NOVELS AND PLAYS
The Ming dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644)
NOVELS were produced in considerable numbers under the Ming dynasty, but the names of their writers, except in a very few cases, have not been handed down. The marvellous work known as the Ch'in P'ing Mei, from the names of three of the chief female characters, has been attributed to the grave scholar and statesman, Wang Shih-chêng (1526-1593); but this is more a guess than anything else. So also is the opinion that it was produced in the seventeenth century, as a covert satire upon the morals of the Court of the great Emperor K'ang Hsi. The story itself refers to the early part of the twelfth century, and is written in a simple, easy style, closely approaching the Peking colloquial. It possesses one extraordinary characteristic. Many words and phrases are capable of two interpretations, one of which is of a class which renders such passages unfit for ears polite. Altogether the book is objectionable, and would require a translator with the nerve of a Burton.
The Yü Chiao Li is a tale of the fifteenth century which has found much favour in the eyes of foreigners, partly because it is of an unusually moderate length. The ordinary Chinaman likes his novels long, and does not mind plenty of repetitions after the style of Homer, which latter feature seems to point in the direction of stories told by word of mouth and written clown later on, and may be taken in connection with the opinion already expressed, that the Chinese novel came originally from Central Asia. Here, however, in four small volumes, we have a charming story of a young graduate who falls in love first with a beautiful and accomplished poetess, and then with the fascinating sister of a fascinating friend whose acquaintance—the brother's—he makes casually by the roadside. The friend and the sister turn out to be one and the same person, a very lively girl, who appears in male or female dress as occasion may require; and what is more, the latter young lady turns out to be the much-loved orphan cousin of the first and still cherished young lady, and also her intellectual equal. The graduate is madly in love with the two girls, and they are irrevocably in love with him. This is a far simpler matter than it would be in Western countries. The hero marries both, and all three live happily ever afterwards.
The Lieh Kuo Chuan, anonymous as usual, is a historical novel dealing with the exciting times of the Feudal States, and covering the period between the eighth century b.c. and the union of China under the First Emperor. It is introduced to the reader in these words:—
"The Lieh Kuo is not like an ordinary novel, which consists mainly of what is not true. Thus the Fêng Shên (a tale of the twelfth century B.C.), the Shui Hu, the Hsi Vu Chi, and others, are pure fabrications. Even the San Kuo Chili, which is very near to truth, contains much that is without foundation. Not so the Lieh Kuo. There every incident is a real incident, every speech a real speech. Besides, as there is far more to tell than could possibly be told, it is not likely that the writer would go out of his way to invent. Wherefore the reader must look upon the Lieh Kuo as a genuine history, and not as a mere novel."
The following extract refers to a bogus exhibition, planned by the scheming State of Chin, nominally to make a collection of valuables and hand them over as respectful tribute to the sovereign House of Chou, but really with a view to a general massacre of the rival nobles who stood in the way between the Ch'ins and their treasonable designs:—
"Duke Ai of Chin now proceeded with his various officers of State to prepare a place for the proposed exhibition, at the same time setting a number of armed men in ambuscade, with a view to carry out his ambitious designs; and when he heard that the other nobles had arrived, he went out and invited them to come in. The usual ceremonies over, and the nobles having taken their seats according to precedence, Duke Ai addressed the meeting as follows:—
"'I, having reverently received the commission of the Son of Heaven, do hereby open this assembly for the exhibition of such valuables as may be brought together from all parts of the empire, the same to be subsequently packed together, and forwarded as tribute to our Imperial master. And since you nobles are now all collected here in this place, it is fitting that our several exhibits be forthwith produced and submitted for adjudication.'
"Sounds of assent from the nobles were heard at the conclusion of this speech, but the Prime Minister of the Ch'i State, conscious that the atmosphere was heavily laden with the vapour of death, as if from treacherous ambush, stepped forward and said:—
"'Of old, when the nobles were wont to assemble, it was customary to appoint one just and upright member to act as arbiter or judge of the meeting; and now that we have thus met for the purposes of this exhibition, I propose, in the interest of public harmony, that some one of us be nominated arbiter in a similar way.'
"Duke Ai readily agreed to the above proposition, and immediately demanded of the assembled nobles who among them would venture to accept the office indicated. These words were scarcely out of his mouth when up rose Pien Chuang, generalissimo of the forces of Chêng, and declared that he was ready to undertake the post. Duke Ai then asked him upon what grounds, as to personal ability, he based his claim; to which Pien Chuang replied, 'Of ability I have little indeed, but I have slain a tiger with one blow of my fist, and in martial prowess I am second to none. Upon this I base my claim.'
"Accordingly, Duke Ai called for a golden tablet, and was on the point of investing him as arbiter of the exhibition, when a voice was heard from among the retainers of the Wu State, loudly urging, 'The slayer of a tiger need be possessed only of physical courage; but how is that a sufficient recommendation for this office? Delay awhile, I pray, until I come and take the tablet myself.'
"By this time Duke Ai had seen that the speaker was K'uai Hui, son of the Duke of Wei, and forthwith inquired of him what his particular claim to the post might be. 'I cut the head off a deadly dragon, and for that feat I claim this post.' Duke Ai thereupon ordered Pien Chuang to transfer to him the golden tablet; but this he refused to do, arguing that the slaughter of a dragon was simply a magician's trick, and not at all to the present purpose. He added that if the tablet was to be taken from him, it would necessitate an appeal to force between himself and his rival. The contest continued thus for some time, until at length the Prime Minister of Ch'i rose again, and solved the difficulty in the following terms:—
"'The slaughter of a tiger involves physical courage, and the slaughter of a dragon is a magician's trick; hence, neither of these acts embraces that combination of mental and physical power which we desire in the arbiter of this meeting. Now, in front of the palace there stands a sacrificial vessel which weighs about a thousand pounds. Let Duke Ai give out a theme; and then let him who replies thereto with most clearness and accuracy, and who can, moreover, seize the aforesaid vessel, and carry it round the platform on which the eighteen representative nobles are seated, be nominated to the post of arbiter and receive the golden tablet.'
