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The Peony Pavilion

"The Peony Pavilion" is a masterpiece by Tang Xianzu, the greatest poet playwright of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). In an utterly refined and languidly poetic style, the play reveals romantic yearnings and afflictions of love endured by the young in the feudalistic society of China. Its central theme proclaims the significance of an ultimate triumph of 'love' over 'reason'. This daring and avant-garde subject, which is an outcry against the suppressive tradition, together with the moving poetics of the language, makes the poet's endorsement of freedom of love between the two young protagonists a lasting force in the history of Chinese literature and theater.

In the early years of the Southern Sung dynasty (1127-1279), a beautiful young lady named Du Liniang, daughter of the Governor of Nanan, was strictly educated and could not step out of her chambers without her parents' permission. One day without her parents' knowledge Du went into the garden with her maid. Watching the splendor of the spring at its peak, she was overcome with deep feelings. In a drowsy trance, she dreamt that she had a secret rendezvous with a young scholar under a plum tree by the side of the Peony Pavilion. Ever since returning from the garden, she was haunted by memories of her dream lover and, after seeking the dream in vain, fell ill and soon died of a broken heart. After her death, Du's spirit kept searching for the young scholar. Her persistence won over the Judge of the Netherworld and she was allowed to be reincarnated.

Three years later, a young scholar named Liu Mengmei stayed at the temple where Du was buried. He wandered in the garden and came across Du's portrait. The young lady in the portrait looked familiar and he could not help calling her. In response to his calling, the young lady came out of the picture. He fell in love with her even though he learnt that she was a ghost. On the following day, Liu dug up Du's grave and opened the coffin. Du came back to life and married Liu. The couple lived happily thereafter.


Su Yuan (Sweeping the Garden)

Du Liniang tells her maidservant to call in the gardener sweeping the petals off the garden paths. So she can take a walk in there.


You Yuan (A Stroll in the Garden)

Du Liniang, accompanied by her maidservant, enters the garden for the first time in her life. The spring flowers are in full bloom. The young lady is struck by the beauty of nature and suddenly feels the joys, as well as the pains, of life.


Jing Meng (An Interrupted Dream)

Tired from the stroll in the garden, Liniang falls asleep in her chambers and dreams that she returns to the garden, encounters a young man under a plum tree and has an intimate moment with him. Awakened from the dream by her mother, Liniang feels that her real life is aimless and confined.


Xun Meng (Dreamland Revisited)

Liniang revisits the garden where she dreamed of passions. Haunted by the sweet memories of the dream, she longs to meet in real life the charming young man. Realizing, however, the impossibility of another encounter with him, she sinks into despair. When leaving the garden, Liniang foresees her own tragic ending: to die soon of this affliction of love.


Li Hun (Keening)

Seeking her dream in vain, Liniang falls ill and dies in autumn. Before her death, Liniang asks her maid to place her self-portrait in a box and hide it underneath a rock. She also asks her mother to bury her under the plum tree in the garden. After death, Liniang's ghost keeps on her pursuit of love.


Shi Hua (Finding a Portrait)

One spring, Liu Mengmei, a sensitive and lovelorn young scholar on his way to the capital for an imperial examination, falls ill and finds his pied-a-terre at Mei Hua Guan (Apricot Blossom Taoist Temple). After a few days of recumbency and medication he feels better, but much weakened physically and listless spiritually. In his attempt to buoy up his spirit, he decides to take a stroll in a locally garden. The garden, it turns out, once part of a grand estate, is nothing now but a waste land of weeds and wild bushes. The ruined garden has increased his nameless melancholy. While staggering along and lamenting the desolate sight, he comes across a portrait half hidden under a rock. Upon further examining he becomes certain that it is a portrait of Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy; for the beauty of the lady in the portrait is such that he has not seen or imagined possible before. In his current state of mind, Liu thinks it wise to take home with him the portrait, in hope that the lady in the portrait -- should she indeed be the Goddess of Mercy -- would bestow upon him some spiritual solace and mental peace. He somberly promises the lady in the portrait love and respect before he takes leave of the garden carrying the portrait.


Jiao Hua (Calling to the Portrait)

Mengmei figures out that the portrait is a lady's travel log. The poem on the portrait reminds him that in last spring he had a dream. Dreamt that he was in a very large garden and there was a beautiful girl standing under the plum tree. It is the lady in the portrait. After composing a poem to her, Mengmei hangs the portrait on the wall and calls to her.


You Hui (A Romantic Encounter)

Liu hangs Du's portrait on the wall and calls to her. Du's ghost, wandering in the garden, hears him. She comes to his room, sees the portrait, and decides to meet him. Not knowing that she is a ghost, Liu is surprised by such a visit from a beauty and falls in love with her. The two have a very passionate night.


Ming Shi (Pledging Love)

Du comes to meet Liu every night. Liu does not realize that he is in love with a ghost until the moment he proposes marriage. It is at that time that Du tells the truth. She also tells Liu that they can no longer see each other unless Liu takes some actions to bring her back to life.


Huan Hun (Returning to Life)

Following Du's instructions, Liu digs up Du's grave in the garden. Du comes back to life when Liu opens her coffin.

Top Copyright© 03/02/2007