Peach Blossom Fan with Colored Illustrations (Bilingual Chinese-English)

Price: $130.35 $91.60 (Save $38.75)
Add to Wishlist

Kong Shangren (孔尚任; 1648 - 1718) was a Qing Dynasty dramatist and poet best known for his chuanqi play The Peach-Blossom Fan (桃花扇 Tao Hua Shan). Kong was a distant descendant of Confucius.
The Peach Blossom Fan tells the story of the love story between the scholar Hou Fangyu and the courtesan Li Xiangjun, against the dramatic backdrop of the short history of the Southern Ming. It remains a favourite of the Kun opera (kunqu) stage.
This luxury edition is a reproduction of an illustrated edition of the late Qing Dynasty. The 44 illustrations are by artists with unknown identity. Beside the original text by Kong Shangren, summaries in modern Chinese and English to the 40 scenes of the drama are added.

Abstract from the Preface

The transition from one dynasty to another is always a painful experience to the subjects of the former regime. The intellectuals in the early Qing dynasty were no exception. On the one hand, the fond memory of the smiles and tears of bygone years and the loyalty to their former sovereign still lingered in their hearts. On the other hand, the merciless fact of reality forced them to readjust themselves to a new way of life under the new regime. Such a confliction mind is agonizing, but it could sometimes lead to literary achievement. “Peach Blossom Fan”, finished in 1699 and considered later as one of the four best ancient Chinese plays, was the brainchild of such a troubled mind.

Why did the Ming dynasty fall? Particularly why was the Southern Ming regime vanquished so quickly? The explanation of unequalled military forces was only superficial, there surely must have been some deeper, underlying reasons. About this, the contemporary intellectuals must have their own opinions. But under the rule of the new regime, they could not make their statements openly. The only way to express their piece of mind was under the disguise of literary works. Thus, using his gifted pen, Kong Shangren interwove the sad history of the downfall of the Ming dynasty with a love story between Hou Fangyu and Li Xiangjun in a 40-scene kungqu drama for the stage.

Kong Shangren was born at Qufu, Shandong province, in 1648. He was a sixty-fourth generation descendant of Confucius. At age 21, in 1669, he became a National University Student by contributing his farmland to the state. At age 36, in 1684, he was invited to lecture classics before the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1662-1772) when he latter visited Qufu to pay tribute and make sacrifice to Confucius. Kong was in the Emperor’s good graces and was bestowed the position of Erudite of National University. At age 38, in 1686, Kong supervised the dredging of the Yellow River estuary under Sun Zaifeng, Vice Minister of Ministry of Work, at Weiyang. At age 42, in 1690, he was back to the capital and accepted the post of Erudite of National University again. At age 46, in 1694, he was promoted to the position of Secretary of the Ministry of Revenue. This year he collaborated with Gu Cai to write a chuanqi drama “Little Thunderclap” (xiao hulei, a Tang dynasty stringed instrument). At age 51, he finished the drama “Peach Blossom Fan” which was started before he was 36 years old. The play became very popular when it was put on the stage. At age 52, he was promoted to the position of Vice Director of Guangdong Squad in the Ministry of Revenue but was dismissed within one month. At age 54, in 1702, he was back to his hometown at Shimenshan, Qufu county. He died at home in 1718 at the age of 79.

