Avenues of Dramatic Transadaptation for Chinese Theatre with Josh Stenberg

March 09, 2023

This presentation reviews transadaptations from Chinese sources of two prolific dramatist-directors, the German Sinophile Vincenz Hundhausen (1878-1955), well known for his lyrical German versions of plays such as The Western Chambers (1926) and The Lute (1930), and the Indonesian director Nano Riantiarno (b. 1949), whose Jakarta’s Teater Koma has made a half-dozen popular and acclaimed musical adaptations of stories including The Butterfly Lovers (1988) and White Snake (1994). While Hundhausen’s versions were based largely on the oral translation of the Chinese original by German-speaking poet Feng Zhi, Riantiarno based his versions on Indonesian retellings and dubbed television versions. The historical and geographical gap between the two oeuvres is used to consider the different pathways of adaptation from the Chinese world into European and into Southeast Asian contexts, and suggests that transadaptation into Western languages has largely been elite and Sinological, while that into the Southeast Asian world was and remains vernacular and migrant. This is both important for understanding how translational flows are sensitive to geopolitics and for the different positions occupied and reputations associated with Chinese culture (and by extension, people) in multiethnic societies in the West and in Southeast Asia.


Josh Stenberg is a Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Sydney and holds a Discovery Early Career Research Award from the Australian Reseach Council. His work focuses on Chinese literature and theatre in southern China, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and Australia. He is the author of Liyuanxi: Chinese ‘Pear Garden’ Theatre (Methuen Drama, 2022) and Minority Stages: Chinese-Indonesian Performance and Public Display (U of Hawai’i Press, 2019) as well as editor of Kunqu Masters on Chinese Theatrical Performance (Anthem Press, 2022) and Irina’s Hat: New Short Stories from China (MerwinAsia, 2013).

This event is sponsored by SFU's David Lam Centre and supported by Department of Global Humanities and SFU's Institute for Transpacific Cultural Research.

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