Charm of Peony Pavilion

Presenter:Professor ZHAO Shanlin, Department of Literature and Art, East China Normal University
Date:Wednesday, March 15,  2017
Time:12 – 1:20 pm
Location:Koessler Room, Michigan League
Language: Presented in Chinese

Tang Xianzu (1550-1616) in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) is one of the greatest playwrights in China. His celebrated play Peony Pavilion (Mudan ting) published in 1598 has been widely admired and appreciated for 419 years. This presentation proposes four factors that contribute to the popularity of Peony Pavilion: deep passion (shenqing), profound appreciation (miaoshang), marvelous events (qishi), and beautiful language (meiwen). The play describes the female protagonist Du Liniang’s deep passion for love and beauty and underlines the profound appreciation of nature and human beauty as the essential complement of such passion. The romance between Du and the male protagonist Liu Mengmei demonstrates a perfect synthesis of deep passion and profound appreciation, which makes the romance much more inspirational than a sensual love story. Specifically, the romance between Du and Liu illustrates an aesthetic ideal of pursuing love and beauty. Tang in writing the play also composes many marvelous events. Those events highlight the power of deep passion and also create dramatic effects, providing readers with a remarkable reading experience. Last but not least, the play has beautiful language. The language balances literary prose and vernacular idioms. It not only exemplifies the playwright’s unparalleled talent for literary composition but also embellishes the play’s description of and praises for deep passion. Deep passion, profound appreciation, marvelous events, and beautiful language make Peony Pavilion an insightful and delightful play to read and appreciate.


ZHAO Shanlin is a professor in the Department of Chinese Literature and Art at East China Normal University. His research focus is on late imperial Chinese drama. His representative monographs include:A Study of Audiences for Traditional Chinese Drama, A General Theory of Chinese Theater, and A History of the Dissemination and Reception of Traditional Chinese Drama.