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Studies in

THE CHINESE DRAMA

By KATE BUSS








THE LIBRARY

OF

THE UNIVERSITY

OF CALIFORNIA

LOS ANGELES



From the Estate

of

Urie McCleary



ONE THOUSAND COPIES ONLY OF THIS BOOK HAVE

BEEN PRINTED ON OLDE STYLE BOOK PAPER AND

THE TYPE DISTRIBUTED IN THE MONTH OF JANUARY

MDCCCCXXII.

THIS IS NUMBER






STUDIES IN THE CHINESE DRAMA



•»





WOMEN, AS WELL AS MEN, HAVE BEEN SOLDIERS IN CHINA.

THIS PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS MEI LAN-FANG— THE

MOST CELEBRATED CHINESE ACTOR OF

TODAY— AS A FEMININE WARRIOR



Studies in

THE CHINESE DRAMA

By KATE BUSS




Boston

The Four Seas Company

1922



Copyright, 1922, by

THE FOUR SEAS COMPANY



The Four Seas Press
Boston, Mass., U. S. A.



ARTS



To
C. H. B. and C. B. B.



"Without error there could be no such thing as truth.''

CHINESE PROVERB



Contents



Chapter Page

I. Origin of the Chinese Drama . . .15

II. Types of Plays 20

III. The Plays as Literature .... 27

IV. Religious Influence upon the Drama 36
V. Types and Characters 41

VI. The Actors 46

VII. The Music 53

VIII. Decoration, Costume, and Symbolic

Design 61

IX. Customs of the Playhouse and the

Greenroom 71



Illustrations

Page

Mei Lan-fang, Celebrated Chinese Actor of

Today frontispiece

The Great Monad 13

The Theatre God 14

Scene from an Event in the Sung Dynasty 16

Figures from a Play of the Tai-ping Rebel-
lion 20

God of Agriculture 24

Mei Lan-fang in Costume 30

Three Chinese Actors in Costume .... 34

Meditation — a Buddhist Exercise .... 38

Trio of Actors in an Historical Scene from

the Wei Dynasty 40

Two Male Actors in Costume 42

Program of a Theatre in Peking, 1920 ... 44

A Portrait of Mei Lan-fang 48



ILLUSTRATIONS

Page

Strolling Musicians 50

Strolling Mountebank with Monkey ... 52

Bamboo Kouan 54

Chinese Guitar 56

Hou K'in, or Two-String Violin .... 60

Mei Lan-fang in the Costume of an Ancient

Warrior 62

Chinese Symbol for Age 64

Symbol for Happiness 64

The Five-clawed Imperial Dragon .... 66

Lei Shen, the Thunder God 68

Kuan Ti, God of War 70

A Permanent Theatre in Peking, Estab-
lished During the Ming Dynasty . 72.

A Temporary Theatre, of Mats and Bamboo . 74

A Movable Stage 76



Introduction



IT is to be supposed that a republican gov-
ernment in China will interrupt the Imperial
drama convention. Historically the Imperial
theatre ended with the dissolution of the Ching
dynasty nine years ago, but the tradition which
has maintained it during the last six hundred
years is powerful enough to have continued it to
the present hour as the popular contemporary
theatre, and, in most parts of the country, as
the only type of dramatic production. Recent
deviations in a few minor theatres are as yet
transitory and without focus.

This book is concerned solely with the Imperial
drama. It is compiled from widely scattered texts
and illustrations; and is intended to be commen-
tarial rather than analytical. I desire to thank
Dr. John C. Ferguson, Professor Edward S. Morse,
Mr. Shen Hung, Mr. Y. Wong, and Mr. Aram
Antranikian for assistance in obtaining notes and
illustrations.

When scores of dramatists present a contem-
porary or a traditional people it is inevitable that

11



12 INTRODUCTION

they present a considerable degree of fact. Chi-
nese plays and the Chinese drama intrigue the
mind and invite the Occidental to their study for
the historical, civil, and spiritual reflection of
forty centuries of civilization, and for the cere-
monious and enduring conventions they reveal.

To understand is the dilemma! Many for-
eigners have visited Chinese theatres: heard the
"clamour" of music that is unfamiliar both in
interval and orchestration, listened to a strange
language and looked upon fantastic costumery,
to write a lot of nonsense about the Chinese stage ;
they have not been able to separate opposing tra-
ditions — and it is they who have shrouded Chinese
splendour in incorrect adjectives.

