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Heat across the Straits

By Zhang Zihan (Global Times)

09:44, August 31, 2012

The Chinese mainland first embraced Taiwanese stage dramas 30 years ago when playwright Yao Yi-wei's Red Nose was adapted by the China National Youth Theater in 1982. Not only was it staged more than 60 times following its mainland premiere, it also triggered a lasting trend known in the theatrical scene as "Taiwan heat."

The success of a Chinese-language adaptation of Tuesdays with Morrie based on the namesake 1997 novel by American writer Mitch Albom and starring Jin Shi-Jye at the National Centre for the Performing Arts is only part of the picture of Taiwan's contribution to mainland theater. Stan Lai, regarded as a drama master, and the Comedians Workshop troupe founded in 1988 by Feng Yi-kang and Sung Shao-ching are also particularly revered.

But what is that makes Taiwanese dramas so popular on the Chinese mainland? Wang Xie, a 24-year-old college student and avid drama fan, lauded Taiwanese productions' "brave satire of current affairs."

"They have a strong sense of social responsibility," said Wang, who cites Comedians Workshop as his favorite Taiwanese drama troupe. "Through their cunning wordplays, they criticize politics and many sensitive issues without fear - something you can hardly find among Chinese mainland dramas."

One of the possible influences behind this political satire lies in the backgrounds of pioneering Taiwanese dramatists. Many were responsible for producing propaganda for the retreating Kuomintang (KMT) Party during the Chinese Civil War (1945-49). Politics became a fertile subject for Taiwanese dramas based on their experiences with the KMT and its resonance with audiences.

Even Chinese mainland actors expressed their admiration for Taiwanese dramas. "I envy my Taiwanese peers," said 24-year-old actor Wu Yuanqing. "They have explored many areas that we haven't touched."

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