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Anarchy in the PRC: Meng Jinghui and
His Adaptation of Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist

by Rossella Ferrari

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 1-48


The article introduces the work of Chinese avant-garde theatre director Meng Jinghui, focusing on his controversial adaptation of Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist (1998). The encounter with Fo’s theatre marked a watershed in Meng’s career, providing him with a fundamental source for the redefinition of his own understanding of the dramatic medium in terms of simultaneous interplay of experimentalism and popular influences, sociopolitical commitment and playful entertainment. Anarchist laid the basis for a new model of “pop avant-garde,” marking a shift in the Chinese theatrical landscape from the opposition “the Avant-garde versus the Popular” to the more constructive amalgamation “the Avant-garde cum the Popular”– namely from an elitist perception of avant-garde theatre as an antagonistic art form to a more dialogic model of stage-audience communication and cultural interaction.

The first section provides an outline of the main stages of Meng’s career, contextualizing it in the overall framework of Chinese avant-garde theatre. The author then undertakes a close reading of Fo’s original text and Meng’s adaptation, examining their formal structure and sociocultural implications by means of two interpretive codes defined as “politico-satirical” and “self-referential.” Such comparative analysis proves that although in Meng’s hands Fo’s masterpiece has undoubtedly undergone a profound metamorphosis, with its powerful ambivalences and multiple layers of meaning his production manages to retain the essence of its source at both structural and semantic levels, standing out as a remarkable instance of indigenization of the Other for the purposes of the Self. Moreover, an investigation of Fo’s relationship to China in terms of interculturalism reveals that the process of reception does not follow a linear and unidirectional trajectory from one culture to another, but rather a circular and bi-directional one. Hence the intercultural act in this case is not identifiable as a “borrowing,” but rather as a “barter” of reciprocal illuminations and productive “misunderstandings.”

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