Shanghai theater puts on play in Shanghainese

It’s a sad situation that it’s newsworthy when a play is presented in the native language of most of those in one of the world’s largest cities. But in this case it’s also an occasion for hope.

Recently, for the first time in decades, a drama primarily in Shanghainese was presented in Shanghai. (I would guess that local operas, however, have been performed in Shanghainese with little interruption.) Unfortunately, as the Shanghaiist reports, there were some problems with this production of 《乌鸦与麻雀》 (Mandarin title: Wūyā yǔ Máquè; English title: The Crow and the Sparrow).

[T]he blame is being assigned to the fact that the production was too hastily prepared, leading them to overlook things like subtitles.

You might ask, why, if most of the dialogue is in Shanghainese, would people other than non-locals need subtitles? It turns out that aside from standard Shanghai dialect, Ningbo, Suzhou, Shandong and other dialects were also thrown in—the story takes place during the Republic period (1911-1949) at a time when many immigrants were first putting down roots in Shanghai. The production team also prepared a putonghua version of the play, which they used during the last performance here and will use if they take the play to other parts of China. All in all, it seemed as if this was a less than ideal way to restart this tradition.

Nonetheless, I’m encouraged that the authorities allowed this play to be staged in Shanghainese. Perhaps its roots as a popular film from the late 1940s and its anti-KMT storyline helped it get by the censors.

The Shanghaiist also mentions an interesting-sounding book: Rendering the Regional: Local Language in Contemporary Chinese Media, by Edward M. Gunn. The introduction (663 KB PDF) is available online. I look forward to reading the entire book once I can find it in a library or locate an inexpensive copy.


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