The Peony Pavilion;《牡丹亭》

The Peony Pavilion is a play written by Ming dynasty’s Tang Xianzu (1550-1616), one of the most famous playwrights in Chinese theatre (contemporaneous with Shakespeare). The play is one of Tang's "Four Dreams", and the basic plot is a romance between Du Liniang and Liu Mengmei.

On a fine spring day, Du Liniang, a sixteen-year-old girl, enters the garden of her parents’ house for the very first time. She falls asleep. In her dream, she encounters a young scholar (Liu Mengmei) whom she has never met in her real life. The two fall in love and make love. The next day, Du Liniang secretly goes back to the garden to seek her dream, she is extremely sad because “looking here and there, it is nowhere to be found”. Over the heartache of her dream lover Du Liniang becomes very ill. When she realises that she will not live for much longer, she decides to paint a self-portrait. Before dying, she requests her mother to put the self-portrait under a rock in the garden and begs to be buried there by the peony pavilion under the plum blossom tree where her dream with Liu Mengmei took place.

Three years later, Scholar Liu uses the Plum Blossom Temple that Du Liniang’s father has built for his daughter as temporary accommodation. This temple is where Liniang’s memorial tablet is enshrined. By chance, he happens to pick up Liniang’s self-portrait while strolling around the garden. On returning to his study, he hangs the painting above the headboard of his bed and every night burns incense and pays his respects.

After 3 years in the spirit world, Du Liniang’s ghost roams to the Plum Blossom Temple, where she comes across Liu Mengmei paying his respects to her self-portrait. Liniang is greatly moved and explains her situation to Liu Mengmei. She begs him to dig her coffin up and release her body. Liu Mengmei is passionate for Liniang, so without hesitation he opens the coffin, miraculously resurrecting Du Liniang. After numerous complications, Du Liniang, accompanied by Liu Mengmei, reunites with her parents.

Both clips are taken from the original scene ten, ‘The Interrupted Dream. The translation is from Cyril Birch’s, in which Du Liniang is named Bridal. On top of the song, the title of the ‘melodic model’ in the square brackets is added. After watching the two clips, viewers will understand more about kunju’s feature that “every word in an aria is accompanied by dance”.

The first clip:


[To the tune of Bubujiao]

The spring a rippling thread

of gossamer gleaming sinuous in the sun

borne idly across the court.

Pausing to straighten

the flower heads of hair ornaments,

perplexed to find that my mirror

stealing its half-glance at my hair

has thrown these “gleaming clouds”

into alarmed disarray.

(She takes a few steps)

Walking here in my chamber

how should I dare let others see my form!


How beautifully you are dressed and adorned today!


[To the tune of Zuifugui]

See now how vivid shows my madder skirt,

how brilliant gleam these combs all set with gems

-you see it has been

always in my nature to love fine things.

The Second Clip


Without visiting this garden, how could I ever have realized this splendor of spring!

[To the tune of Zaoluopao]

See how deepest purple, brightest scarlet

open their beauty only to dry well crumbling.

“Bright the morn, lovely the scene,”

listless and lost the heart

-where is the garden “gay with joyous cries”?

My mother and father have never spoken of any such exquisite spot at this.


Streaking the dawn, close-curled at dusk,

rosy clouds frame emerald pavilion;

fine threads of rain, petals borne on breeze,

gilded pleasure boat in waves of mist:

glories of spring but little treasured

by screen-secluded maid.



















〔旦〕 不到园林,怎知春色如许!










Title Genre Production Company
The Peony Pavilion;牡丹亭 Kunju;昆剧 Jiangsu Provincial Kunju Theatre;江苏省昆剧院