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Gordon Craig, Mei Lanfang and the Chinese Theatre



Edward Gordon Craig's 1935 visit to Russia coincided with Mei Lanfang's 1935 performance in Russia. While Mei Lanfang's performance and its impact on Brecht and Russian theatre artists have been well documented and studied in recent years, Craig's contacts with the Chinese actor and his interest in the Chinese theatre, however, have yet to be investigated. Drawing on previously unpublished archive materials and other rarely used sources, this article for the first time documents Craig's contacts with Mei Lanfang during his visit to Russia. It also investigates his interest in the Chinese theatre in the context of his theoretical construction of the art of the theatre and his overall interest in the traditions of Asian theatres.



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1 ‘Foreign Producers and the Soviet Stage’, Moscow News, 4 April 1935.

2 See Georges, Banu, ‘Mei Lanfang: A Case against and a Model for the Occidental Stage’, Asian Theatre Journal, 3, 2 (Autumn 1986), pp. 153–78; Min, Tian, ‘Meyerhold Meets Mei Lanfang: Staging the Grotesque and the Beautiful’, Comparative Drama, 33, 2 (Summer 1999), pp. 234–69;Min, Tian, ‘“Alienation-Effect” for Whom? Brecht's (Mis)interpretation of the Classical Chinese Theatre’, Asian Theatre Journal, 14, 2 (Fall 1997), pp. 200–22;Ronnie, Bai, ‘Dances with Mei Lanfang: Brecht and the Alienation Effect’, Comparative Drama, 32, 3 (Fall 1998), pp. 389433.

3 For Craig's interest in Japanese theatre see Sang-Kyong, Lee, ‘Edward Gordon Craig and Japanese Theatre’, Asian Theatre Journal, 17, 2 (Fall 2000), pp. 215–35; for Craig's interest in Indian theatre see Rustom Bharucha, ‘A Collision of Cultures: Some Western Interpretations of the Indian Theatre’, Asian Theatre Journal, 1, 1 (Spring 1984), pp. 4–7.

4 All quotations from the Craig archive materials are reproduced by consent of the Edward Gordon Craig Estate (© Reproduced by consent of the Edward Gordon Craig Estate).

5 This ‘document’ was published in Chinese in Zhonghua xiqu (Chinese Traditional Theatre), 7 (1988), and was reprinted in Zhongguo Mei Lanfang Yanjiu Xuehui, ed., Mei Lanfang yishu pinglun ji (Anthology of Criticism of Mei Lanfang's Art) (Beijing: Zhongguo Xiju Chubanshe, 1990), pp. 709–43.

6 See Lars, Kleberg, ed., ‘Zhivye Impulsy Iskusstva’, Iskusstvo Kino, 1 (1992), pp. 132–9. A Chinese version (trans. Li Xiaozheng) was in Zhonghua xiqu, 14 (1993), pp. 1–18. I want to thank Professor Kleberg for kindly providing me a copy of the original minutes.

7 See Lars, Kleberg, ‘The Story of a Stenogramme’, Balagan, 2, 2 (1996), pp. 101–3.

8 Percy Chen, ‘High Spots of the Recent Visit of Mei Lan-fang to the Soviet Union’, China Weekly Review, 18 May 1935, p. 394. In the same year, one month before he left Moscow, Chen had published an article on Mei Lanfang's art and the Soviet theatre under his Chinese name, Chen I-Wan (or Chen Yifan), ‘Mei Lan-Fang and the Soviet Theatre’, Moscow News, 18 April 1935.

9 V. E. Meyerhold, ‘O Gastroliakh Mei Lan-Fana’, in L. D. Vendrovskaia and A. V. Fevral'skii, eds., Tvorcheskoe Nasledie Vs. E. Meierhol'da (Moscow, 1978), p. 97. A Chinese version (translated by Tong Daoming) of Meyerhold's speech was published in Chunfeng yicong (Chunfeng Translations), 3 (1981), pp. 288–9. Béatrice Picon-Vallin includes this article in V. E. Meyerhold, Écrits sur le théâtre, trans. and ed. Beatrice Picon-Vallin, Vol. IV (Lausanne: L'Age d'Homme, 1992), pp. 379–80.

10 Gordon Craig, ‘The Russian Theatre To-Day’, London Mercury, XXXII, 192 (October 1935), pp. 529–38.

11 Craig, Edward A., Gordon Craig: The Story of His Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968), pp. 338–9.

12 Craig, Edward Gordon, ‘Some Weeks in Moscow’, Drama (London: British Theatre Association), 14 (1935), pp. 46, here p. 4. The emphasis is original.

13 Edward Gordon Craig, Daybook VIII, entry dated 2 April 1935, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, p. 22.

14 Ge Gongzhen and Ge Baoquan, ‘Mei Lanfang zai Shulian [Sulian]’ (Mei Lanfang in the Soviet Union), originally in Guo wen zhou kan, 12, 20 (June 1935), reprinted in Ge Gongzhen, Cong Dongbei dao Shulian (From Northeast China to the Soviet Union) (Changsha: Hunan Renmin Chubanshe, 1984), p. 226.