It is hard for us, the nowadays readers, to understand fully the complex feeling and sentiment of the intellectuals of the Han nationality after the downfall of the Southern Ming regime. According to the teaching and philosophy of Confucius, an intellectual should be loyal to his original sovereign and his own nationality, Han. He should not accept the reign of an alien regime. But the harsh reality showed them that resistance was futile, that acceptance of the rule of the new regime seemed to be the only way out, and that obedience and reconciliation with the new rulers might bring them practical benefit. Thus, the special historical events of the transition period between the Ming and Qing dynasties formed the dual personality of the intellectuals at that time. Under certain circumstances, they would heartily praise the good deeds of the new government. But under other occasions, the memory of their bygone and national consciousness would make them lament over their old regime. This tendency could be seen in the drama Peach Blossom Fan. At the beginning of the drama, Kong extolled the good management, prosperity and peace of the early Qing dynasty. But he also praised lavishly the loyalty and patriotism of Shi Kefa and other anit-Qing heroes and censured harshly the corruption and villainy of Ma Shiying’s group. The text of the play also revealed the deep sorrow and lamentation over the falling of the former regime. Here the readers might feel puzzled. They might wonder about the motive of the play and the author. Are they pro-Ming or pro-Qing? Is the eulogy to the new regime genuine? Or is the lamentation over the old regime genuine? Alas, both are heartfelt. For the whole thing is a dilemma due to special historical circumstance.

The stories and characters in the drama Peach Blossom Fan were based on both historical facts and fictitious imaginations.

The prototype of the heroine, Li Xiangjun, came from the “Stories of Lady Li” in volume 5 of Zhuanghuitang wenji, The Collection of Annotated Works of Hou Fangyu. Her real name was Li Xiang, a singing girl in pleasure quarters by the Qinhuai river. Hou Fangyu, the hero in the drama, alias Hou Chaozong, was a native of Shangqiu, Henan province. His grandfather was Hou Zhipu. His father was Hou Xun. His uncle was Hou Ke. The held respectively the positions of Chief Minister of the Court of Imperial Sacrifices, Minister of the Ministry of Revenue, Chancellor of the National University in Ming dynasty. They had all joined the Eastern Forest Party. Fangyu was a very learned man with good memory power. He was also good at composing poems and proses. In 1632, at age 15, he got his xiucai degree at the prefectural level and was highly esteemed by Zhang Pu and Chen Zilong, leaders of the Revival Society. He passed the county examination in 1639.

Li Xiang met Hou Fangyu in 1639. According to the Stories of Lady Li, Ruan Dacheng, a corrupt high-rank official of the Southern Ming regime, whom the members of the Revival Society despised, wanted to make the acquaintance of Hou Fangyu so that he could become a liaison between Ruan and the Revival Society. Ruan asked a certain General Wang to contact Hou and treat him frequently with feast and wine. Li Xiang surmised Ruan’s plot. She warned Hou that the real purpose of Wang was and not to make friend with him. After Ruan’s plot was fully exposed, she urged Fangyu to refuse Ruan. In 1640, Fanyu failed in the imperial examination. Li Xiang held a small party at Taoyedu to bid him farewell. Soon afterwards, Tian Yang, a former governor of Huaiyang District, proposed to Li Xiang for marriage with a dowry of three hundred silver taels. Li Xiang refused him flatly. Tian felt ashamed and was very angry. He began to harass Hou and Li by spreading rumors. He also wrote repeatedly censuring letters to Hou. To these, Fangyu answered in his letter “A Reply to Sir Tian”, stating that he had not communicated with Li Xiang since they parted in 1640, neither did not know anything about her. Yu Huai (1616-1696), a contemporary author with Hou, stated in his book Banqiao zaji, Miscellaneous Records of the Plank Bridge: Li Xiang was short in stature, with fair complexion. She was clever, pretty, amiable and quick-witted; and was lovingly nicknamed xiangshanzhui, meaning a little pendant of a fragrance fan by her adorers. …

