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Beyond translation

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Yet in all his years in theater, Hwang had never seen the theme of language barriers explored in a play. Nevertheless, it was familiar territory for him. "Having grown up with immigrant parents and relatives, I've spent most of my life dealing with trying to communicate across language barriers," he explains in an interview in New York.

Invited to help start Broadway in China

Hwang was born and raised in Los Angeles by Chinese immigrant parents who are also Christian evangelists. His religious views diverged from theirs when he began college at Stanford in the 1970s. The strong Christian beliefs of his parents and relatives created for him another exercise in cross-cultural communication.

Until recently Hwang had been to China only once on a family trip in 1993. But in 2005, Chinese cultural officials invited him to China to brainstorm about developing their own Broadway-style works. Broadway in China has yet to materialize, but for Hwang, the trips to China sparked the idea for "Chinglish."

He drew first on his own experience navigating China. Hwang's cultural advisers commanded him to "always bring your own translator." In "Chinglish" the audience witnesses what happens when someone doesn't: A hapless Chinese interpreter mangles communication between Daniel, the Ohio businessman, and Minister Cai, a Chinese government official. Daniel says that his "hands are tied," which is innocently translated into he's "in bondage."

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