Page images
PDF
EPUB

Nieou-chi and surrounded by servants and glittering wealth, is trying to shake off melancholy by playing his lute. Presently Nieou-chi enters and begs him to sing her a romance—a common Chinese practice which may be illustrated from the Ho-lang-tan, the last Act of which play contains a Chinese chanson in twenty-four couplets. But Tsai-yong can think of none but unseasonable songs-The pheasant takes his flight at morn,' a song of celibacy, or 'The Louen bird from loved companion severed.' And, beginning to sing, at his new wife's request, 'When the tempest bends the pines,' he unwittingly lapses into the air of 'When I think I return to the land of my birth.' Nieou-chi and her attendants retire; and Tsaiyong sends a confidential servant to search the streets of the capital for a messenger to be sent to his parents.

But in the distant village poor Tsai is dying. Very pathetically the old man falls on his knees before his daughter-in-law and begs to tender his last thanks. Three years you have faithfully served us. I reproach myself with having dishonoured your devotion by my suspicions. Alas, how can I return your goodness? Listen-in my future life I desire to become your daughter-in-law and to serve you in my turn.' Tchao-ou-niang has little consolation to offer save that she has chosen his place of burial—it is by his wife's grave, 'where the great trees cast their shadows.' And the scene closes with the dying request of the once ambitious Tsai that his old friend Tchang shall drive Tsai-yong out of his father's house should he ever return to his native village.

We may pass by the pathetic scene in which Tchao-ou-niang offers her hair for sale and is again befriended by Tchang, whose maxim, Charity is better than prayer,' might be commended to some Western moralists. We also pass by the short scene in which a kidnapper presents a forged letter to the Tchoang-youen telling him that his parents are alive and well. But the next picture is too characteristic of Chinese orthodoxy and rationalism to be omitted. Here, as in some plays of the Youen Collection, the Chinese spirit-world is brought upon the stage. In the village cemetery the pious Tchaoou-niang is trying to raise the funeral mound with lapfuls of earth. She sinks exhausted and falls asleep. Then appears the Spirit of the Mountain. 'How grand her filial piety!' cries the Spirit. Touched by her devotion, Heaven's Sovereign bids me bring the host of the gloomy realm to her aid.' In the twinkling of an eye the mound is raised; and the Spirit and his attendants, bidding the dreaming Tchao-ou-niang assume the costume of a religious devotee and set out for the capital, return to the spirit world. Tchao-ou-niang awakens to see the mound completed, and relates her dream and the commands of the Spirit to Tchang, who now appears in the cemetery with a servant bearing a mattock. But, if Tchang agrees with Tchao-ou-niang in recognising the finger of Heaven in the mystery,

a few words put into the mouth of Tchang's servant not only solve the mystery but prove the dramatist to be a rather cynical Chinese rationalist. There's a fine miracle,' says Tchang's servant, such a miracle as history offers in plenty. You two see spirits everywhere. Where is the mound surrounded by pine and cypress? I am the little spirit who just now decked it.' But Tchao-ou-niang will obey the Spirit's command. In the costume of a devotee and with her lute in her hand she sets out for the capital, having first painted a portrait of her husband's parents as they died-in their dusty rags, with their livid skin and their dry and fleshless bones.' Before this picture she will burn incense on the way, and hopes to move the hearts of the charitable as she sings the story of her sorrows.

The scene changes to the splendid mansion of the Imperial Tutor. Here, in the apartments assigned him by his father-in-law, Tsai-yong, dejected and ill at ease in his high rank, feels that he must bid adieu to the flowers of Spring'-pleasure he can know no more. Again and again, he refuses to tell the cause of his grief to his new wife Nieou-chi, who at last withdraws, quoting the Chinese proverb, 'Let each sweep the snow from before his own door without troubling himself about the hoarfrost on his neighbour's roof.' But she overhears Tsai-yong's soliloquy-a pardonable weakness of the Chinese theatre and learning his ardent desire to revisit his parents she returns and promises to aid her husband in gaining her father's

consent.

