View Full Version : Orwell in Beijing

Greg H
11-16-2002, 09:56 AM

Life imitates art as Animal Farm makes Beijing
By Richard McGregor in Beijing
Published: November 15 2002 21:03 | Last Updated: November 15 2002 21:03

A few hours after the Communist party unveiled its new leaders in Beijing
yesterday, another set of actors made their stage debut nearby in China's first
theatrical adaption of George Orwell's Animal Farm.

It was not quite the coincidence that Shang Chengjun had in mind when he
managed to find a theatre to direct his first play, after spending two years since
finishing drama school scraping together cash and badgering companies for

"I didn't expect it to open during the 16th party congress," he said during a break
from rehearsals at the theatre in Beijing's premier acting academy.

The date of the party congress, a decision made in total secrecy, was announced
in September, just after the 34-year-old director had booked the theatre and
received permission to stage the play.

The rehearsals this week, with their free-wheeling bohemian atmosphere and
collegial spirit, made for a stark contrast with the congress at the Great Hall of the

The congress is accompanied by grim security and absolute obedience in the
state-run press, whose coverage of politics does not deviate from the dictates of
the party's propaganda tsars.

In short, the congress displays all the rigid and hypocritical conformity so darkly
satirised in Orwell's classic tale of a workers' revolution gone wrong.

Mr Shang, who adapted the book for the stage himself, deftly fends off questions
about the book's politics. "Many people read the book narrow-mindedly," he says.
"Sure, the novel satirises the Soviet Union, but I think the phenomenon it describes
suits every society and era."

"I don't want to make a judgment in this play - whether socialism or capitalism is
good or not. What I want to express is that no matter which society people are in,
if they want to be their own masters, they have responsibilities and duties.

"If they are indifferent, lazy and don't want to vote, any social system will fail."

Some of the older heads in the theatre are not as sanguine as the director about
the play's reception with the authorities.

He Tianlong, a retired teacher of the Central Academy of Drama, plays one of the
pigs, while his son has the role of a donkey.

"I think it's very sensitive," he says. "I am worried that after it has been on for a few
days, government officials might stop it.

"They know what the play is about and might want to find out how we present it.
But then, they also could admire us for having the courage to put it on."

Despite China's liberal economic policies over the past two decades, its top-level
politics remains opaque and its leaders and their guardians in the press and the
arts are deeply allergic to public criticism and satire.

In the play's favour is the fact that Animal Farm has been published in China -
including, in the 1980s, by a state-run publishing house in Shanghai.

All commercial plays in China must be licensed by the Culture Bureau, which
ultimately takes its orders from the Propaganda Department, a procedure that the
director says has been followed here.

There is also the chance that the authorities will ignore the play during its scheduled
month-long run, so as to avoid the inevitable bad publicity.

Thought I hard somewhere that the age of irony was over.

11-16-2002, 12:08 PM
Ah yes, I heard that this AM on the radio. Rather odd...

I'm more concerned about him (Orwell that is) right in our back yard.

And a recent piece by Safire


[ 11-16-2002, 12:19 PM: Message edited by: ishmael ]

Dennis Marshall
11-16-2002, 01:25 PM
It's not Orwell's 1984 type world that bugs me, it's Huxley's "Brave New World" that I think more accurately depicts our current situation.


Alan D. Hyde
11-18-2002, 10:42 AM
Well said, Dennis.

I agree.


Bruce Taylor
11-18-2002, 11:34 AM
Ford's in his flivver, and all's right with the world!

11-18-2002, 11:52 AM
Silence! Big Brother cannot be ungood!

11-18-2002, 06:04 PM
Very hard to predict what the reaction of the Powers that Be in Beijing might be. The bit where the pigs start walking on two legs might be much too close to the bone!

John B
11-18-2002, 10:56 PM
"It was not quite the coincidence that Shang Chengjun had in mind when he
managed to find a theatre to direct his first play, after spending two years since
finishing drama school scraping together cash and badgering companies for

Our man gets around doesn't he?

[ 11-18-2002, 10:57 PM: Message edited by: John B ]