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Monday, November 6, 2017

Play Review: Chinglish (2011) Relationships and Culture Clashes

David Henry Hwang’s play, Chinglish, is arguably more about the major structural and social differences and similarities in Chinese and American culture in accordance to business relationships and conflicts. However, a major driving force for the play was Daniel Cavanaugh and Xi Yan’s affair and the many implications that one can draw from their interactions with one another. This is espeically because dividing factors in their relationship are not only the language barrier between them, but the differences in their cultures in accordance to marriage and the way that people show affection.

Daniel and Xi have a very explicit affair throughout the play, even though they come from two inherently different backgrounds. Though itt is revealed that this affair is not purely sexual, both the English and Chinese forms of the word “love” are brought up multiple times. Xi even explains how she's not happy with her marriage and Daniel even tries to convince her to leave her husband as he promises to leave his wife. However, this ends up not working. In the play, Xi brings up a word that seemingly means something along the lines of marriage relating to a partnership. In her opinion, marriage is similar to that of a contract and a binding one, at that. To Xi, marraige involves morals, but those morals also need to one’s moral that each party benefits and this stems directly from her culture. Though adultery is looked down upon in both cultures, Americans have a more relaxed attitude when it comes to the dissolution of marriages, much like we do with most conventions, which is why he sees no problem with simply leaving his wife.

He sees love as this wholly intrinsic essence which Hwang describes as “clumsy." “The word the way [he] use it. It can mean anything from altruistic love to brotherly love to lust” and in an essence, it’s a fantasy he and other Americans like him tend to get swept up in. Examples of this could be provided in the way that Americans idolize romantic comedies and other films that depict love in this grandious way. The idea of idolizing and glorifying love is rooted in American culture in both film and television and it wasn't until the mid 2000's that film began breaking the mold for what your standard romantic comedy looked like. However, the notion of love that Daniel attests to is highly damaging to Xi’s one belief of attraction and the mutually beneficial partnership that she has with her husband. In fact, she even uses her relationship with Daniel as a way to benefit her husband’s campaign. In a way, David’s exploration of their relationship extends the play much further than one on nationality, race and cultural differences into one involving gender politics as well by not having Xi deter from her ways and turn down Daniel. Even though she loses a sense of her own politics in her affair, her character still hold some agency while simultaneously getting what she wants (i.e: sex, her husband’s placeholder as mayor and the imprisonment of Cai), even though there is a bit of a struggle with her morals along the way due to language barrier that exists between them.

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