Ibsen's mermaid in China: adapting The lady from the sea for the traditional Yue theatre

  • Terry Siu-han Yip UiT - HSL-fakultetet.


Ibsen has created Ellida Wangel in The Lady from the Sea as a “mermaid” stranded on land, feeling trapped in her marriage with Dr Wangel and suffocated by her restrictive gender roles as wife and step-mother. The play focuses on Ellida the dying mermaid’s process of individuation as she struggles to seek happiness, freedom and self-fulfilment in life. Through Ellida’s entangled relationship with the Stranger and her husband, Ibsen has created a living “mermaid”, who enables him to explore gender relations, individual freedom and choice, as well as the liberation of the self.

            However, when The Lady from the Sea was transposed from Norway to China and adapted for the traditional Chinese theatre, the Chinese Yue theatre in this case, Ellida had undergone drastic changes in order to suit the traditional Yue theatregoers’ expectations and taste, as well as to fit the socio-cultural norm of traditional Yue opera.

            Instead of examining those technical alterations such as rearrangement of scenes (Ye, 2011, 20), the use of symbols (Wu, 2011, 80), the setting (Wu, 2011, 78), or theatrical performance and devices (Qing Yun, 2010, 32) adopted in the Chinese operatic adaptation of The Lady from the Sea, this article focuses on the cultural re-presentation of Ellida and the re-constitution of her character, the purpose of which is to make her plausible as a Chinese woman on the traditional Yue stage. A close study of the cultural transformation of Ellida and her re-orientation on the traditional Yue stage adaptation will enable the reader to better understand the Chinese cultural emphasis on didacticism, Confucian morality and propriety in traditional drama and theatre, as well as the difficulties involved in transporting Ibsen’s mermaid to the Chinese traditional Yue stage. 


Terry Siu-han Yip, UiT - HSL-fakultetet.

Terry Siu-han Yip is Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at Hong Kong Baptist University. She received her A.M. and Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, U.S.A. Her research interests range from European Romanticism and British Modernism to Chinese-Western literary relations and women/gender studies in Chinese and/or Western literature. She has published extensively on Chinese-Western comparative literature, women’s writings, literature and cultural change in China, women and/or gender issues in literature, as well as the influence of European writers on modern Chinese literature. Her publications can be found in academic books and journals published in Australia, Bratislava, Canada, China, Holland, Hong Kong, Japan, Norway, Taiwan, and the United States. Her recent publications appear in Gender, Discourse and the Self in Literature: Issues in Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Hong Kong (Chinese University Press, 2010), Ibsen and the Modern Self (Center for Ibsen Studies of University of Oslo and Open University of Hong Kong Press, 2010), and Narrating Race: Asia, (Trans)Nationalism, Social Change (Rodopi, 2012).

Hvordan referere
Yip, Terry Siu-han. 2015. «Ibsen’s Mermaid in China: Adapting The Lady from the Sea for the Traditional Yue Theatre». Nordlit, nr. 34 (februar):353–361. https://doi.org/10.7557/13.3380.