In the text of the drama, Ruan Dacheng forced Li Xiangjun to remarry to Tian Yang. Xiangjun hit her head in an attempt to commit suicide. She did not die, but her blood stained the poem fan which Hou Fangyu gave her as a token of their love. By adding a few twigs and petals, Yang Longyou transferred the stain into a picture of peach blossom. In “Origin and Details of the Peach Blossom Fan”, finished in 1699, Kong said: “My elder cousin Fangxun had been a Secretary of Justice of the Southern Ming regime during the later days of Chongzhen period. He and my uncle, Mr. Qin Guangyi, were the husbands of two sisters. As a refugee, my uncle fled to the dwelling of Fangxun and stayed there for three years. Therefore he was quite familiar with what happened during the reign of the Hongguang regime. After returning home, he told me many anecdotes about this period on numerous occasions. When compared with various assorted unofficial accounts, they all confirmed the authenticity, without any discrepancy, which shows they are all factual records. Only the anecdote about the blood stained peach blossom was told to Fangxun by the servant boy of Yang Longyou but not recorded in other books. However, the story was unique and intriguing. It inspired me to compose the drama Peach Blossom Fan in which the rise and fall of the Southern Ming regime were interwoven with the love story of two young people.” According to the above mentioned statement, the blood-stained peach blossom saga must have been a true story instead of a make-believe tale conceived by Kong Shangren after he read the Stories of Lady Li.

There was no record about what happened to Li Xiang afterwards. According to legend, she was selected into the inner court of Prince Fu when he became the Emperor of Southern Ming. After the fall of Nanjing in 1645, she fled to a nunnery at the Cloud-roosting Mountan and became a nun under Bian Yujing, a former fellow singing girl of the Qinhuai pleasure quarters. The next autumn she met Hou Fangyu after he escaped from the “ten-day-massacre at Yangzhou”. Then he took her to his hometown Shangqiu. By using a false name, Li Xiang was admitted into Hou’s family. Fangyu participated the county examination of the Qing regime in 1651 and travelled to the South again in 1652. Soon afterwards, when her secret past and identity were discovered, Li Xiang was expelled from Hou’s mansion and sent to a manor house in the suburb where she lived in loneliness and broke down from depressed mood. She died only at the age of 27. However, in the text of the drama, Kong Shangren treated the story in a different way. After Yangzhou was captured, Fangyu fled back to Nanjing and found Xiangjun. Experiencing so much wear and tear of life, they finally realized the true spirit of Taoism. There was no place for them to settle down, and the peach blossom fan was torn, then they followed the Taoist way respectively.

Other personages interwoven historical events in the drama were also based on documented materials, although some of the details might be fictitious. For example, according the history, Shi Kefa was killed after the fall of Yangzhou. But in the drama, he committed suicide by drowning himself in a river. As a historical play, the inclusion of made-up characters of fictitious details are permissible, sometimes due to political necessity, sometimes due to the requirement of the plot of the play. Although these fictitious writings should not be considered genuine history, they were not the product of random imagination.

After the Peach Blossom Fan was finished, Kong Shangren could not afford to have it printed. At first, the play was circulated through hand-copied manuscripts. In 1708, Tong Hong travelled to Shandong and asked Shangren for a manuscript. After reading a few lines, he praised the work lavishly and donated 50 silver taels as the fund for printing. Then Kong put in some additional money and the first edition of Peach Blossom Fan was engraved. The book blocks were originally stored at Jieantang, Kong Shangren’s former residence. It was therefore the edition was called Jieantang edition. There were various editions printed after the Jieantang edition. In 1957, the Commercial Press published it as a photocopy edition in a 5-part series, A Collection of Ancient Traditional Opera (Guben xiqu congkan wuji). In addition, there was a pocket edition, called Xiyuan edition, which was engraved after the Jieantang edition during the years of Kangxi Emperor (r. 1662-1772). There were more than one reprinted editions. One of them was Lanxuetang edition printed in 1895. It was actually a reprinted edition after the Xiyuan edition. Soon afterwards, there was an edition attached with the Stories of Lady Li. In 1919, “A Collection of chuanqi Drama” was printed by Nuanhongshi of Liu Shiheng (1875-1926) of Guichi. It was an edition with fairly good collation, and the 30th book of this series was Peach Blossom Fan. This edition was published later as a photocopy edition by Guanglin guji keyinshe in 1979 and in 1990 respectively.

The phototype we photocopied here is the only colored-illustrated edition of “Peach Blossom Fan” in China. It is now housed in Peking University Library. The story of how it was passed from one master to another is also very mysterious, it was closely related with nearly the entire history of the Qing dynasty.

