Poets cornered: What you didn’t know about Yorkshire and China

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THEY WROTE plays thousands of miles away from one another but now their work is being brought together.

William Shakespeare and the Ming Dynasty playwright Tang Xianzu both died 400 years ago this year.

Now an international theatre project to celebrate their work will see actors take to the stage for performances in both Yorkshire and China.

It is a collaboration between Leeds University students and academics and their counterparts at the Beijing’s University of International Business and Economics.

As part of the project precious 17th century copies of plays by Tang have on show in Leeds.

Undated copies of Tang’s plays Nanke-ji (A Dream Under the Southern Bough) and Mudan ting (The Peony Pavilion) are part of the Royal Asiatic Society (RAS) collection for Chinese studies held in Leeds University’s special collections and date from at least the 17th century.

They are thought to be possibly even older than Shakespeare’s famous 1623 First Folio, a copy of which is also held in Leeds University Library’s collections and now on permanent display in its new Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery.

The RAS collection numbers 700 titles in some 5,500 traditional thread-bound volumes, mainly of Qing dynasty texts.

The university said: “The collection is noteworthy for traditional fiction of 18th and 19th centuries. There are also interesting works on Chinese medicine, Qing law and local history as well as early editions of the Chinese classics and folding books of Buddhist sutras.”

After months spent rehearsing their respective adaptations of Tang and Shakespeare plays on opposite sides of the world, the students have come together in Leeds this week.

Leeds students have been performing Tang while Chinese students have been rehearsing Shakespeare.

They performed their premiere of A Midsummer Night’s DREAMING Under the Southern Bough in front of the Chinese Ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, and a full house.

The global collaboration, William Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu: Celebrating a 400 Year Legacy, has seen students in Beijing and Leeds work around the common theme of dreams, for back-to-back performances of their contemporary interpretations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Tang’s Nanke-ji (The Story of Nanke, also known as The Dream Under the Southern Bough).

After the premiere in Leeds, the back-to-back show then visits the Edinburgh Fringe for performances from August 5 to 13. From September 15 to 25, the students and staff from both universities will tour Beijing, Shanghai and perform their show in Tang’s hometown – Fuzhou in Jiangxi Province – during the Tang Xianzu Memorial Festival.

The RAS collection was collected by George Thomas Staunton, one of the original members of the RAS, who accompanied his diplomat father on the first British diplomatic mission to China, the Macartney Mission, in 1792.