Stopping at

And now Tchao-ou-niang is nearing the capital. the monastery and temple of Amida-Bouddha she begs for alms and sings a song relating her sad story. But neither the Superior of the monastery, nor a couple of buffoons who have just tricked him into the belief that they are men of wealth and willing to subscribe to the funds of the institution, have anything to give her. In the temple-service it happens to be a special day. 'Strangers, persons of distinction, all the faithful who desire to offer public prayers to the god Fo for their parents living or dead,' says the pompous Superior, ‘are coming to take part in our assembly.' Presently Tsai-yong, in the dress of Tchoang-youen, enters the temple and is received with servile alacrity by the Superior and his assistants. The great man's appearance is the signal for the instant dismissal of the poor singing beggar Tchao-ou-niang, who in her hurry leaves behind the portrait of her husband's parents. The Tchoang-youen, observing the roll lying on the floor, orders the Superior to take it up, and in the hands of a servant it afterwards finds its way to the grand library of

the scholar.

This scene in the temple is peculiarly interesting. There are many strokes of satire at the greed of priests, and the prayer offered by the officiating priest is a strange medley of jest and earnest, prayer, exhortation and description. Fo has come to China to save

the multitude. With crossed legs he sits upon the lotus flower, his body all glittering with light. He is the great Phou-sa, the great Sa or Mahasa of ten countries and three worlds, the Pan-jo-po-lotang Po-lo-tang,' cries the Superior, interrupting the officiating priest who has got confused with his many names for Bouddha, 'you are wrong there-it is Po-lo-mi you should say.' 'What matter?' answers the imperturbable Bonze; if tang (sugar) is sweet, is not mi (honey) sweet also?' And he calmly continues the prayer: 'Nan-wou, Nan-wou, you are the Bouddha of ten countries, the law of ten countries, the pontiff of ten countries. Heaven's Sovereign loves to give life to his creatures, not to destroy. He who does right has before him a vista of happiness-he who does wrong, a vista of sufferings . . . Good men and women enjoy a life of bliss, crying "Ha-ha." Hark to the drum of the great law-tong, tong; tong, tong. Hark to the cymbal of the great law-tcha, tcha; tcha, tcha. The little copper bells are ringing-tchin, tchin; tchin, tchin. Yonder are the priests with their wooden rattles in their hands-pi-pi-po-po. Down on your knees before Bouddha; I am offering prayers for the health and happiness of His Excellency's father, mother, and wife. Nan-wou, Nan-wou, carry over the men of the time to the other shore!' And so ends this astounding medley, in which not the least effective part is the unconscious prayer for the unknown beggar who has just been so rudely dismissed.

[ocr errors]

In the next scene Nieou-chi, awaiting the arrival of her husband's folk and fearful that her grand servants may slight the poor newcomers -a fine trait of Chinese courtesy and worth borrowing in the Westis hiring special servants to look after her expected guests. At this moment Tchao-ou-niang presents herself at the great lady's door and is ushered into her presence. What a gracious greeting the poor mendicant receives! 'Madame, a beggar devotee bows her head before you.' 'My sister, from what country do you come, and what is your purpose in the capital?' The picture of the lady expecting her three guests and now really addressing one of them in the person of a beggar is very touching. From a distant land I come to ask alms,' says Tchao-ou-niang. To ask alms ?-but let us see what you can do.' 'Madame, without boasting, I may say that I can write, draw, play chess, and I have some skill with the lute. I can sew, and if need be I can cook. In a word, I know a little of everything.' She is no common street-beggar, as Nieou-chi says; and the lady is preparing to take the beggar into her service when she hears that she is dealing with a married woman and begins to entertain doubts about the poor creature's character. At last Tchao-ou-niang declares herself the wife of Tsai-yong and tells the story of her sufferings to the deeply sympathising Nieou-chi-a piece of dialogue in which the Chinese dramatist shows a delicacy and refinement of feeling equal to any similar scenes in the best plays of

anything of the kind in the But how is Tchao-ou-niang At Nieou-chi's suggestion

modern Europe and greatly superior to classical drama of Rome or of Athens. to declare herself to her husband? she writes some lines on the back of the portrait picked up in the temple of Amida-Bouddha, and the portrait is left hanging against the wall of Tsai-yong's library.

