This morning we receive the surprising news (as related in the New York Times) that the producers of “Top Secret,” a play about the Pentagon Papers and press freedom, could go ahead with a performance in Beijing last night, but that they could not, unfortunately, hold a discussion of the play afterwards, for fear of “unforeseen consequences spreading beyond the theater.”
This is a pity.
Last Friday night I was one of the discussants of the play after its penultimate Shanghai performance (the others were the play’s co-author Geoffrey Cowan, David Barboza of the New York Times, and a Chinese colleague). From the stage, I looked out upon a 75% Chinese audience that was intensely interested in both the play, and the issues that it touched. The discussion was thoughtful – indeed, far more thoughtful than the oft-wild discussions on the same issues which occur on Sina Weibo and other Chinese microblogs – and engaging. I know, time permitting, we could’ve gone much longer.
Later, after the play, one of the individuals connected with the production mentioned that he had been surprised that the play could get a permit to perform in Beijing. Several Chinese familiar with the local media landscape corrected him. “Actually, Beijing is much easier. They have more performing arts and are more open-minded. The real worry was Shanghai, which is much more conservative. MUCH MORE conservative.”
Alas, it seems that some low-level Beijing official has decided, on his own volition, to disprove that otherwise self-evident (if you spend any time in these places) point. So hat’s off to whomever in Shanghai didn’t mind that we discussed “Top Secret” after the show. And shame on the Beijing yahoo who didn’t feel that the audience at Peking University could handle the same. You, dear sir, are playing into a dangerous game of stereotypes, ie the Shanghai-ren always suspected they were more sophisticated than those northern bumpkins.
In any case, if you’re in Beijing tonight, or tomorrow night, you really ought to go see the play. It’s a ripping good story, and a rollicking good time, and if you like a little American history mixed into your evening, well, there you go. Performance and ticket information, here. For tickets, call YANG Huiyuan at 15011301416. See it.