Will Hamilton Sell in China?
Main concerns about bringing Hamilton to China lie in two parts: language barrier and the irrelevance of its story to the Chinese culture. Following are analysis about why these two concerns might not be hindrances.
Language, as I briefly mentioned in previous papers, won’t be a barrier for Chinese audience to perceive western musicals, even as something like Hamilton which has such a high intensity on language output. The first reason lies in the context of arts and culture in modern Chinese society. Different than the Americans who basically consume cultural properties in their own language, the millennial in China grow up with western cultural products in their original languages with Chinese subtitles. Looking into the movie and TV industry, all hit American films in China in recent years, such as Avatar, The Avengers, Coco, Soul, etc, are all played in English with Chinese subtitles.
The box office of these productions simply shows that the audiences are not bothered by not understanding what they hear.
Moreover, as the internet becomes more and more popular, the young generation is also used to look up online for TV shows like Friends, Gossip Girl, Game of Thrones, and even talk shows like Jimmy Fallon in their original language with Chinese subtitles. Being emerged in such a special “training”, people’s brains are used to synchronize English as what they hear and Chinese as what they see in a coordinated way, which allows them to enjoy the products with less disruption from languages. It works similar as opera in English speaking countries. If you don’t speak Italian/Germany/French or whichever European language the property is written in, no matter if the singers are singing slow tempo arias or having fast pace dialogues, there’s no difference for you, because you simply don’t understand the language.
However, it doesn’t stop you from enjoying the music, the atmosphere created by the production and the emotions you resonate with because of human natures. Hamilton in China could work in a similar way. No matter whether it’s rap or lyric, if most of your audiences don’t understand the language at all on the very basic level, it will rather be irrelevant. But after all, if Hamilton really goes to China, there will for sure be subtitles, which helps to improve the product in a way that the Chinese are used to perceive.
The irrelevance between Hamilton’s story and Chinese society does not directly lead to indifference and resistance.
Firstly, talking about the Chinese as a nation, they have different characters than the Americans. Chinese are naturally curious about other people’s lives, even though those may have nothing to do with their context. For example, in the last couple of months (November 2020 – January 2021), what has happened in the U.S., such as how the coronavirus has developed, the election, the protest in Washington D.C., and even shooting incidents in Chicago and Phoenix, has been frequently on the front pages of major Chinese press. Certainly how the U.S. are doing has nothing to do with every Chinese citizen, but they are simply curious about other people’s lives with a perspective of knowing more about the rest of the world.
Secondly, the Chinese don’t have strong prejudice towards cultural properties based on race or nationality. Just as the reason why Pixar’s Coco and Soul can be received so well in China, the audiences don’t perceive the stories as just something of the Hispanic or African American communities. They approach the property from a more general perspective and look for the spiritual message that the stories deliver. As long as there are parts that resonate with their core value, it doesn’t matter what nationality or race the stories are set in. And for sure, the more the two can overlap, the better the Chinese can receive. So for Hamilton, even though the story is about the founding father of the U.S., it won’t necessarily cause indifference or resistance just because it’s not talking about “us”. Frankly I have mentioned the incorporation between cultures that lead to failures in some localizations, however that is more to do with the imbalance between Chinese as the deliver language and the show itself with Americanized stories. As long as the product can align itself with its language and story, the Chinese won’t be bothered by racial issues.
If analysis above can work in a sensible way, given the huge market size and potential of China, Hamilton has the capability to become a hot property, just like Phantom of the Opera and Cats. Regardless of further marketing, the supreme reputations of the show that has already been established worldwide can attract a huge amount of audience in China, especially in the big cities that has formed stable audience group, such as Beijing and Shanghai. With the technical nature of the show, which has less cost and more mobility, Hamilton can be operated better in a national touring model, which is so far the best way to reach commercial success in China. All in all, Hamilton has a great opportunity to sell well in China as it does in the U.S.