4 plays that dramatize the kidnapping of children during wars

Since February 2022, Western and Ukrainian media have reported on the kidnapping and forced adoption of Ukrainian children by Russians.

The exact number of Ukrainian children transferred to Russia has been difficult to pin down, but Ukrainian sources estimate that as many as 8,000 children have been forcibly moved there. Accounts have emerged of Russian authorities transferring them to Russian families or Russian state orphanages, where they receive a “patriotic education.” Some of the kidnapped children have been falsely told that their families died or do not want them.

On Nov. 16, 2022, the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington private think tank, reported that Russia has been bragging about deporting as many as 150,000 children from the Donbas region alone.

The United Nations Security Council considers the abduction of children one of the six grave violations of the mandate of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. As a number of scholars and journalists have pointed out, the kidnapping, adoption and Russification of Ukrainian children is part of Russia’s premeditated strategy to expand its falling Russian population.

The wartime kidnapping of children is not new, nor is it specific to Russia.

As a theater scholar, I’ve encountered a number of works on stage that explore the complex moral conflicts and traumas that these abductions have generated throughout history, from China to Argentina and many places in between.

1. ‘The Orphan of Zhao’

One of the earliest plays that center on the subject is “The Orphan of Zhao,” a 13th century Chinese classic written by dramatist Ji Junxiang during the Yuan dynasty.

Based on historical events that took place 3,000 years ago, other narratives preceded Ji’s, which he penned during the Mongolian invasion of China.

The plot revolves around an orphan named Cheng Bo, who, at the age of 20, discovers that his father, General Tu’an Gu, is not his real father. In fact, his real father, Zhao Dun, along with his entire family, was murdered by Tu’an Gu during a bloody conflict. Cheng ultimately kills the general, thus avenging his blood father and his family.

The story of orphan Zhao has had an enduring appeal in Chinese society and has undergone a number of dramatic and film adaptations. The play includes many features of classical Chinese drama, including a tragic hero torn between contradictory familiar loyalties, and in accordance with Confucian morality, has an ending that reflects poetic justice.