Tapping into an audience of over a billion people, the Royal Shakespeare Company has announced that they will be translating the complete works of William Shakespeare into Mandarin. Sajid Javid, Culture Secretary of Britain, and Chinese Vice-President Ma Kai made the announcement as part of an ongoing “economic and financial dialogue” between the two countries.
The project will largely be funded by the United Kingdom government’s donation of $2.7 million. Fourteen Chinese plays will also be translated into English, as part of the two governments’ plans to encourage cultural exchange. $540,000 will also be provided to the RSC for a tour of China to celebrate the Bard’s 400th birthday in 2016. Javid says on the project–
“Creating stronger links with China is a top priority for the government, and sharing the very best of our respective cultures is a brilliant way to make this happen. 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.”
Beyond the realm of theatre, the U.K. announced an additional $540,000 funding to connect the British Museum and China’s own museums.
While the initial aim of these plans are to encourage tourism and improve economic connections, there’s no denying that making literature accessible to wider audiences is a great cause in and of itself. I’m interested in seeing which Chinese plays will be chosen for translation, and what plans, if any, there are to stage them in the U.K. Seeing Chinese interpretations of Shakespeare’s familiar (at least to Western audiences) plays would also be a great way to carry this project forward, and illustrate the similarities and differences of both cultures.