When Eve Ensler's famous play The Vagina Monologues was first performed in China in March, the title was changed to The V Monologues. Two months later, the original title was restored for a show in Shanghai, and tickets sold out.
The Huffington Post reported on the first few productions of the play in Beijing in March, when it was still known as V. Although the crowd appeared excited about the show ("I'd never, ever seen anything like that!" said one college student), reporter Julian Baird Gewirtz noticed that many women were unwilling to shout "bi", a slang term akin to pussy, when one actress tried to start a chant:
But there was one particularly revealing moment from the audience that may itself capture the current cultural situation in China as much as the action on stage. As in the English-language version, the actress Lin Han concluded one of her pieces by chanting the word "bi" over and over again, zealously calling on the largely female audience to do the same. But from this Beiing crowd, a few male voices yelled out the word once; not a single female voice could be heard.
Like the change in title — which director Wang Chong said was necessary in order for him to book a venue — the lack of audience participation points to the conservative beliefs many Chinese still hold about female sexuality. "They are . . . the second sex" in China, Wang said. "In Mao's period, women had a better position in society: equal to men. But now those socialist ideals have disappeared."
Chinese producers first tried to bring Ensler's play in Shanghai in 2004, but the show was canceled by officials, who told the director that the play was "not yet mature." Five years later, and several months after the successful run in Beijing, The Vagina Monologues has returned to Shanghai. Wang has translated the script from English to Chinese, trying to stay as close to the original as possible. Of his decision to change the name for Beijing, Wang said: "In China, things should be handled Chinesely."
"Chinesely" apparently means discreetly. As Time reports, sexual freedom in China is a strange and elusive beast. For the most part, sexual limits are "set by parents, not the Communist party." However, the government has been known to issue crackdowns on sex-related events and pornography, but they do so in a manner that is unpredictable and confusing (the gay pride festival is OK, as are drag shows, but a screening of The Laramie Project is not). The initial name change was not endorsed by Ensler's camp, but it may have been necessary for the show to go on. Although there is a certain irony to the censorship of the word "vagina," as noted by a professor of women's studies at Sun Yat-sen University, Wang hopes that his production will help free women from social restrictions. He also advises men to see the play: "I highly recommend male audience to see this show because really finding a vagina is about really finding a female and at the same time when you know what a female is you know what a male is. It's about both sexes."