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1977

Chinese government removes ban on Shakespeare

A new sign of political liberalization appears in China, when the communist government lifts its decade-old ban on the writings of William Shakespeare. The action by the Chinese government was additional evidence that the Cultural Revolution was over.

In 1966, Mao Tse-Tung, the leader of the People’s Republic of China, announced a “Cultural Revolution,” which was designed to restore communist revolutionary fervor and vigor to Chinese society. His wife, Chiang Ching, was made the unofficial secretary of culture for China. What the revolution meant in practice, however, was the assassination of officials deemed to have lost their dedication to the communist cause and the arrest and detention of thousands of other officials and citizens for vaguely defined “crimes against the state.” It also meant the banning of any cultural work–music, literature, film, or theater–that did not have the required ideological content. By the early 1970s, however, China was desperate to open new and improved relations with the West, particularly the United States, partially because of its desire for new sources of trade but also because of its increasing fear of confrontation with the Soviet Union. President Richard Nixon’s 1973 trip to China was part of this campaign. In October 1976, the Cultural Revolution was officially declared ended, and the May 1977 announcement of the end of the ban on the works of William Shakespeare was clear evidence of this. It was a move that cost little, but was sure to reap public relations benefits with Western society that often looked askance at China’s puritanical and repressive cultural life.

Together with the announcement that the ban was lifted, the Chinese government also stated that a Chinese-language edition of the Bard’s works would soon be available.

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