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Found in Translation: King's 'Dream' Plays in Beijing [NY Times] 2006.05.30

May 30, 2006 Beijing Journal Found in Translation: King's 'Dream' Plays in Beijing By HOWARD W. FRENCH http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/30/world/asia/30beijing.html?_r=1&oref=slogin BEIJING — For months now, Caitrin McKiernan has gone from place to place in this city to ask Chinese people an unlikely question: What does the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. mean to you? Chang W. Lee/The New York Times Caitrin McKiernan, far right, prepped Wang Hui, who played Martin Luther King in a play at the National Theater in Beijing, before a rehearsal. The questions don't end there, either. In most of these gatherings, she gets far more specific, burrowing into the history and tactics of the American civil rights movement. "Who knows what the Birmingham bus boycott was?" she asked a group of university students in May. "What is a sit-in?" "What's the meaning of separate but equal?" At the level of language, every one of those terms presents a formidable challenge, even to a woman who has spent years in this country and speaks fluent Chinese. But language is not the half of it. How can one translate Dr. King's actions into the realm of ideas for an audience in a city notably hostile to protests? How does one convey to Chinese people the meaning of the life of a man who died fighting for civil rights nearly 40 years ago? The answers may have begun to emerge since the production at the National Theater on Sunday of the play "Passages of Martin Luther King Jr." by the noted King scholar Clayborne Carson and based on the life and words of the American civil rights leader. Ms. McKiernan, who studied under Mr. Carson at Stanford and is the play's producer, was prepared for any kind of audience response, from deeply moved to completely stumped and anything in between. But the responses of Ms. McKiernan's discussion groups and the reactions of her cast suggested that Dr. King's message would hit home here, that Chinese viewers would see parallels to divisions in their own society. That prospect poses a thorny problem for the government, which, on one hand, has endorsed Dr. King's work as a blow for the class struggle and against American imperialism, but on the other insists that racism and discrimination are purely problems of decadent Western societies. The government, however, gave the production its imprimatur, and permission to play at the prestigious theater. A distinct possibility was that the universality of Dr. King's message and the causes he fought for would completely escape Chinese viewers. But the reactions Ms. McKiernan has heard so far suggest otherwise, and give her reason to hope that her dream of building a bridge between the societies by talking about peaceful struggle and universal rights has some hold on reality. During one recent discussion at a Beijing university, after viewing excerpts from the PBS documentary "Eyes on the Prize," students explored their feelings on the discrimination they discern between migrant workers and more affluent residents of the country's eastern cities. Others spoke about the inferior position of women in their society or of being treated badly during visits overseas or the predominance of American power in the world. "The significance of Martin Luther King for me is that we have to have the courage to stand up for our legitimate benefits," said a Chinese student who identified himself as Paul. Ms. McKiernan has avoided lecturing her audiences, or even steering the discussions. "I don't want this to be about what happened in the U.S. in some past year," she said. "I want this to be about what discrimination is, and how it relates to your life." The talks have usually begun with an explanation of how Dr. King's life came to mean so much to her, a Californian