The Chinese drama must be judged by native
standards. Unlike her Nipponese neighbour, China
is not a borrowing nation. Her arts of painting,
calligraphy, literature, the theatre, et cetera, are
indigenous, and can be received in their proper
magnificence only when disassociated from the
theories that control Western arts, from which
they differ in purpose, in thesis, and in exposition.

KATE BUSS

Paris
October 1921



STUDIES IN THE CHINESE DRAMA







The Grea/ Mo /73a/




T/?ej/re God



THE THEATRE GOD USUALLY RESEMBLES THE
EIGHTH CENTURY EMPEROR. MING HUANG



CHAPTER I

Origin of the Chinese Drama

THE birth year of the Chinese drama is
unknown. Dates are variously suggested
and disagreed upon and enclose a period
of more than twenty-five centuries. The reason
for this divergence of opinion is that while one
writer considers the pantomimic dances — for re-
ligious worship or military jubilation — which were
presented to musical accompaniment, a dramatic
production, another waits to name the century of
the initial stage performance until festival rites
unite with speech in dramatic situation and an
histrionic denouement; or, one studies drama
from the assumption of the aesthetic, and another,
the anthropologist, considers physical trait and
language and primitive custom to find in the
emotional agreement in ceremony and ritual a
dramatic presentation.

Like its other arts a nation's drama is a develop-
ment and is incepted, as they are, by civic and
national ceremony. It is only the shortlived that

15



16 THE CHINESE DRAMA

is born completely functioning. And the tenacious
Chinese drama can have had neither a definitely
marked inception nor a conclusion for the early
scribe to have noted, even in a country of remark-
able literary antiquity and the habit of notation.
From the cult of the dead Chinese drama has been
developed by assimilation, by the patronage of
succeeding emperours, and the corresponding
conversion of the Chinese people.

Historians say that music existed in China in
B. C. 5400. Of China's second dynasty and its
"Golden Age" B. C. 2205-1766, we read that re-
ligious worship was accompanied by music and
dances which represented the occupations of the
people — plowing and harvesting, war and peace;
and that these dances illustrated the sensations
of working, joy, fatigue, and content.

The Chou Ritual classic written several cen-
turies before the time of Confucius states that
six ceremonial dances were in vogue at that early
period: "In the first, wands with whole feathers
were waved — in the worship of the spirits of
agriculture; in the second wands with divided
feathers were used — in the ancestral temples; in
the third feather caps were worn on the head, and
the upper garments were adorned with kingfisher
feathers— in blessing the four quarters of the
realm; in the fourth yak-tails were used — in
ceremonial for the promotion of harmony; in the




SCENE TAKEN FROM AN EVENT IN THE SUNG DYNASTY

(960-1277). THE HEROINE, A FAMOUS GENERAL OF

THAT TIME, HAS DISARMED HER ANTAGONIST



ORIGIN OF THE CHINESE DRAMA 17

fifth shields were manipulated — to celebrate mili-
tary merit; in the sixth the bare hands were
waved — in homage to the stars and constellations.

But the ceremonial dances chiefly in vogue
were to celebrate, and partly to portray, civil and
military accomplishment. "Royal music was of
two kinds. If civil merit was to be celebrated the
posturers grasped feather wands ; if martial prow-
ess, they grasped vermillion shields and jade
(embossed) battle-axes. The jade signified virtue,
and the shields benevolence, to inculcate clemency
to those defeated." 1

Here, without question, is action to an accom-
paniment of music. Speech and song were a
later emanation. Gradually these dances ex-
pressed more license than litany and during the
Chou dynasty, B. C. 1122-255, were forbidden in
association with religious worship ; they were then
presented under separate ceremonials but con-
tinued to give honour to the same symbols. Elab-
ourate and fantastic costumery and an increased
ballet were added and pantomine had become a
spectacle for popular entertainment, and was pre-
sented on a stage built for the purpose instead
of in a temple.

Other early Chinese writers mention oc< 'urrences
which establish the fact of some form of drama:

i W. Arthur Cornaby in "The New China Review" for
March, 1919.



18 THE CHINESE DRAMA

we read of an emperour who lived seventeen hun-
dred years before the Christian era who was com-
mended for having forbidden certain stage con-
ventions; another ruler of a pre-Christian dynasty
was deprived of funeral honours because he was
thought to have too much enjoyed the theatre;
and a third emperour was advised to exclude
actors from his court.

Emile Guimet 1 says that a Chinese theatre was
established by an emperour about B. C. 700 and
that the writers of that century applied them-
selves to the development of a poetic drama. Any
literature which may have existed has been de-
stroyed by succeeding rulers.

