In the 1980 Macbeth, Xu Xiaozhong, another 1950s Moscow-trained director, drew a parallel between the socialist new China and the Renaissance idealized by Engels. Xu’s vision of Macbeth was as “a giant” who “wanders, stumbles and eventually drowns in … whirlpools of blood.” [Note 9] The “giant” image derived from Engels, and the image of “stumbling” came from Marx’s description of Louis Napoleon. [Note 10] Xu followed Shakespeare in showing that Macbeth “is destroyed by his own individual ambition.” Xu’s interpretation emphasized, however, that Macbeth had the potential to become a revered national hero. Yet Macbeth, in addition to ruining himself, ruined his country: “Macbeth is also a tragedy of the people. Shakespeare reveals that a careerist and tyrant like Macbeth can bring disaster to his ancestral land and its people” (Xu Xiaozhong 1996, 243). Citing Marx and Soviet Shakespeareans, Xu declared: “Shakespeare not only wrote a tragedy about an individual, it was more a tragedy of history at a turning point” (1996, 240).
In China, theatre is expected to propagandize the government’s policies, and there were suggestions that Xu’s production represented an attack on the “Gang of Four” whose trial was then in progress. Although this would have been politically astute, Xu rejected such “high praise.” Xu had a strong social consciousness and wanted to deal with the serious questions facing China. As a sincere believer in Marx and Engels’s writings on realism, he would not simply echo current Party propaganda. Nor, however, was he content with Kott’s idea of “Shakespeare our contemporary,” since Xu accepted Marx’s view that dramatic characters should not be reduced to “mere mouthpieces of the spirit of the times.” Nonetheless, striking parallels emerged through Xu’s staging between Macbeth and the leaders, not excluding Mao himself, whose hubris had been responsible for so many disasters in China.