East West – Things…

I was delighted to learn a few months ago in my Mandarin class that the Chinese word for ‘thing’ or ‘things’ is made up of     dong, meaning ‘East’, and  xi, meaning ‘West’.     — ‘East’ and ‘West’ put together hence is used to refer to some non-descript entity, something that cannot or is not wished to be given a specific name, it is stuff in general, from here and there… or indeed cannot be pinned down in terms of identity and location.

This very issue of not being able to locate either what we are looking at, or where exactly what we are looking at has come from, has surfaced in many of our discussions on performance here in Beijing. It begins in the many difficulties of translating various terms from Mandarin into English and vice versa. How do you distinguish the term ‘performance’ in Mandarin in relation to ‘theatre’, ‘theatre arts’ and ‘dance’ for instance? And what are we supposed to understand under “live mini drama”, which seems to describe a popular form of live entertainment prevalent here in China, which apparently involves some sort of process of audiences feeding content for an improvised performance prior to the event online, and some sort of televising process after the live improvisation on stage?

East and West simply put next to each other, creating a single term, might usefully conceptualise this mixture of elements, which are integral in so many ‘things’ we have looked at, discussed and wondered about, where boundaries have been blurred and crossed, influences and identities obscured. It might help a process of looking at practices as a shifting and ongoing process of change, and prevent an often reductive and in my view unhelpful quest for identifying ‘true’ identities and origins.

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