We find more definite drama chronicle of the
eighth century. The emperour Hsuan Tsung, or
Ming Huang as he is commonly called from a
posthumous title, established a school in the
gardens of his palace to teach young men and
women the arts of dancing and music, and prob-
ably chose his court entertainers from this group.
Many actors of today associate themselves with
this early imperial school and call themselves
members of the College of the Pear Orchard. Ming
Huang, who is said to have acted upon his own
stage, is today's patron saint of all actors, and his
statue, with incense burning before it, may be
seen in Chinese greenrooms.

i "Theatre Chinois"



ORIGIN OP THE CHINESE DRAMA 19

Plays during this century, which is sometimes
called the first period of Chinese drama, focused
on extraordinary themes, and anticipated the
present heroic drama. It is probable that interest
in the drama did not extend further than the
Imperial court until the thirteenth century.

During the Yuan dynasty, founded in 1280 by
the Mongol warrior Kublai Khan, drama, as it now
exists in China, appears to have slipped into being
as quietly as a fall of snow overnight, and, as far
as most historians are concerned with the subject,
is an established fact only from this time. What
actually happened in the thirteenth century was
that divisions of subject and character were fixed
and an enduring literature produced.



CHAPTER II

Types of Plays

VENERATION of the dead controlled China
centuries before Confucius wrote "Ever
think of your ancestors and cultivate
virtue," and is today the active principle in the
moral and mental lives of four hundred millions
of Chinese. Arts are featured by this national
superstition and frequently seem to have en-
dured because of it; the routine of diurnal living
and the festival and ceremony of birth and burial
proclaim the animate influence of the departed.
Someone has said that China is a country where
a few hundred millions of living are terrorized by
a few thousand millions of dead.

In the drama ancestor worship is an emphasized
and recurrent theme.

Of the three types of plays that are said to in-
clude all the variations of contemporary dramatic
presentation the Vun Pan Shi is known as the
oldest form. Patriotism and filial devotion are its
subjects; and in it music and action unite to play
upon the emotions of the audience.

20




FIGURES FROM A PLAY OF THE TAI-PING REBELLION (1825-1841).

THE SHORTER SOLDIER IS A REBEL AND THE

OTHER A GENERAL OF THE IMPERIAL ARMY



TYPES OF PLAYS 21

The Jin Pan Shi presents civil and military
conditions. The difference between the Vun Pan
Shi and the Jin Pan Shi is not in the libretto as
one might suppose but in the manner of singing
certain roles and in the tradition of the acting.

A third dramatic form is the Vun Min Shi or
"modern" play. Colloquial dialects are allowed in
the Vun Min Shi instead of Mandarin — the dialect
of Peking — which is the accepted speech of the
stage as well as of the nation.

Another classification > is the Cheng-pan or
historical plays; the Chu-tou, civil pieces; and the
Ku-wei or farces.

A civil and a military play must be included on
each day's program ; the latter is a popular subject
that may appear in several of the six or eight
plays presented during an evening.

Civil and military plays are sometimes mistak-
enly said to represent comedy and tragedy. Like
the Hindu the Chinese stage does not distinguish
carefully between the two; and when a so-called
tragedy is presented it usually takes the form of
melodrama with a "happy" ending. "Beauty" 2
is a rare example of a Chinese stage tragedy.
"Beauty" was a faithful Chinese maiden who was
lured from her home by wandering marauders;
and the story of her patriotism and tragic death

i W. Stanton.

2 Translated by the Reverend J. Macgowan.



22 THE CHINESE DRAMA

is a popular one in Chinese theatres. But the
Chinese are instinctively a humourous people —
even the lines of their architecture turn up like
a smiling mouth — and as entertainment they
prefer to laugh than to cry.

Men and women who have conducted them-
selves heroically while alive and who in a Eu-
ropean country might be known as saints or
martyrs are deities in China and may appear as
characters in the civil plays which are written
around domestic incident, and in the military
plays of historical and legendary fact.

Military plays are concerned with historical
episode and heroic or filial acts. Civil plays, fre-
quently of a farcical nature, deal with the en-
tanglements of every day life.

As they may be read in classical collections
Chinese plays — like Chinese poetry — are straight-
forward in any seeming unmoral tenets they may
hold. And, before accepting the statement that
the Chinese stage is immoral, the foreigner should
recall that plays exist as they are to be read, as
they appear in acting editions, and also as they
may be interpreted and developed by the actor
who is sometimes allowed great license in "gag-
ging". In most reputable theatres plays teach
the wisdom of morality; and indeed the denoue-
ment of a comedy is usually the triumph of virtue
over the machinations of some evil influence.



