The Peach Blossom Fan
K'ung Shang-Jen, Chen Shih-Hsiang
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A tale of battling armies, political intrigue, star-crossed romance, and historical cataclysm, The Peach Blossom Fan is one of the masterpieces of Chinese literature, a vast dramatic composition that combines the range and depth of a great novel with the swift intensity of film.
In the mid-1640s, famine sweeps through China. The Ming dynasty, almost 300 years old, lurches to a bloody end. Peking falls to the Manchus, the emperor hangs himself, and Ming loyalists take refuge in the southern capital of Nanking. Two valiant generals seek to defend the city, but nothing can overcome the corruption, decadence, and factionalism of the court in exile. The newly installed emperor cares for nothing but theater, leaving practical matters to the insidious Ma Shih-ying. Ma's crony Juan Ta-ch'eng is as unscrupulous an operator as he is sophisticated a poet. He diverts resources from the starving troops in order to stage a spectacular production of his latest play. History, however, has little time for make-believe, though the earnest members of the Revival Club, centered on the handsome young scholar Hou Fang-yü and his lover Fragrant Princess, struggle to discover a happy ending.
gathering wood. Liu Ching-t’ing made a similar resolution; he bought a little boat and works as a fisherman. We rejoice in these ancient forests deep in the hills, cut off from men by the broad river. Here at our daily meetings I beat out a rhythm with my axe-head on his prow, and we sing loud and free for our own pleasure. I have finished work early today, since I am expecting him to visit for a good chat. It is time he was here. [Su sets down his load and naps for a while. Enter Liu
until you hear from home? Hou: Perhaps that is the best expedient. Thanks for your advice and for the timely warning. Fragrant Princess: Let me pack for you. [She packs and sings]: A blissful union will now become the memory of two hearts. We must endure the bitterness of parting. I knit my brows to keep the tears from falling. Last night’s perfume lingers on the feather quilt; I roll it tightly into a bundle, wetting it with my tears. [Servant comes in for the luggage.] Hou [to Fragrant
Minister and National Commander. Those who laboured most strenuously to enthrone the Emperor shall lead, For they travelled with the petition all night And escorted the Imperial chariot on its return. They never faltered in their duty Until they had invested us with the yellow robe, Cheering us so vociferously That we could not refuse the Imperial seal. We are cognizant of those who deserve the highest rewards, And shall appoint them in order of merit. [Speaks]: Our loyal ministers,
the Imperial Guard in the old capital. Chang Wei is my name. Ts’ai: Forgive me for not realizing that Your Honour was an officer. Lan: Please tell us why you have travelled so far south. Chang: On the nineteenth day of the third month, the bandits entered Peking. His Majesty, the late Emperor Ch’ung-chen, hanged himself on Coal Hill, and the Empress Chou took her own life, the blessed martyr. On climbing down from the city wall with a few of my guards, we discovered their mortal remains and
Ming which led to K’ung Shang-jen’s dismissal from office in the spring of the following year. HAROLD ACTON, K.B.E. Florence, 1973 INTRODUCTION The Peach Blossom Fan as Southern Drama The centers of governmental power have clustered in the north, on the dusty Yellow River plains, through most of Chinese history as at the present time. To past residents of this region, “the south” did not mean the tropical southern coast where Canton lies, but the Yangtze Valley with its silk and tea