Re-investigating Limehouse Chinatown: Kandinsky’s 2010 Limehouse Nights and Early 20th-century Oriental Plays

Lia Wen-Ching Liang


Kandinsky’s Limehouse Nights (2010) presented a story about the interwar British society through the eyes of Thomas Burke, a police detective named after the writer Thomas Burke who wrote extensively on Limehouse Chinatown. By examining the trends and events in the decades around 1918, which were heavily referred to in Limehouse Nights, this paper discusses the Chinese images emerging from both Kandinsky’s production and the plays from the early twentieth century. The discussion follows Burke’s inquest on stage, and considers its connections to earlier theatrical pieces. The analysis underlines the lasting influence of earlier China-related popular entertainment to later developments in theatre as well as to the British public perception of Chinese culture at home and abroad. Limehouse Nights thus provides a contemporary refraction of the converging elements in the early twentieth century that at the same time raises sharp questions about factuality, representation and cross-cultural understanding.

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