TYPES OP PLAYS 23

The Chinese penal code states the aim of
dramatic performances to be to offer either real
or imagined pictures of just and honourable men,
chaste women, and obedient children who will
encourage the spectator in the practice of virtue.
The writer of an indecent play is supposed — even
after death — to be persecuted by evil spirits as
long as his play appears upon any stage.

China has no stage censor. Anyone may set
up a theatre, elabourate his artistic principles or
develop his business theories without fear of the
hectoring thumb; and, except for the rule which
was enforced during the imperialistic government
forbidding the impersonation of a reigning em-
perour, any spectacle and any type of character
may be presented.

Plots are usually simple and well sustained but
subjects are numerous and of wide range. While
the most enduring plays feature the history of the
country, others, no less frequently seen, include
such subjects as filial and parental piety; the ex-
altation of learning ; native vices and peculiarities
of official corruption; vices common to mankind;
legal anomalies; and the absurdities of religious
practices. The depravity of the priesthood and
the corruption of official China have been two
controlling elements that are lashed by the dram-
atist, and as theatre subjects never fail to find
appreciative audiences. The five blessings for



24 THE CHINESE DRAMA

which the Chinese pray, and which are also libret-
to subjects, are sons, riches, long life, recovery
from sickness, and office. It is noticable that
these are all material blessings . . . even the
wish for sons springs from the desire to provide
for old age, and as a means to placate the gods
after the death of parents. Other favours that the
Chinese ask of their gods are that crops shall be
well protected and harvests rich, and that men and
beasts shall be immune from cholera. To obtain
these gifts the people offer the pageants and fes-
tivals which have become so popular a form of
dramatic presentation in the open fields of the
countryside in the spring and autumn. Such
spectacles may be financed by the rich man of the
village or by a community.

If rains are heavy, prayer and sacrifice are com-
monly offered to the god of rain that he will close
the gates of Heaven in order that the rice will not
rot from too profuse a supply of moisture ; and to
the god of the harvest thanks are returned, in
drama festival, for bountiful crops.

Puppet shows are a form of amusement com-
mon to many nations and to which certain writers
attribute the beginning of the Chinese drama. In
some sections of the country a dramatic perform-
ance invariably opens with marionettes. Punch
and Judy are more frequently seen in the East




THE GOD OF AGRICULTURE



TYPES OF PLAYS 25

than in the West and are probably a product of
the Chinese imagination.

Confucian themes include the popular cult for
learning and filial devotion. Buddhism is the
source of most of the buffonery and farce; in the
theatre it not only defies but debases; it makes
hideous the actual and enhances the chimerical,
and suggests comic relief from religious hysteria.
Not all Chinamen believe in the divinity of Bud-
dha — or Fu as he is sometimes called — but all
men who go to the Chinese theatre know his
stage omnipotence.

Satire is always a development of an old civili-
zation and in that ageless country of stability and
decay is a style which is profoundly and profusely
worked upon. The Chinaman understands and
responds to satirical comedy. He is directed on
the honourable path by its smile and intrigued
by its humour. Even when the Chinese dramatist
writes about love he handles it with humour —
with irony. To the Oriental a love that torments
and tyrannizes is an absurd and stupid exaggera-
tion, and the drama that depicts it has small
chance of success.

Plays are divided into acts and scenes. Change
of scene is indicated by pantomine, or by a rapid
walk about the stage of all the characters in the
piece. Acts usually number four and the first
may be preceded by a prologue which is spoken



26 THE CHINESE DRAMA

by one of the principal characters. The denoue-
ment occurs in the final act. Dualism of con-
trasted scene with scene achieves the dramatic
effect as in Western theatres.



CHAPTER III

The Plays as Literature

ALTHOUGH nearly all Chinese plays in
contemporary use date from one of the
three prolific literary periods of the
country it is agreed they lack the literary value
of the poetry and the novels written during the
same epochs. The Tang dynasty, A. D. 720-905;
the Sung dynasty, A. D. 969-1277; and the Yuan
dynasty established in 1277 and defeated by the
native Chinese in 1368 — of which the third is the
most important — are the significant periods both
of general literature and of the drama, and pro-
vide the theatre of today with the great bulk of
its plays. Contemporary drama writing usually
follows the Mongol (Yuan) construction.

