The UK government is donating £1.5m for the translation of all William Shakespeare’s works into Mandarin for audiences in China. Plans for cultural exchange with China will also see 14 important Chinese plays translated into English.

UK Culture secretary Sajid Javid has also announced £300,000 for a Royal Shakespeare Company tour of China.

He said culture was a “brilliant” way of fostering closer UK-China ties.

“This funding means Western and Eastern cultures can learn from and be enriched by one another and what better way than using the works of Shakespeare. The package marks a really important step for both China and the UK to grow a strong and progressive relationship.”

The RSC will undertake the first translation of the Bard’s complete works in Mandarin.

“I profoundly believe that we foster deeper understanding between cultures by sharing and telling each other our stories,” RSC artistic director Gregory Doran said. “Our plans to translate Shakespeare into Mandarin, to see translation and performance of more Chinese classics in the UK and to tour RSC productions to China will celebrate the arts and culture of both nations.”

Richard III in Mandarin by The National Theatre of China

Richard III in Mandarin by The National Theatre of China – performed at the Globe Theatre.

Although Chinese artists have embraced Shakespeare for more than two centuries, the first translation into Chinese was not completed until last century. Renowned translator Lin Shu completed his translation Strange Stories from across the Seas in 1904. Lin knew no English and relied on a bilingual collaborator to summarize Charles and Mary Lamb’s prose adaptations for children in Tales from Shakespeare, published in 1807. His translation inspired a new generation of admirers to seek out the originals. The first complete play was translated in 1922, by dramatist Tian Han who translated Hamlet from Japanese. The first Chinese translation of Shakespeare’s complete works was published in 1967.

Many of Shakespeare’s works have been adapted by Chinese artists into silent film, period epic film, urban comedy, and martial-arts film. Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet are the most popular subjects for adaptation.

A National Theatre of China adaptation of The Tragedy of King Richard III was performed during the Globe to Globe festival at the Globe Theatre in 2012, which received wide acclaim. Our Ricardian readers would be pleased to know that they didn’t bother with the limp and the hunchback either.

Zhang Dongyu as Richard III

Zhang Dongyu as Richard III

About The Author

Olga Hughes is currently pre-occupied with fairy tales, fantasy, misanthropy, medieval history and the long eighteenth century. She has a Bachelor of Fine Art from the Victorian College of the Arts and is currently majoring in Literature and History at Deakin. She has contributed to websites such as History behind Game of Thrones, The Anne Boleyn Files and The Tudor Society.

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