15 Craig, Daybook VIII, entry dated 14 April 1935, p. 31.

16 Craig, Daybook VIII, entry dated 16 April 1935, p. 33.

17 Craig, ‘Some Weeks in Moscow’, p. 4.

18 See Yu Shangyuan, Xiju lun ji (A Collection of Essays on Theatre) (Beixin shuju, 1927).

19 EGC MS B 642 (3), Bibliothèque nationale de France. I want to record my sincere thanks to Anne-Elisabeth Buxtorf for her assistance.

20 EGC MS B 642 (2), Bibliothèque nationale de France.

21 Ge Gongzhen and Ge Baoquan, ‘Mei Lanfang zai Shulian’, pp. 229–30.

22 Craig, Daybook VIII, entry dated 18 April 1935, p. 35.

23 Mei, Lanfang, Mei Lanfang quanji (Complete Works of Mei Lanfang), Vol. IV (Shijiazhuang: Hebei Jiaoyu Chubanshe, 2001), pp. 122–30.

24 Gordon Craig's handwritten note, in Mei Lan-Fang and the Chinese Theatre: On the Occasion of His Appearance in the U.S.S.R., published by the All Union Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries (Moscow, 1935), p. 17. The programme is in the Gordon Craig Archives, E.G.C. 16° 1375, at the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

25 Sergei Eisenstein, ‘The Magician of the Pear Orchard’, in Mei Lan-Fang and the Chinese Theatre, p. 21.

26 Gordon Craig's handwritten note, in Mei Lan-Fang and the Chinese Theatre, p. 21.

27 Gordon Craig's highlights, in Mei Lan-Fang and the Chinese Theatre, p. 34.

28 Gordon Craig, ‘Puppets in Japan: Some Notes by a Japanese’, The Mask, 6, (1913–14): pp. 217–20; idem, ‘Puppets and Poets’, The Chapbook, 20 (1921), p. 17; ‘The Actor and the Über-Marionette’, in idem, On the Art of the Theatre (New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1956), pp. 54--94.

29 Kate, Buss, Studies in the Chinese Drama (Boston: Four Seas Company, 1922), p. 49.

30 The Mask, 9 (1923), p. 35.

31 Kate Buss, Studies in the Chinese Drama, pp. 61–2.

32 The Mask, 9 (1923), p. 35. The emphasis is original.

33 Tchou-Kia-kien (Chu Chia-chien), The Chinese Theatre, trans. from the French by Graham, James A. (London: John Lane, 1922), pp. 35–6. The emphasis is original.

34 The Mask, 9 (1923), p. 33. The emphasis is original.

35 The Mask, 9 (1923), p. 33.

36 ‘Only – A Note by Smith’, C. G., The Mask, 13 (1927), pp. 7374, here p. 73. C. G. Smith is Craig's pseudonym. The emphasis is Craig's.

37 A. E. Zucker, ‘China's “Leading Lady”’, Asia (New York), XXIV, 8 (August 1924), pp. 600–4, 646–7.

38 ‘The Gentlemanly “Leading Lady” of China’, Literary Digest, 82, 8 (23 August 1924), pp. 34–40.

39 A. E. Zucker, ‘China's “Leading Lady”’, p. 600.

43 ‘Only – A Note by C. G. Smith’, p. 74. The emphasis is original.

44 See George C. Hazelton and J. H. Benrimo, ‘Foreword’ to The Yellow Jacket: A Chinese Play Done in a Chinese Manner (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company Publishers, 1913). The play was produced in New York, and then in major European cities such as London, Madrid, Düsseldorf, Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, St Petersburg and Moscow, by leading directors such as Max Reinhardt, Gustav Lindemann and Alexander Tairov, and became the hit of the 1913–14 season. See Erika Fischer Lichte, ‘What are the Rules of the Game? Some Remarks on The Yellow Jacket’, Theatre Survey, 36, 1 (May 1995), p. 23. For a list of the productions of this play in at least twelve languages from 1912 to 1929 see ‘The Record of “The Yellow Jacket”’, in George C. Hazelton and J. H. Benrimo, The Yellow Jacket: A Chinese Play Done in a Chinese Manner (London and New York: Samuel French, 1939), pp. 116–17.

45 See ‘Foreword’ to The Yellow Jacket.

46 H. T. P., ‘On to China and to Stage Simplicities: To “The Yellow Jacket” for Quaintness, Fantasy, and Illusion’, Boston Evening Transcript, 20 February 1934.

47 E. F. S., ‘“The Yellow Jacket” in an English Dress’, The Sketch, 9 April 1913, pp. 10–11, here p. 10.

48 E. F. S., ‘“The Yellow Jacket”’, pp. 10–11.

49 Hazelton and Benrimo, The Yellow Jacket (Indianapolis, 1913), p. 4.

50 E. F. S., ‘“The Yellow Jacket”’, p. 10.

52 H. T. P., ‘On to China and to Stage Simplicities’.

53 Sheldon Cheney, The Theatre: Three Thousand Years of Drama, Acting and Stagecraft (revised and reset edition, New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1972; first published 1929), p. 118.

54 ‘Puppets in Japan’, The Mask, 6 (1913–14), p. 217.

55 The Mask, 9 (1923), p. 33.

56 Gordon Craig, ‘Asia, America, Europe’, The Mask, 8 (1918–19), pp. 31--32, here p. 31.

57 The Mask, 9 (1923), p. 34.

58 Gordon Craig, The Theatre Advancing (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1919), p. 142.

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