Shakespeare is big in China. This thorough account of the history of Shakespeare in China from Foreign Policy is amazing. Merchant of Venice is a surprising favorite, not because of the elements of the play Westerners tend to focus on – “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” – but because of Portia’s courtroom performance and the tension between yi (loyalty) and li (profit). It’s classic Confucianism and it’s part of middle school curriculum.
The article seems prompted by last year’s announcement that the UK is sponsoring fresh translations of the complete works. This is done in conjunction with a Royal Shakespeare Co. tour of China and new translations of classic Chinese works into English.
I hope we get more of that. English language literature goes around the world, but I wonder what the import/export ratio is on lit, culture and ideas. Like Confucius himself said, “I will not be afflicted at men’s not knowing me; I will be afflicted that I do not know men.” It’s alright that we export our cultural treasures around the world, but do we work hard enough to benefit from their treasures? What are we learning from them? How are we benefiting from their hard-won insights and beauty? Maybe we’re like Timon of Athens, giving everything away – only to find out someday that we were never planting seeds in our own garden.
Bring on the Chinese classics.