The World of Chinese



Early Qing dynasty China was a lenient place. Conservati­ve Neo-confuciani­sm was out, allowing scandalous iconoclast­s like playwright Li Yu to write The Fragrant Companions in 1651. The play was rarely staged over the years, unsurprisi­ng when the main plot turns around two beautiful, talented female poets falling in love, marrying (although one already has a scholar-official husband), and eventually living together. Despite an abundance of stories from classical China around homosexual love or extra-marital affairs, tales of female love rarely made it into the public domain. Li took pleasure in tipping the traditiona­l social order upside-down, turning the solemnity of a Confucian marriage into a messy ménage à trois, and the dignity of the imperial exam system into a farcical cavity-search for hidden crib sheets.

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