Hong Shen and Adaptation of
Western Plays in Modern Chinese Theater

By Siyuan Liu

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 27, no.2  (Fall 2015), pp. 106-171

One of the most significant contributions Hong Shen made to huaju (spoken drama) in the 1920s was his theorization, practice, and advocacy of adapting (mostly) modern Western plays that were Broadway hits, which significantly contributed to the maturity of huaju’s dramaturgy, performance, technical capabilities, and emotional appeal. They eliminated the culturally alienating effects of foreignizing productions and at the same time supplied huaju with a corpus of scripts superior to most domestic plays, which consisted largely of artistically immature and ideologically didactic one-acts. In other words, adaptation significantly reduced huaju’s learning curve and hastened its maturity by the late 1930s.

This article examines three plays Hong Shen adapted and directed for the Stage Society between 1924 and 1926 (Lady Windermere’s Fan, The Bat, and Dear Brutus) and three scripts by younger adapters that he helped bring to wide recognition through direct mentorship or by directing their plays at Fudan University dramatic club (The Easiest Way, The Mistress of The Inn, and The Mollusc). It traces the connections between these plays and his US studies, examines his theory of adaptation through his introduction to Lady Windermere’s Fan, and analyzes his adaptation strategies in Lady Windermere’s Fan and, to a lesser extent, The Bat and Dear Brutus.