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Dragon King in a contentious sea: Sino–Japanese intercultural theatre in 1989

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 May 2021

Josh Stenberg*
The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Tove Björk
Saitama University, Saitama, Japan
*Corresponding author. Email:


Interculturalism in theatre, although much critiqued, is an inevitable category for understanding theatre practices and histories. Critical approaches have highlighted the complicity of “hegemonic” Euro-American-led theatre with imperialist structures. Newer critiques tend to focus on encounters in European languages in multicultural cities, and to posit multilateral non-Western collaborations as liberated from colonial power structures. This paper argues that it is necessary to fundamentally rethink interculturalism in theatre by taking seriously the long-standing major theatrical exchanges which do not reference, and are not principally influenced by, Western theatre's sphere. Considering a major example of Sino–Japanese collaboration from 1989, Ryū-Ō (Dragon King), we place it within the genealogy of the two countries’ long-standing theatrical practices of interculturalism. Ryu-O, a kabuki-jingju collaboration, shows that intra-Asian interculturalism has its own genealogy and is neither new nor beholden to Euro-American models, nor necessarily characterized by the idealism easily invested in overtly counter-hegemonic projects. By examining the show's production process, performance and reception, we re-evaluate how interculturalism in theatre is conceived, urging serious engagement with areas of practice historically grounded and fully independent of both “hegemonic” and “new” intercultural theatre tendencies.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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