Staging the World: Cross-Cultural (Il)literacy, Taiwan’s Mobile Stage Phenomenon, and Shen Chao-liang’s Stage Series

Li Chun Hsiao*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Through the lens of the photographer Shen Chao-liang, this paper examines the cultural ramifications of the mobile stages (fitted into and folded out of the backs of modified trucks) of Taiwanese roving vaudeville troupes—a common sight in the towns outside of Taiwan’s cities that, however, remains largely oblivious to public and media attention. What characterizes these stages in recent decades are the easily recognizable “global images” featured prominently on the backdrops—such as the Sydney Opera House, Hello Kitty, Arc de Triomphe, etc.—often in gaudy colours and tacky patterns, sometimes oddly juxtaposed. Based on both the mobile stage phenomenon and Shen’s representations, I explore what cultural literacy might entail and mean when it comes to cross-cultural encounters, as well as the “self-emptying” gesture in Taiwanese society’s enthusiastic embracement of “the world” from which, it perceives, it is relegated to insignificance. Shen sought to capture the image of the plebeian society in Taiwan by documenting the roving vaudeville troupes, but wound up focusing on the stage that showcases little to none of the cultural characteristics or elements of Taiwan known to either the locals or the outsiders, enacting a form of art mediation that does not simply suture the constitutive split in its photographic representations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-106
Number of pages20
JournalCritical Arts
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Cross-cultural literacy
  • Shen Chao-liang
  • mediated coloniality
  • the mobile stage phenomenon
  • worlding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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