
Among the numerous manifestations of the vibrant energies of a rising generation of innovative Chinese artists and thinkers, self-assured, open to new ideas and courageous enough to challenge old ones, Meng Jinghui’s experimental (avant-garde) theatre is of exemplary significance. His early openness to new ideas is reflected in the iconoclastic stage productions of Pinter, Ionesco, Beckett, Genet in the late 1980s and in the use of the ending of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in his Xixiang kuangxiangqu / Rhapsody of the Western Chamber, a rewriting of the Chinese classic Xixiangji, and a forerunner of the numerous “cross-cultural hybrids” (Rossella Ferrari) written and directed for “packed houses” in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen between 1992 and 2007. Among them, Meng Jinghui’s staging of Daoban Fushide / Bootleg Faust (2000) based on Goethe’s Faust and adapted for the stage by Shen Lin, is of particular significance with regard to Meng’s creative genius and the socio-cultural implications of his artistic understanding of the theatre as a reliable mirror of the individual and society and a window to its potential and failure despite the play’s apparent artistic distance to the original (Goethe’s Faust) and the deceptive superficiality of Chinese pop-elements and the associated emphasis on visual and acoustic impressions in Meng’s unorthodox stagecraft. The socio-cultural significance of the above questions in Meng’s irreverent artistic endeavour of deconstructing Faust will be explored in this paper.