Significant Other: Staging the American in China
312pp. August 2004
Significant Other: Staging the American in China
Author: Conceison, Claire;
Chinese views of the United States have shifted dramatically since the 1980s, with changes in foreign relations, increased travel of Chinese citizens to the U.S., and wide circulation of American popular culture in China. Significant Other explores representations of Americans that emerged onstage in China between 1987 and 2002 and considers how they function as racial and cultural stereotypes, political strategy, and artistic innovation. Based on fieldwork in Beijing and Shanghai, it offers a unique view of contemporary Mainland Chinese spoken drama from the perspective of a Western academic who is both a Chinese studies scholar and a theatre practitioner. Claire Conceison’s close readings of recent plays take into account not only the texts of the plays themselves and other primary sources, but also production contexts, creative origins, artistic collaboration, and audience reception.

Identifying the American as China’s "significant Other," Conceison introduces the complex cultural relationship between China and the United States, situating it in both the long history of Sino-Western relations and the present dynamics of post-colonialism. She then examines the emergent discourse of Occidentalism, tracing its origins and recent circulation and repositioning it as a discursive strategy to analyze appearances of Americans on the Chinese stage. Conceison maintains that Chinese staging of American characters—often played by local actors made up and costumed as Americans, and more recently played by foreigners themselves—reveals cultural norms and attitudes regarding the United States, reflects Sino-American political relations, articulates Chinese national and cultural identity, and signifies innovation in spoken drama as an art form.


"Significant Other exhibits not only more than a decade of careful archival research (of published reviews, unpublished manuscripts, historical documents), but also lived experience in rehearsal rooms, formal interviews, and informal conversations with many individuals." —China Review International (14:2, fall 2007)

"Conceison is a sharp-eyed viewer who guides her readers on a lively tour into the world of Chinese theatre making." —Text and Presentation (2007)

"[Conceison’s] analyses provide vital information about the cultural, social, and often highly charged political arenas in which the plays appeared, as well as glimpses of their production histories (production photos are included). Anyone interested in cultural studies, gender studies, theater history and dramatic literature, and Asian American studies will profit from this book." —Choice (42:7, March 2005)

"Significant Other offers a wealth of insights for many China watchers who may never have thought to turn their attention to the modern stage. . . . While [Conceison’s] three introductions may appeal separately to the China traveler, theater scholar, and intercultural theorist, Conceison is all three at once. Her unique subjectivity, and objectivity, make Significant Other a study distinct in focus and far-reaching in significance." —Asian Theatre Journal (fall 2005)

"Conceison opens up new vistas for both Chinese and Westerners by detailing a kind of ‘reverse Orientalism’ and insisting that we all examine our own subject positions and continue to redefine the way we relate to each other. She not only provides a necessary revision of theory but offers a strong view of some important productions and decisive tendencies in contemporary Chinese culture." —Richard Schechner, Performance Studies, New York University

"Conceison has adapted the theory of Occidentalism in an innovative way that contributes to contemporary social theory on images of the United States as well as to our understanding of Chinese theatre. This is a well argued and provocative book." —Colin Mackerras, Asian Studies, Griffith University, Australia

Author: Conceison, Claire;
Claire Conceison is assistant professor of drama in the Department of Drama and Dance, Tufts University.


1 Setting the Sino-American Stage

2 Occidentalism (Re)considered

3 Immigrant Interculturalism: China Dream

4 Exilic Absurdism: The Great Going Abroad

5 Cultural Cross-Examination: Bird Men

6 American Self-Representation: Student Wife

7 Anti-Americanism: Dignity and Che Guevara

8 Self-Occidentalism: Swing





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