The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Lady Linda Wong Davies Headshot

My Pride at 'Chinese Shakespeare' Taking Edinburgh by Storm And What It Says About East Meets West in the Modern Age

Posted: Updated:

Helping to bring a Chinese interpretation of Shakespeare's Coriolanus to the Edinburgh International Festival has been far more than just an artistic gesture.

The production was first suggested to me by a friend at the Chinese Ministry of Culture in Beijing who spoke very highly of the project which has already enjoyed considerable success in China.

Produced and directed by one of China's most esteemed theatre directors, Lin Zhaohua of the Beijing People's Art Theatre; the original production in 2007 achieved much critical acclaim from critics and public alike during its popular two-year run in China.

Performed in Mandarin and featuring two of China's leading heavy-metal bands (Miserable Faith and Suffocated) representing the rioting Roman crowds, Coriolanus is nothing if not a provocative night of theatre. Of course, everyone involved is delighted that the show has sold out twice at Edinburgh leading to a surge of extra ticketing - as of tonight, about 3,000 tickets have been sold!

The staging of this production is a prime example of the work I do in my role as founder of the KT Wong Foundation. I launched the foundation six years ago in memory of my father, Dato Wong Kee Tat, a Chinese-Malaysian businessman and philanthropist, who instilled in me both a love of art and culture.

My foundation aims to build cultural bridges to promote mutual understanding between China and the rest of the world, through collaborative projects presenting the best of the east and west.

We therefore act as a catalyst, producer and sponsor for ventures that bring together artists in opera, horticulture, architecture and design. The foundation also considers education in these fields very important - we try to establish residencies in baroque and chamber music, conducting, and arts management in China with various partners.

In many ways China is still an enigmatic, faraway continent to the West. Yet, despite the challenges posed in its more recent history, it remains a vast land steeped in our culture and creativity. It's 5000 years of continuous civilisation has many rich traditions to draw upon.

While my father invested in his motherland building schools, colleges, stadiums and libraries, I inherited his keen loyalty to his roots and his dream of helping to enrich China - but in a different way.

Indeed, I am very proud of my Chinese heritage. Although I have never lived in the so-called motherland it is arguably the overseas Chinese who practice Chinese customs and traditions the most assiduously. We hold on to those beliefs that are most precious to us. But, my challenge has always been how to present Chinese culture today and make it relevant to the twenty-first century.

Since the KT Wong Foundation was established we have been delighted to produce some unforgettable shows including Benjamin Britten's Noye's Fludde (Noah's Flood) in Belfast Zoo with huge life-size handmade Chinese lanterns made in the traditional way.

After much careful lobbying and hard work the foundation also managed to bring Noye's Fludde to Beijing and Shanghai in 2012 - the first ever Britten opera to reach Chinese shores in this centenary year. We had an outdoor performance in Shanghai which was beamed live around the city on giant screens this July.

In partnership with the National Theatre Live, we also brought China the first film presentation of Danny Boyle's critically acclaimed production of Frankenstein starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller.

These shows received brilliant receptions which made all the hard work worth it because, to be honest, you need diplomacy, sensitivity and the right connections in order to stage such unusual productions in China.

What's more, for a long time many people in China couldn't get their heads around the fact that we aren't a business but a charitable foundation. There is still a lot to be done in explaining to people what philanthropy is today and how China can adapt this model for itself.

That said, it would be a mistake for anyone to underestimate China's vast potential. The sleeping dragon is waking.

I often visualise modern-day China as a huge juggernaut moving at lightening speed. Its not just that the Chinese economy is booming - its artistic potential is limitless.

My friend Lang Lang, the world-famous Chinese pianist, told me there are as many as 100 million children now learning classical music in China. It has a very young population, all bright and very keen to absorb information, but a deeper understanding of art, music and history of the world around them needs cultivating.

This is where I believe Britain could do well to step in. The Chinese really respect the British and welcome their talents.

Indeed, the UK has huge creative talent which I believe is one of its greatest exports. You can't copy it - but you can share skills. This country is looked upon with envy by the rest of the world with its amazing accomplishments in art, literature, theatre and music.

From my own point of view, staging productions that have both Chinese and Western themes is endlessly fascinating because east and west tend to see universal themes through different glasses. For example, my foundation co-produced a great baroque opera by Handel, Semele, which was directed by a major contemporary Chinese artist, Zhang Huan.

In the case of Coriolanus - the production at Edinburgh is not just about a group of Chinese actors celebrating a particular love of Shakespeare. There are far more obvious plays to put on like Hamlet, Macbeth and Richard III. It's about bridging cultures through mutual identification.

For instance, the huge crowd scenes in Coriolanus are something many Chinese people would identify with. The idea of a "noble" hero and the sacrifices of the individual for the betterment of a society.

Also, in Chinese culture filial duty is so important and audiences would certainly relate to Coriolanus' devotion to his mother - the only person who appears to have any real influence upon his decisions.

To conclude - I do hope audiences enjoy Coriolanus as much as I did and I'm very proud to have been part of China's own special offering to the Edinburgh International Festival.

The KT Wong Foundation aims to bring many more exciting Chinese ventures to the west and vice versa.

Around the Web

The Tragedy of Coriolanus | Edinburgh International Festival

Guitar hero: Coriolanus goes rock | Stage | The Guardian

Edinburgh rocks to heavy metal Coriolanus - FT.com

The Tragedy of Coriolanus | in Edinburgh | WOW247

The Tragedy of Coriolanus - Edinburgh Festival 2013

The Guardian - The Guide - The Tragedy Of Coriolanus Edinburgh

Heavy metal Chinese Shakespeare puts smile on Edinburgh's face

Lin Zhaohua production of Coriolanus set for 2013 Edinburgh International Festival

Edinburgh Festivals Underway

Chinese Shakespeare slips on a full metal jacket

Culture Secretary's thoughts on Festival

Flavours of the Edinburgh International Festival 2013