Five hundred plays of known authorship are
ascribed to the Yuan dynasty. Among the
eighty-five names of playwrights Bazin mentions
four women, Tchao-Ming-king, Tchang-koue-pin,
Hong-tseu-li-eul, and Hoa-li-lang, each of whom
wrote several plays. On the list of men who were
dramatists of this same period are Kouan-han-

27



28 THE CHINESE DRAMA

king, the author of sixty dramas; Kao-wen-sieou
with thirty to perpetuate his name; Tching-te-
hoeii, who wrote eighteen plays; and Pe-jin-fou,
fifteen. 1

"The Romance of the Western Pavilion" is said
to be the first play to have been translated into
a European language. And as Chinese literature
it ranks as one of the best examples; this play
was written in the late thirteenth or early four-
teenth century, and as "Hsi-siang-chi" is well
known to this generation of theatregoers. It is
the story of a scholar named Chang who makes
love to his hostess' daughter Ying-ling and leaves
her in order to compete in the government exam-
inations. This separation by examinations is a
frequent theme that is inherited from Confucian
precept.

In 1755 a Jesuit priest named Premare trans-
lated into French "Tchao-chi-Kou-eul" or
"L'Orphelin de la Chine." In it cruelty and craft
are conquered by self-sacrifice, and the play is
probably the nearest approach to tragic exposition
that any Chinese dramatist has accomplished.
When Voltaire adapted this play to the French
stage he wrote of it, "Malgre l'incroyable, il y
regne de l'interet et malgre la foule des evene-

i These titles are in French. In English spelling tch is
often written as ch; eu is shortened to u; urh becomes erh,
et cetera, and accents, except the circumflex, are omitted.



THE PLAYS AS LITERATURE 29

ments tout est de la clarte la plus lumineuse."
He added that in spite of the fact that it lacked
eloquence, reason, and passion it was a more
brilliant play than any that French dramatists had
produced during the same period — the fourteenth
century. If Voltaire could have read a later trans-
lation, made in 1834 by Stanislas Strange, in
which the songs are included (a poignant part of
any Chinese drama that is too often supposed un-
important because sung) he would have recog-
nized the passion and reason and eloquence that
are in the original play.

"Tchao-Mei-Hiang" or "Les Intrigues d'une
Soubrette" is a comedy in prose and verse that
is translated into French, and offers an opportun-
ity to contrast four styles of writing which follow
one another almost on succeeding pages. In
scene four of the first act Siao-man speaks in
the classic style when she tells her maid, Fan-sou,
of Chinese tradition and her own passion for the
intellectual life; the speech commences "Du fleuve
Ho est sortie la table." The dialogue which fol-
lows between Siao-man and Fan-sou is in semi-
literary, semi-popular style known in Chinese as
pan-wen-pan-sou. In the same scene the verses
sung by Fan-sou, who is the principal character
and to whom therefore the singing part is given,
and which commence "Entendez vous les modula-
tions pures et harmonieuses", are subject to both



30 THE CHINESE DRAMA

rhyme and rhythm in the original and are rhythmic
in the translation. In the answer that Siao-man
makes to Fan-sou: "Fan-sou, si je consens a aller
me promener avec toi, et que Madame Han vienne
a le savoir, que deviendrai-je ? " the familiar style
is used.

Modes of speech usually correspond to types of
character and therefore vary throughout any play.

Mandarin is the dialect of most theatres. Local
dialects are sometimes heard in village playhouses
and in certain popular farces. Although the
Peking dialect is the official one a dozen others
are heard in various parts of the country, and
they differ as a romance language differs from an
Anglo-Saxon. If the stage speech of the actor
from Peking is not understood by the Chinaman
from the South stage action and characters are
so prescribed by tradition and familiar from fre-
quent repetition that plays even in an unfamiliar
dialect are intelligible to almost any audience.

The adherence in China's theatre curriculum
to the traditions of religious and philosophic
teaching and the playwright's reiteration of his-
torical event and personage as dramatic material
operate conjointly as an educational medium in
every part of the country to which the drama
penetrates. And this semi-standardization — semi
because there is always the possible element of
the distorting actor or the too imaginative drama-




MEI LAN-FANG IN THE COSTUME FOR A PLAY WHICH
STAGES ONE SCENE IN THE MOON



THE PLAYS AS LITERATURE 31

tist — has linked dynasties in a more or less fac-
titious pictorial history.

Thus, operating upon one another like a boom-
erang, the audience is placidly quiescent when
confronted with the monotony of tradition and
the playwright is content to rearrange the same
stories that were the dramatic inheritance of his
predecessors, and each has but little interest in
the drama as a form of literature. It is true
that, like the poet and the novelist, the playwright
is concerned with sentiment and ideals and that


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