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When it comes to geniuses, literary license trumps details

By Chris Davis | China Daily USA | Updated: 2016-12-14 11:54

A Danish prince haunted by his father's ghost. A delusional Spanish knight jousting with windmills. A Chinese beauty falling into an enchanted dream next to a Peony Pavilion.

It's tough to imagine three characters with less in common. But thanks to a curious confluence of history - and China's flair for making the fantastic come to life - they may soon be under the same roof, or at least neighbors in the same village.

Four hundred years ago, in 1616, three giants of world literature - William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes and the great Ming Dynasty playwright Tang Xianzu - all turned in their pens for their heavenly rewards.

Recently, the city of Fuzhou, with a population of 4 million, in Fujian province announced plans to capitalize on the coincidence and create a new tourist town called Sanweng (Chinese for "Three Masters") in their suburbs.

The architectural and landscaping plans, unveiled at a ceremony hosted by Fuzhou to commemorate the trio of titans, are ambitious to say the least. The goal is to bring to life 17th century China, England and Spain.

First, a delegation from Fuzhou traveled to Stratford-upon-Avon, where Shakespeare was born and died, in England to do some field research.

Similar to Shakespeare's hometown, Sanweng will be centered in an area laced with canals and manmade waterways. The plans for "Little Stratford" call for replicas of the older 16th century house Shakespeare was born in and the newer 17th century house he retired (and died) in after gaining fame and fortune. There will also be a remake of the Holy Trinity Church and a section of the Avon River.

"A memorandum of friendly co-operation was signed when the Chinese delegation visited England, which will encourage schools and cultural groups in both countries to work together," a report from inews said.

Cervantes' "Little Alcala" Spanish quarter portion of the project to the west of "Little Stratford" will feature replicas of Cervantes' house, Alcala de Henares Cathedral and a Cervantes Square.

The lion's share of Three Masters village will be devoted to Tang Xianzu, who was born in the same Linchuan district. An ancient theater stage and recreations of authentic Chinese streets are planned.

A delegation from Stratford-upon-Avon led by council leader Christopher Saint recently traveled to the site at the invitation of the Fujian provincial government.

Saint told the MailOnline, "I was quite impressed by the plan of a small area of the new town which will be dedicated to Shakespeare's influences."

Saint added: "They are certainly keen to embrace Shakespeare and Shakespeare's influence on the works of their own playwright."

A statement that suggests an interesting question: Was Tang Xianzu really "influenced" by Shakespeare? And that leads one to wonder even further: Did Shakespeare ever read Don Quixote or Tang's dramas?

Sure, Tang's masterwork The Peony Pavilion has been dubbed classical Chinese literature's answer to Romeo and Juliet.

But are we suggesting here that Tang Xianzu actually read the play, in Elizabethan English? Or that the tale of Verona's star-crossed lovers was ever translated into Mandarin? Really?

From a scholarly point of view, lumping these three masters together might seem a bit uneasy. It's probably questionable if any of them had even ever heard of each other before they all died in the same year, which, aside from being possessed of genius, may be all they have in common.

In September, the Fuzhou city authority did unveil a new Tang Xianzu Museum. Occupying 1.5 acres, it cost about $10 million and features sections devoted to Shakespeare and Cervantes.

So what if the dice roll of history puts them all in the same boat? When it comes to promoting tourism and the arts, you can have it, to coin a phrase, as you like it. Because, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts."

Contact the writer at chrisdavis@chinadailyusa.com.

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