New Root


Yang is a professional Chinese actor working in Italy and recently triumphed in a cult television program, Porta di Bronzo (Bronze Door). Photos: China Daily

Yang says he hopes to be a cultural bridge between Chinese and Italians. It doesn't hurt that he's both.

Yang says he hopes to be a cultural bridge between Chinese and Italians. It doesn't hurt that he's both.

A Chinese actor looks very much the part in his adopted country. Mariella Radaelli reports from Milan.

Today Shi Yang Shi looks out of place. The tall, happy extrovert looks as if he would be better placed in the landscape of his childhood, in the valley where the Yellow River flows.

But he is in Milan, in the most laid back of locations, the Municipal Gardens. He is a rarity here: a professional Chinese actor working in Italy.

A versatile actor of stage and screen, and recently also of television, he triumphed in a cult television program called Le Iene (The Hyenas) last season. It is a comedy-satire that focuses on politics and consumer issues.

In the show, disguised as a foreign correspondent working for a Chinese television station, he had to stop Italian politicians outside the Chamber of Deputies in Rome to question them about political matters.

"At first I felt embarrassed," he says. "Confucianism taught us to pay great respect and devotion to authority and hierarchy. Consequently as a Chinese guy, I was scared of making fun of Italian politicians. On the other hand, as an Italian citizen, it was impossible to turn down the role."

In the end, the results were hilarious and caused no offence.

As he talks, he comes across as very much the native Italian, making ample use of his hands to get his points across.

"Isn't an actor like a chameleon?" he asks by way of explanation. "My mission is to promote dialogue among Italians and Chinese," he says. "I am determined to be a cultural bridge between the two people." He specifically hopes to close the gap between Chinese communities in Italy and native Italians.

He studied acting in Milan, at the Arsenale Theater. On stage, he made his performing debut in Brecht's Mother Courage.

Later, in 2009, he developed his own theater-research project, creating a performance space in a former wool mill in Prato, Tuscany - an old textile town about 15 kilometers northwest of Florence, where he has lived for the past four years.

A city council survey estimates that there are more than 20,000 people of Chinese descent there, making it one of the biggest concentrations of Chinese people in Western Europe.

He is discovering his roots in Prato. "Yes, I always feel like someone who has been uprooted. But here," he says, "I have found stability and solidity."

His theater genre is "social and popular, not elitist", he says, and his acting method is based on improvisation.

"My storytelling draws upon events taken from the life of everyday reality." With four Chinese dancers, he creates plays about what they see and hear on the streets.

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