who first came to this city at 16 as an exchange student and had to struggle to overcome cultural differences with her host family. Then she studied Dr. King in college, and she has had him on her mind ever since. "I realized that King was this great bridge between the United States and China," Ms. McKiernan said. "China is an emerging superpower, and the U.S. is the superpower, and King is someone that both sides believe in, and can be the starting point for a dialogue about how we wish the world to be." Then she sighed, and said, "But it's the hardest thing I've ever done." The challenges have come from every direction: persuading the National Theater to accept the production, recruiting professional actors and production people, enlisting gospel singers from the United States to join the performance, doing endless and mostly fruitless fund-raising. The American Embassy provided a modest grant, as did Stanford. But the multinational corporations that abound in Beijing proved skittish, even more than the government. Beijing's unexpected stake in Dr. King's legacy is twofold, involving both past and present. The country's slogan for the 2008 summer Olympics is "One World, One Dream," which officials say brings to mind Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. That address has been famous here since Mao Zedong hailed it in August 1963, and it is still taught in schools. In such matters context is everything, and for Mao, Dr. King was first and foremost a symbol of "the sharpening of class struggle and national struggle within the United States." In a speech some people here still recall today, Mao called on "enlightened persons of all colors in the world, white, black, yellow and brown, to unite to oppose the racial discrimination practiced by U.S. imperialism." Then, as now, Chinese people were ill prepared to discuss their country's internal problems, a subject about which they were not educated, nor did Mao link Dr. King's struggles to the problems of China's ethnic minorities or, for that matter, human rights or inequality. But to listen to the participants in Ms. McKiernan's discussion groups, or the actors in her production, that is what many people confronted with Dr. King's words today readily do. "In today's China it would seem that discriminatory actions are not so common," said Yan Shikui, the narrator for the production. "But in fact, it is very serious. We talk about the difference between urban and rural citizens, the gap between the strong and the weak. All of these are very deep notions buried in people's minds, which cannot be solved by using violence. They have to be addressed through ideas." 2006.05.31  中國時報 民權夢 金恩事蹟搬上舞台 於慧堅/台北報導 美國黑人民權鬥士金恩博士的「我有一個夢想」演說,在毛澤東當年的提倡下,至今仍是大陸學生必學的教材。然而,大陸民眾對民權的理解有多少、對金恩理念的感受為何,對中共政府卻可能是個尷尬的問題。《紐約時報》周二報導,隨著金恩事蹟搬上舞台,民權理念在大陸的傳遞,也許將起潛移默化的作用。 幾個月以來,麥婷(Caitrin McKiernan)在北京東奔西跑,想知道金恩對中國人究竟有什麼意義。除了著名的「我有一個夢想」演說,她還深入到美國歷史以及美國人搞民權運動的方法,比方什麼叫「靜坐」?「生而平等」是什麼意思? 「我有一個夢想」 必學教材 然而,在北京這個向來對示威活動抱著戒心的城市裡,如何讓大陸民眾真正理解金恩民權運動背後的理念,這個四十年前為爭取公民權利奮鬥至死的牧師,其理想如何有意義地傳達給今天的中國人,才是麥婷正在進行的「不可能任務」。 師從美國史丹福大學金恩研究第一把交椅卡森(Clayborne Carson)教授的麥婷,星期天在北京國家話劇院(National Theater),將金恩的奮鬥歷程搬上了舞台。 北京奧運口號 靈感來自金恩 從校園的幾次討論小組、以及演員們的反應看來,金恩闡述的理念是可以打動此地人心,大陸觀眾也能從中與自己所處的社會比較異同。這對中共政府來說,無疑是棘手的問題:共產黨當年為階級鬥爭以及反對美帝需要,一方面高調倡揚金恩的努力,另一方面又堅稱種族問題及階級歧視,是墮落的西方社會才有的現象。 儘管如此,大陸政府仍然批准這部戲在地位崇高的國家話劇院演出。 到目前為止,麥婷接觸過的大陸民眾對金恩理念的反應,讓她深信藉著和平手段以及普世權利的討論,是可以在中、美這兩個不同社會之間搭建起橋樑的。 一位英文名為保羅的大陸學生說,金恩對他最重要的意義是,每個人應該要有勇氣去追求自己合法的權益。 金恩生平搬上舞台對北京來說,背後其實有兩層意義,牽扯到大陸的過去和現在。就眼前來說,北京主辦二○○八年奧運喊出的主題口號是「同一個世界,同一個夢想」,大陸官員解釋靈感就得自於金恩的「我有一個夢想」。大陸國家主席毛澤東一九六三年八月發表「支援美國黑人反對美帝國主義種族歧視正義鬥爭的聲明」,使「我有一個夢想」這篇演說在全國各地人盡皆知,到現在仍是學校裡的學習教材。 歧視問題嚴重 透過理念傳遞 毛澤東利用金恩的演講,呼籲全世界不分膚色的人們團結對抗美國帝國主義,至今許多大陸人還能朗朗上口。然而,和當年一樣,中國人到今天在討論國內面臨的問題時,實際的準備卻還是不足。大家缺乏這方面的教育,如同當年毛澤東,也從來沒把金恩奮力爭取的目標,和中國國內少數民族、人權及不平等現象相提並論。 那麼,究竟大陸人對金恩的話理解多少呢?演員顏世魁表示,今天的中國社會,從表面上看起來歧視問題似乎沒那麼大,但實際上非常嚴重。城鄉發展差距、貧富不均以及強弱之間的鴻溝,都早已深植於人心,「這些問題不能靠武力來解決,最好的辦法就是透過理念的傳遞來改變」。