The eponymous Scarlet Maid is a pretty and resourceful maidservant in West Wing (Xixiang ji) by Wang Shifu (1250-1337?). Originally a Yuan variety/ miscellaneous drama (zaiju, Yuan dynasty: 1279-1368AD), the play is a seminal work, stimulating the creation of numerous other works in a variety of different artistic forms (see Xiqu).
The original play (based on earlier literature and ballads) is a story of two young lovers Cui Yingying (daughter of the Chief Minister of the Tang court) and Scholar Zhang Junrui, who dare to defy strict rules by perusing romantic love and engaging in illicit sex. The two first meet in a Buddhist monastery where Yingying and her mother take a rest while escorting Yingying’s father, Chief Minister Cui’s coffin to their hometown; Zhang falls in love with Yingying at the first glance. Attracted by Yingying’s beauty, Sun the Flying Tiger, a local bandit, seizes the monastery hoping to take her as his wife. Mrs Cui agrees that whoever can drive away the bandits can be the son-in-law of the family. Scholar Zhang gets his childhood friend General Du to come and defeat Sun. While the two young lovers are happy for their future and marriage, Mrs Cui takes back her word. With the clever Scarlet Maid’s ingenious arrangement, the two young people get together. When Mrs Cui discovers what her daughter has done, she reluctantly consents to a formal marriage on a firm condition that Zhan must travel to the capital and pass the imperial examination.
Many regional song-dance genres draw on this original story and arrange the plot around Scarlet Maid. One of jingju’s Four Great [male] Masters of the dan role, [Li Ruru Soul of Jingju chapter 3] Xun Huisheng, made his own version in the 1920s. The clip is taken from a performance by Song Changrong, a male dan and one of the many disciples of the Xun School. In the scene Mrs Cui presses Scarlet Maid to tell the truth. It is worth noting that Scarlet Maid uses a blending style of rhymed and colloquial speech to indicate the character’s special status: she is a maid but well-educated. In addition, the use of long flimsy “water sleeves” demonstrates well the performing style of Master Xun Huisheng, the founder of the acting school.