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7 November 1996

Subway Playwrights

The subway tunnels of Beijing are crawling with playwrights. Some of China's greatest dramatists have walked these tracks, one of the few places where they could practice their dialogue at the top of their lungs without bothering anyone. Every train driver knows this, and approaches each bend in the tunnel with caution. The playwrights seem to appear at random, emerging from the dark labyrinths like confused specters. In the dim glow of the yellow lightbulbs, bulky figures in layer upon layer of clothing wander pointlessly, clutching scraps of paper close to their chests. Sometimes subway workers find sodden manuscripts hidden under bricks or behind a maze of wiring which they dutifully turn in their find to their superiors, who in turn pass them along to the Minister for State Cultural Security. The scratchy documents are rarely read, and the plays are filed away never to be seen again. The Cultural Security Police don't really care about the underground playwrights as long as they stay in their place.

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©1996 David Glenn Rinehart