China’s most well-known playwright, Cao Yu, and renowned actor, Ying Ruocheng, visited the U.S. in March 1980 under the auspices of the Center for U.S.-China Arts Exchange and the Committee on Scholarly Communications with the People’s Republic of China. Heralded as the “Shakespeare of China” in the 1930’s, Cao Yu popularized “spoken” drama, or huaju, introducing a western art form into a culture where theatre had traditionally been lyrical, or sung with lyrics written in poetic classical Chinese. The new art form made possible the dramatic treatment of modern social topics, which the classical language could not express authentically.

Ying Ruocheng was at the time a distinguished actor affiliated with the Beijing People’s Art Theater, and later became internationally famous when taking a role in Bertolucci’s film, The Last Emperor. He was also one of China’s most prolific translators of foreign drama scripts into Chinese and served as Vice Minister of Culture from 1986 to 1990.

Cao and Ying spent five weeks in the U.S. on a professional program organized by the Center. The visit began in New York where the duo attended plays and rehearsals and met with theater professionals. The following public events were arranged in New York in their honor:

  • New English translation of Cao Yu’s 1940 classic Peking Man by Don Cohn, Leslie Lo and Michelle Vosper, published by Columbia University Press;
  • Professional performances of Peking Man, produced by the Center for Theater Studies at Columbia University;
  • Performances of Cao Yu’s 1936 hit Sunrise at La MaMa, produced by Tisa Chang.
  • Joint lecture by Cao Yu and Arthur Miller at Columbia University’s School of International Affairs;

“The gap in our understanding of one another’s worlds is as much a failure of imagination as anything else.” – Arthur Miller, 1980

  • All-day seminar at Columbia University on “Current Trends in Chinese and American Theater,” led by Bernard Beckerman, Chairman of Center for Theater Studies with presentations by Cao Yu and Ying Ruocheng. Participants included playwright Amin Baraka, La MaMa director, Ellen Stewart and actress Estelle Parsons.
  • Exhibition of “Photographs of Contemporary Theatre Productions in China” produced by the Beijing People’s Art Theater and presented by the Asia Society.