There are 4 additional scenes in the drama “Peach Blossom Fan” besides the 40 scenes. They are, namely, Prologue, Supplementary Scene 20, Prologue to Scene 21, Continued to Scene 40. The album contains 44 pictures, each of them depicting the typical plot of one scene. There are not many characters in each picture, but each of them is vivid and life-like. The background sceneries were designed with beauty of simplicity. The excellent penmanship and the elegant coloring of the pictures indicate that the album is really a masterpiece. It is very interesting that although the characters and sceneries of the pictures were based on every day life and nature, they sometimes showed tints of theatrical works. Some of the figures in the pictures were seen clad in theatrical costumes. For example, General Zuo Liangyu in scene 11 and General Shi Kefa in scene 18 all had four little flags inserted behind heads. None of the 44 pictures have signatures of the artists on them. But there are seals with characters of “shao cheng”, “di zhai”, “jian bai dao ren zhi”. Perhaps they are the studio names or alias of the artists or painters.

On the last leaf of the album, is an inscription by Yurui, dated “middle of May in the year Gengwu”, there are also seals with the characters “si yuan yu rui” and “fu guo gong zhang”. Yurui (1771-1838) was a descendant of Prince Duoduo (1614-1649), the second son of Prince Xiuling. He was versatile and well versed in poetry, calligraphy and painting. The year Gengwu is 1810. It means that the pictures should be painted before the fifteenth year of the Jiaqing Emperor (r. 1796-1820). Yurui had not mentioned the names of the artists in his inscription. This implies that he did not know them at that time but only saw these pictures. Nor could we imagine the original binding style of the album.

During the years of the Tongzhi Emperor (r. 1861-1875), a man who called himself Taishousheng copied the librettos of the 44-scene drama in blue-green, red, black ink on 44 pages with the inscription of “copied at Liushi zhong lanting jingshe (the Studio of Sixty Kinds of Orchid Pavilion) in May, summer of the year Guiyou”. From the name Taishousheng, we could only know that he was a very thin man. The year Guiyou is 1873. The Studio of Sixty Kinds of Orchid Pavilion was the studio name of Taishousheng.

Taishousheng put the 44 libretto pages face to face with their respective pictures and had them mounted into 44 sutra-style leaflets. Then they were bound into 4 volumes, each with wooden covers at the top and the bottom. A wooden chip was inlaid in the middle of each of the top cover. Three characters in running script “tao hua shan (Peach Blossom Fan)” and two columns of characters in clerical script “For the pleasure of Ledaozhuren, presented by Taishousheng” were engraved at the upper and lower parts of the chip. The four volumes were stored in a diaphanous wooden box which contained an exquisite pedestal and a deep square cover. Three characters in standard script “tao hua shan” were carved on the top of the cover. The binding and boxing might be finished a little later after 1873.

The publication of the album of Peach Blossom Fan by the Writers Publishing House is the first time it is published by a photomechanical process. The illustrated book contains Kong Shangren’s full text and summaries of the 44 scenes both in Chinese and English. For the convenience of readers and collectors, the book is bound in modern thread-stitched binding style and kept in a cardboard box instead of sutra binding with wooden covers and wooden box. This binding style is in conformity with other books of the illustrated series. This edition could be regarded as a new endeavour to popularize an old treasure. In recent years, the performance of the kunqu drama of Peach Blossom Fan in the mainland enjoys tremendous popularity. The publication of the new edition will certainly add more radiant and more beauty to the 300-year-old peerless masterpiece.
Sample Pages Preview
Sample pages of Peach Blossom Fan with Colored Illustrations (Bilingual Chinese-English) (ISBN:9787506344777)
Sample pages of Peach Blossom Fan with Colored Illustrations (Bilingual Chinese-English) (ISBN:9787506344777)
Peach Blossom Fan with Colored Illustrations (Bilingual Chinese-English)