The Chinese Wall

You can read biography of Frisch, a synopsis, an interpretation and a character analysis of Frisch's play, The Chinese Wall.


The Chinese Wall is a highly theatrical German play with social criticism. It is an exemplary play, in which Max Frisch employed theatrical means of representation that are similar to those that had been developed by Brecht and those that had been used in Asian theaters. That's why Frisch called this play a "farce." The play is also typical for its universal contemporary significance with the appearance of many historical personages.

The play is introduced by a theatrical character, the Contemporary. He tells the audience who are the characters in the play and what the implication of the Chinese Wall for the humankind is. After his theatrical introduction, the Contemporary becomes one of the dramatic characters. He meets with Olan and her mute son who appear first on the stage. The Contemporary then uses their conversation to point out that this is the basic situation of the play. He also makes it clear that everything on the stage is just a play and no realistic illusion is sought. With the stage setting, every effort is made to insure that "the stage remains a stage."

In the empire of Tsin She Hwang Ti a conlusive peace has been established. The Chinese Wall has been built as the defense against the northwestern barbarian hordes. To celebrate this hstorical event, ceremonies are held and guests from all ages and all corners of the world are invited. When all guests are assembled, it turns out that the empire has conquered everything-except the truth. There remains one last adversary in this empire, who calls himself the Voice of the People, Min Ko. But no one has ever seen this brave man. Only his sayings are known and widely spread. Now the emperor wants to have him killed. He wants to seek him out and find him, ever to the most remote corners of the empire. However, this adversary can't be identified.

Since Olan's poor mute son can't "roar with joy" like others do when they see the emperor , his action immediately is considered as Min Ko's open defiance of the emperor. Soon he isarrested. Since he really can't speak any words, he is, again, believed to be making fools of the emperor and his people. He is tortured to be forced to confess. The Contemporary confronts the torture of the mute in vain. On the other hand, the revolution is here. The prince becomes the head of the revolution. The Contemporary exposes him as playing the new part and tries in vain to have the old woman speak the truth that her son is mute. The mother, however, insists that her mute son is the important Min Ko.

With this, Frisch shows us his deeply pessimistic view of the world as "world theater" in his The Chinese Wall.

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