[ocr errors]

In this library we may now watch the closing scene of the play. Tsai-yong is trying to read, but every book he takes up reminds him of the duties he has neglected. 'I am sick of books,' he cries in bitterness; let me try some other distraction-take a glance at these old paintings of rivers and mountains. . . . But is not this the picture I picked up yesterday in the temple? Why should the servant hang it on the wall of the library? I must look at it more closely. O Heaven, I seem to see my father and mother. But it must be an illusion. The letter I received spoke of their good health, but these are two fleshless spectres dressed in dusty rags and tatters.' Of course it is some mendicant's picture-the inscription is sure to be upon the back-Let me take it down and see.' He reads the lines and is enraged to find in them repeated attacks upon himself—many a reminder that the great men of the age are neither saints nor sages.' Angrily he summons Nieou-chi into the library. He must know who has written the lines on the back of this picture. 'I suppose,' answered Nieou-chi, 'it is only an old inscription.' 'An old inscription! -why, the ink is scarcely dry.' The writer of the lines is called, and in her mournful dress enters Tchao-ou-niang. The rest of the scene may be easily imagined. The really dutiful son, whose struggle with fate has been unavailing, hears in an agony of grief the miserable story of his parents' end. He throws himself on his knees before the picture, and offers a prayer for forgiveness; and casting aside the cap and belt of Tchoang-youen he assumes the garb of a mourner, and prepares to set out for his native district and to perform the rites accompanied by the noble-hearted Nieou-chi and the devoted Tchao-ou-niang. 'Through you,' he tells the latter in the closing words of the play, 'my father and mother shall receive their posthumous honours, and historians shall ever keep alive the memory of your filial piety.'

There are various texts of Pi-Pa-Ki, differing widely in their readings. M. Bazin aîné, who, aided by M. Stanislas Julien, translated the play into French so long ago as 1841 (Paris, imprimé par autorisation du Roi à l'Imprimerie Royale), used two texts-that of the Royal Library, and that of the learned Chinese editor Ching-chan. These texts vary in almost every line, and the French translators have adopted now one reading and now another. But, although their method can hardly claim to be critical, I have not hesitated to accept their choice of readings until some thorough collation of the Chinese texts may give us something preferable. M. Bazin aîné and M.

Stanislas Julien have also translated a very difficult piece of Chinese -the preface prefixed to Ching-chan's edition. It is in the form of a dialogue between the Chinese editor and a young literary manit is dated the fortieth year of Khang-hi, i.e. 1704-and contains several interesting passages, to two of which I shall now refer.

The following graphic account of the effect produced by the play on Chinese audiences is quoted by the Chinese editor from the preface of Mao-Tseu, the critic who produced the play at Peking

in 1404.

Wherever it is market-day, even in the smallest villages, if a company of players puts the Pi-Pa-Ki upon the stage everyone easily understands them. And when they proceed to act the scenes of the famine, of Tsai-yong imploring the pity of the Emperor, of Tchao-ou-niang selling her hair to buy a coffin, one cannot see among all the spectators-landowners, mothers of the neighbourhood, young shepherds, woodcutters, venerable old men-a single one whose cheeks are not glowing, and whose ears are not burning, with emotion. Tears are everywhere flowing, faces dismayed with grief; nothing is heard but sighs and sobbing, and this continues till the play ends.

Certainly if the purpose of dramatic poetry is, as the Greek critic said, to purify the human feelings through pity and fear, this description of the effect produced by Pi-Pa-Ki seems to show the practical result contemplated by old Greek art. The critical theory of art for art's sake finds no more favour with the Chinese critic of five centuries ago than it does with Tolstoi. The object of serious drama has always been recognised by Chinese critics as moral, and very nobly do they express this object as 'the presentation of the finest lessons of history to the ignorant who cannot read.' Plays void of moral teaching they despise; and the second passage I have selected from the Chinese editor's preface to Pi-Pa-Ki contains the following severe attack on plays intended merely to amuse the multitude:

What do you find in them? Foolish dialogue, scene after scene in which one may hear the clatter of the streets, the low talk of the cross-roads, the coarse indelicacy of love intrigues. And what is the outcome of all this? That the life of man is confused and misled, that his heart follows the torrent of his passions and in them is finally lost.

Truly this Chinese critic of 1404 has something to teach our European novelists and playwrights of to-day. And perhaps even the underlying principle of Pi-Pa-Ki--the vanity of what is called success-may be of greater worth to thinking men than Lord Bacon's 'art of rising in life,' or Jesuit Gracian's crooked' worldly wisdom,' or lackey Chesterfield's directions to the would-be servants of Courts. But restless Europe will take some time to reach the quiet wisdom of the Chinese dramatist.

And I too confess a moral purpose in presenting this Chinese play to the British public. Next to the supreme duty of finding and fearlessly uttering the highest truths attainable in our age-the

« PreviousContinue »