BEIJING, Dec. 27, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — In Athens, two Chinese dramas were staged in early December during the first Sino-Hellenic International Theater Festival – The Prince of Lanling, a general of the Northern Qi Dynasty (550-557), and The New Legend of the White Snake, which blended elements from both Chinese and Greek culture.
Chinese dramas staged in Greece have become a fairly commonplace phenomenon thanks to decades of efforts by the Luo family, and their contributions to cultural exchanges have been passed down for three generations.
“The late Professor Luo Niansheng, a renowned Chinese scholar and translator, is remembered for his lifelong dedication to the translation and research of Greek literature and for his important contribution to furthering our friendship, a legacy carried on by his son and granddaughter,” wrote President Xi Jinping in a signed article titled Let Wisdom of Ancient Civilizations Shine Through the Future, published on November 10, 2019, in the Greek newspaper Kathimerini (The Daily) ahead of his state visit to the European country.
Luo Niansheng, the first Chinese student to attend the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in 1933, was a major force in introducing ancient Greek theater and literature such as Aesop’s Fables and the works of Aeschylus to China.
Carrying on his father’s legacy, Luo Jinlin has produced Chinese versions of popular classic Greek plays such as Oedipus the King and Medea and put them in Chinese theaters.
Following in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, Luo Tong is also striving to bring Chinese theater to Greece, enabling more Greek people to understand Chinese culture.
“Cultural bridges need piers. I have built a pier in Athens, where my cultural center promotes Chinese culture. Now, in Beijing, I would establish another pier to widely promote Greek culture. If these two piers are strong enough, more people will come across the bridge we’ve built,” Luo told the Global Times.
Venturing beyond boundaries
Luo Niansheng was once a dispatched student to the US. However, he chose to abandon his academic pursuits and an imminent degree in the country, opting instead to relocate to Greece, becoming the first Chinese student to study in Greece.
During his lifetime, Luo Niansheng translated over 10 million words from more than 50 ancient Greek literary and artistic works.
His son, Luo Jinlin, brought ancient cultures to life on stage. In 1986, Luo Jinlin first staged Oedipus Rex and went on to direct more ancient Greek dramas translated by his father, exploring the interpretation of ancient Greek drama through Chinese traditional opera.
When depicting Oedipus blaming and blinding himself, he employed the freehand techniques of Chinese opera, covering Oedipus’ eyes with a piece of black cloth, immersing the audience in the scene and leaving room for rich imagination.
Boldly venturing beyond traditional boundaries, Luo Jinlin used Hebei Bangzi Opera (a gem among traditional Chinese operatic styles from North China’s Hebei Province) to interpret Medea, presenting a trilogy of plays with Pingju Opera for Orestes.
His directed works never overlook the manifestation of contemporary values inherent in ancient Greek drama. In The Women of Troy, he expresses condemnation of war and a commitment to peace through his work. The ode to human dignity in Antigone and the self-reflection in Oedipus Rex are all conveyed through Luo Jinlin’s direction.
Luo Jinlin told Guangming Daily that Medea has been performed over 250 times and has become greatly popular. Audiences in Greece even filled the corridor to watch the opera.
“I hope that our dramas, especially our traditional Chinese operas, can step beyond our borders, both in form and content, and take center stage in overseas theaters. This is of utmost importance,” the youngest Luo Tong told the Global Times.
Bringing Greece to China
“My grandfather and father made great efforts to bring Greek culture to China. However, Chinese culture has not been adequately promoted in Greece, especially in terms of grassroots exchanges. I thought I should bring it to Greece,” Luo Tong recalled.
After her graduation in Greece, she stayed on and worked as a teacher at the University of Athens.
In 1992, thanks to her efforts, the language school at the university began offering Chinese language courses. In 2001, Luo Tong the cultural expert established the InterChina Cultural Center, which initially focused on teaching the Chinese language but gradually expanded into areas like kung fu, calligraphy, painting, and other forms of performances.
This center, the first of its kind in Greece, has become a well-known institution in the field.
Upon returning to China in 2018, she started her teaching career at the Shanghai Theatre Academy and gave lectures at some other universities.
In addition to her teaching work, Luo Tong has also been dedicated to promoting the development of Greek drama performances in China. For example, in 2019, at the National Theatre of China, Luo Tong invited both Greek and Chinese actors, directors, and production teams to perform bilingually.
One of Luo Tong’s goals is to get more ordinary Chinese people interested in and passionate about Greek drama through popularization. She and her father participated in the first Sino-Hellenic International Theater Festival. Luo Tong expressed her desire at the forum to explore further cultural exchange activities next year.
“China will continue to cooperate with the Greek government, especially the Ministry of Culture, to implement more cultural cooperation programs,” Chinese Ambassador to Greece Xiao Junzheng told the Global Times, praising the Hebei Bangzi Opera version of the Greek tragedy Medea as an effective way to promote mutual learning.