Found in Translation: King's 'Dream' Plays in Beijing





BEIJING — For months now, Caitrin McKiernan has gone from place to place in this city to ask Chinese people an unlikely question: What does the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. mean to you?

The questions don't end there, either. In most of these gatherings, she gets far more specific, burrowing into the history and tactics of the American civil rights movement.

"Who knows what the Birmingham bus boycott was?" she asked a group of university students in May. "What is a sit-in?" "What's the meaning of separate but equal?" At the level of language, every one of those terms presents a formidable challenge, even to a woman who has spent years in this country and speaks fluent Chinese.

But language is not the half of it. How can one translate Dr. King's actions into the realm of ideas for an audience in a city notably hostile to protests? How does one convey to Chinese people the meaning of the life of a man who died fighting for civil rights nearly 40 years ago?

The answers may have begun to emerge since the production at the National Theater on Sunday of the play "Passages of Martin Luther King Jr." by the noted King scholar Clayborne Carson and based on the life and words of the American civil rights leader. Ms. McKiernan, who studied under Mr. Carson at Stanford and is the play's producer, was prepared for any kind of audience response, from deeply moved to completely stumped and anything in between.



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