Re­viv­ing Love Amid Dis­as­ter

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Sun Hong­shan Edited by Mark Zuiderveld

The Pek­ing Opera Yu­tangchun, a pop­u­lar play, tells the ro­man­tic story of Wang San and Su San ( Yu­tangchun) with ro­man­tic charm.

In Pek­ing Opera cir­cles a com­mon say­ing went: “De­spite the de­cline of opera, city dwellers are all com­pet­ing to sing Yu­tangchun ( The Story of Su San).” The Pek­ing Opera Yu­tangchun, a pop­u­lar play, tells the ro­man­tic story of Wang San (the third son of a high of­fi­cial sur­named Wang) and Su San (known as Yu­tangchun) told with de­light.

Af­fec­tion for Yu­tangchun

Yu­tangchun is a clas­sic tra­di­tional opera that orig­i­nated from a real-life event dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty (1368–1644). In the opera the pro­to­type of Wang San is Wang San­shan of the Wanli pe­riod of Ming (1573–1620), a na­tive of Yongcheng County, He­nan, who passed the high­est im­pe­rial exam in 1601. In 1622, Wang San­shan took on the post of pro­vin­cial gover­nor for Guizhou. One year, he was sent to Shanxi to in­ves­ti­gate a case; in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion he re­ha­bil­i­tated Su San, who had been wrongly ac­cused, and took her as his con­cu­bine.

The archives of the Su San case were pre­served in Hong­dong County, which were, later, plun­dered by Ja­panese army. In 1931, Xiju yuekan ( The Opera Monthly) of Shang­hai pub­lished the ar­ti­cle “Tex­tual Re­search into ‘Yu Tang Chun”' which says: “The story of Yu­tangchun is not fic­tional.” The famous writer A'ying also said, “The story might have taken place in the early years of Em­peror Wanli in Nan­jing and Shanxi. Its hero and hero­ine both came from real life.”

As for Yu­tangchun, the most pop­u­lar ac­count is Yu­tangchun Luo­nan Fengfu ( Yu­tangchun En­coun­ters Her Beloved One in Dis­tress) by Feng Men­g­long (1574–1646), a prom­i­nent writer in Suzhou.

Feng ex­panded the story to more than 20,000 char­ac­ters, com­pil­ing it as the twen­ty­fourth story of his book Jing­shi tongyan (“sto­ries to cau­tion the world“). The story soon took shape. In the story, Wang Jin­g­long, the third son of Wang Qiong (min­is­ter of the Min­istry of Rites), and Su San ( Yu­tangchun) fell in love at first sight. There­after, Wang spent a great amount of money stay­ing to­gether with Su San in her boudoir. Soon he used up count­less in­gots of gold and was driven out of the brothel by the pro­curess; Su San helped him re­turn home. Af­ter that, Wang stud­ied hard and passed the im­pe­rial exam. Su San was sold by the pro­curess to Shen Hong, a trav­el­ling mer­chant of Hong­dong County. Later, Shen's wife Lady Pi, who con­spired with her lover Zhao Jian­sheng, poi­soned Shen to death; and laid the blame on Su San. The county mag­is­trate, hav­ing ac­cepted bribes, ex­torted a con­fes­sion from Su San by tor­ture and con­signed her to a cell. Af­ter Wang passed the im­pe­rial exam he was ap­pointed by the em­peror as procu­ra­tor-gen­eral of Shanxi. Although he was or­dered by his par­ents to be en­gaged to Min­is­ter Liu's daugh­ter, he still cher­ished Yu­tangchun. Hav­ing filled the post, he checked out the de­tails, saved her life by re­dress­ing the case, then mar­ried her.

Be­cause of Feng's works, Su San's story be­came known and play­wrights be­gan to adapt it. Un­til the Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911), Yu­tangchun was adapted into a Kunqu Opera and was per­formed on stage. It sounds melo­di­ous, sen­ti­men­tal, and rich in the aura of life. Dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Daoguang (1821–1851), in the ma­te­ri­als quoted in his book Hankou con­g­tan ("col­lected writ­ings at Hankou"), writer Fan Kai (1765–1844) men­tioned Li Cuiguan, an artist of Tongcheng County, Hubei, singing the opera when he joined the Rongqingbu Troupe in Hankou. In 1802, the San­qing Troupe per­formed the Pek­ing Opera Yu­tangchun; but Wang Jin­g­long (or Wang San) in the work of Feng Men­g­long had changed into Wang Jin­long.

A Staged Clas­sic

Yu­tangchun in­cludes “Vis­it­ing Pros­ti­tutes,” “Tem­ple Fair,” “Be­ing Sent un­der Es­cort,” “Joint Trial,” “Vis­it­ing the Pris­oner,” and “Re­union.” They nearly con­tains all the beat modes of xipi (one of the ma­jor tunes in tra­di­tional Chi­nese op­eras) from fe­male roles in Pek­ing Opera, such as xipi liushui (tune quick in tempo), xipi yaoban (a stylised tune of slow singing at a quick tempo), xipi daoban (stylised tune usu­ally pre­ced­ing an in­te­grated singing part), and xipi yuan­ban (ba­sic type of tune). In this opera, Wang Jin­long, son of a higher of­fi­cial, swears to live to­gether with famous pros­ti­tute Su San till their hair turns grey; but be­cause he has laid out all his money, he is ban­ished, only to live in the Lord Guan Tem­ple, penniless and frus­trated. At this mes­sage, Su San rushes to the tem­ple to of­fer him gold, so that Wang Jin­long re­turns to Nan­jing. Later on, the pro­curess sells Su San to Shen Yan­lin, a rich mer­chant of Shanxi, as a con­cu­bine. Shen's wife, Lady Pi, who com­mits adul­tery with Zhao

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