ECNU French researcher charmed by Chinese culture


During this summer holiday, the Chinese version of the acclaimed British play Black Bird was shown at Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre.

Black Bird is a fascinating piece of work. Within only 100 minutes, it shows how intricate interpersonal relationships are and how love and desire are pulled back and forth between memory and reality. The play received highly favourable reviews. But few people thought of the fact that the director of this show is Ivan Ruviditch, a French with a Chinese name Lu Yifan.

Ivan Ruviditch was born a Frenchman. His Chinese name is Lu Yifan. After graduating from the Université Paris Diderot–Paris 7, he has lived in China for more than a decade. 

He worked in the Consulate General of France in Shanghai to cultural exchange and was an associate professor in the School of Humanities at Shanghai Normal University. He is currently an associate researcher in the Department of Comparative Literature and World Literature at East China Normal University  (ECNU).

Ivan Ruviditch identifies most strongly as a Sinologist. While living in China, he has been committed as a scholar to promoting academic exchange and various cooperation projects among universities in Shanghai and France.

In 2019, he joined the Chinese Department at ECNU as a foreign teacher by chance and taught Chinese comparative literature to Chinese and foreign students and gave lectures in English to Chinese and German students. He hopes to “exchange classical poetry with Chinese scholars from the perspective of overseas Sinology and create sparks of different thought.”

In addition to being a Sinologist, Ivan is also a drama teacher and stage director. He spearheaded the establishment of an international theater studio to attract theatre lovers to form a troupe and provide them with professional stage direction for literary and artistic play productions. In collaboration with the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center and a French director, he participated in the Chinese version of the acclaimed British play Black Bird.

Ivan rehearses with the actors.

Ivan’s dual identity as a Sinologist and artist has allowed him to break down barriers between traditional literature and drama. As he explains, “Drama is interrelated with Chinese ancient literature. Various poetic forms are omnipresent in Chinese opera, which brings me back to ancient Chinese culture.” 

In 2017, Ivan collaborated with Chinese scriptwriters to adapt Guan Hanqing’s Yuan dynasty drama, Rescued by a Coquette. This production achieved a new level of dramatic aesthetics by combining Chinese and Western elements with personal thinking and a modern stage style that retained classical charm.

Ivan states, “To most westerners, Chinese characters, like hieroglyphs, are one of the most mysterious and striking Oriental symbols.” Having studied Chinese classical literature for decades, Ivan has gained a more in-depth view of Chinese culture.

“I think the charm of Chinese culture lies not only in words but also in the poetry. Metaphors are typical phenomena. They seem to talk about pictures and landscapes but are about feelings.” 

In Ivan’s opinion, to appreciate poetry, one must break through the limitation of “seeing mountains as mountains, water as water” to see “mountains not as mountains, water not as water” to better interpret hidden meanings. In ancient Chinese poetry, figures of speech such as “Bi(比)” and “Xing(兴)” are commonly used one’s emotion by portraying image of objects or scenery. Ivan has found endless pleasure in comparing Chinese and Western poetry.

“The most special thing in Chinese poetry is taking advantage of a scene to express one’s emotion. For example, poems by Wang Wei(王维) or Li Bai(李白), at first glance, make no mention of emotion at all until the last line: “The after glow of the setting sun in the deep forest, as in the moss and pleasant scenery (返景入深林,复照青苔上). Watching each other, neither getting tired: Only the Jing Ting Mountain and I (相看两不厌,只有敬亭山).” To bring one’s own feelings into objects and to use implied meaning, implicit style and sense of insight, these are the most prominent characteristics of Chinese cultural forms that pursue the art of the unsaid.

In an era of globalization, cultural exchanges among countries are becoming more frequent. Ivan has been thinking about the difficulty of understanding Chinese culture and spreading it around the world.

The translation criteria of “faithfulness, expressiveness and elegance” are important in cultural exchange. Translators and Sinologists are important facilitators of cultural exchange, and their excellent work has underpinned Ivan’s affinity with Chinese culture.

Although these cultural connections are important, Ivan believes that the first thing needed to spread Chinese culture overseas is to strengthen the domestic mass base for it.“As long as a local culture has developed to a certain extent, full of vitality and prominent value, then it will naturally go to a global stage.”

China is a vast country with abundant resources and diverse cultures.“We should support the cultural industry, arts education, and encourage young artists to explore and hold various activities such as theaters, exhibitions, movies, reading parties so that the local culture will gradually enrich and promote the surrounding areas’ development.”

Ivan also points out the importance of another three words: belonging, identity, and pride.“The most important thing is to make Chinese people really appreciate their local literary and art workers, respect their unique culture, and thus developing national pride and confidence.”

Ivan has a deep understanding of Shanghai, which has become his second home.“China is developing very fast. When I came to study in my sophomore year, the wooden houses on Nanjing West Road in Shanghai were still there, but now Lujiazui is full of high-rise buildings. Living in this international metropolis gives me a sense of inclusive openness.”

Buy a cup of coffee from a store on a busy street, read a volume of poetry in front of a table under the dim lights, direct a play in a colorful theater. Tradition and modernity, classicism, and fashion are perfectly integrated into Ivan’s life. His story that includes China, Shanghai, and Chinese culture continues.

Author: Xu Xincheng, Fu Wangnan

Copy editor: Philip Nash

Editor: Li Mengjie


East China Normal University