Animal Farm overcomes mainland's ban

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 November, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 November, 2002, 12:00am

George Orwell's classic anti-communist parody Animal Farm, the original version of which remains banned on the mainland, is showing as a play in Beijing.

The director, a 30-year-old China Central Drama Academy graduate, said his production was not aimed at communism, but at people's willingness to ignore the differences between a society's rights and wrongs.

He said China's Ministry of Culture gave permission for the production to take place.

'It's not to say Marx was wrong,' said Shang Chengjun. 'What I want to tell people is, don't be lazy thinkers. If you see something wrong by your side, go and oppose it directly.'

The two-hour play is showing six days a week at Beijing's China Central Drama Academy until December 19.

Over the first three days, 1,800 people attended, said promoter Han Jia, the director's wife. The audience watched animals overthrow their human owner, take over the farm in the name of socialist equality and gradually let their porcine leaders twist the farm into a pig-dominated totalitarian state.

On Saturday night most of the audience was in their early 20s. They laughed at comic moments, such as the hen chanting repetitions of 'an egg today is a chicken tomorrow', but left quietly at the end. Mr Shang said few people understood the drama because they had not read the book.

And those who understood it did not want to admit it. 'To our faces they say it's great, but they can't say more, because they realise they're one of the animals, and it's hard to criticise yourself,' Mr Shang said.

He said Chinese people do not recognise society's wrongs, and cited corruption as an example.

Play promoter Li Ming said the producer, Beijing Laughing Wolf Enterprise Development Co, chose Animal Farm because the play was totally new for Chinese audiences. The play features 30 actors and actresses from the Drama Academy's vocational degree programme.

China observers see the Communist Party going in the same direction as the book - the government serving itself before the masses, running a police state and becoming more and more like previous governments that it claims to despise.

But Mr Shang said the same trends take place in countries where people decline to vote, do not keep up with changes in their leadership, and then wonder what is wrong politically.

Animal Farm's original English text is banned in China, but the promoters believe the play should be legal, because bookstores can sell a censored Chinese version.