"To this plan Duke Ai assented; and writing down a theme, bade his attendants exhibit it among the heroes of the assembled States. The theme was in rhyme, and contained these eight lines:—
'Say what supports the sky; say what supports the earth;
What is the mystic number which to the universe gave birth?
Whence come the eddying waves of the river's rolling might?
Where shall we seek the primal germ of the mountain's towering height?
By which of the elements five is the work of Nature done?
And of all the ten thousand things that are, say which is the wondrous one?
Such are the questions seven which I now propound to you;
And he who can answer them straight and well is the trusty man and true?
"The theme had hardly been uttered, when up started Chi Nien, generalissimo of the Ch'in State, and cried out, 'This is but a question of natural philosophy; what difficulty is there in it?' He thereupon advanced to the front, and, having obtained permission to compete, seized a stylus and wrote down the following reply:—
'Nothing supports the sky; nothing supports the earth;
How can we guess at the number which to the universe gave birth?
From the reaches above come the eddying waves of the river's rolling might:
How can we tell where to look for the germ of the mountain's towering height?
By every one of the elements five is the work of Nature done;
And of all the ten thousand things that are there is no particular one.
There you have my replies to the questions set by you;
And the arbiter's post I hereby claim as the trusty man and true.'
"Chi Nien, having delivered this answer, proceeded to tuck up his robe, and, passing to the front of the palace, seized with both hands the sacrificial vessel, and raised it some two feet from the ground, his whole face becoming suffused with colour under the effort. At the same time there arose a great noise of drums and horns, and all the assembled nobles applauded loudly; whereupon Duke Ai personally invested him with the golden tablet and proclaimed him arbiter of the exhibition, for which Chi Nien was just about to return thanks, when suddenly up jumped Wu Yüan, generalissimo of the Ch'u State, and coming forward, declared in an angry tone that Chi Nien's answer did not dispose of the theme in a proper and final manner; that he had not removed the sacrificial vessel from its place, and that consequently he had not earned the appointment which Wu Yüan now contended should be bestowed upon himself. Duke Ai, in view of his scheme for seizing the persons of the various nobles, was naturally anxious that the post of arbiter should fall to one of his own officers, and was much displeased at this attempt on the part of Wu Yüan; however, he replied that if the latter could dispose of the theme and carry round the sacrificial vessel, the office of arbiter would be his. Wu Yuan thereupon took a stylus and indited the following lines:—
'The earth supports the sky; the sky supports the earth.
Five is the mystic number which to the universe gave birth.
Down from the sky come the eddying waves of the river's rolling might.
In the K'un-lun range we must seek the germ of the mountains towering height.
By truth, of the elements five, can most good work be done;
And of all the ten thousand things that are, man is the wondrous one.
There you have my replies to the questions set this day;
The answers are clear and straight to the point, and given without delay?
"As soon as he had finished writing, he handed his reply to Duke Ai, who at once saw that he had in every way disposed of the theme with far greater skill than Chi Nien, and accordingly now bade him show his strength upon the sacrificial vessel. Wu Yüan immediately stepped forward, and, holding up his robe with his left hand, seized the vessel with his right, raising it up and bearing it round the platform before the assembled nobles, and finally depositing it in its original place, without so much as changing colour. The nobles gazed at each other in astonishment at this feat, and with one accord declared him to be the hero of the day; so that Duke Ai had no alternative but to invest him with the golden tablet and announce his appointment to the post of arbiter."
The Ching Hua Yuan is a less pretentious work than the preceding, but of an infinitely more interesting character. Dealing with the reign of the Empress Wu, who in A.D. 684 set aside the rightful heir and placed herself upon the throne, which she occupied for twenty years, this work describes how a young graduate, named T'ang, disgusted with the establishment of examinations and degrees for women, set out with a small party on a voyage of exploration. Among all the strange places which they visited, the most curious was the Country of Gentlemen, where they landed and proceeded at once to the capital city.
"There, over the city gate, T'ang and his companions read the following legend:—
'Virtue is man's only jewel!'
"They then entered the city, which they found to be a busy and prosperous mart, the inhabitants all talking the Chinese language. Accordingly, T'ang accosted one of the passers-by, and asked him how it was his nation had become so famous for politeness and consideration of others; but, to his great astonishment, the man did not understand the meaning of his question. T'ang then asked him why this land was called the 'Country of Gentlemen,' to which he likewise replied that he did not know. Several other persons of whom they inquired giving similar answers, the venerable To remarked that the term had undoubtedly been adopted by the inhabitants of adjacent countries, in consequence of the polite manners and considerate behaviour of these people. 'For,' said he, 'the very labourers in the fields and foot-passengers in the streets step aside to make room for one another. High and low, rich and poor, mutually respect each other's feelings without reference to the wealth or social status of either; and this is, after all, the essence of what constitutes the true gentleman.'
"'In that case,' cried T'ang, 'let us not hurry on, but rather improve ourselves by observing the ways and customs of this people.'
"By and by they arrived at the market-place, where they saw an official runner standing at a stall engaged in making purchases. He was holding in his hand the articles he wished to buy, and was saying to the owner of the stall, 'Just reflect a moment, sir, how impossible it would be for me to take these excellent goods at the absurdly low price you are asking. If you will oblige me by doubling the amount, I shall do myself the honour of accepting them; otherwise, I cannot but feel that you are unwilling to do business with me to-day.'
"'How very funny!' whispered T'ang to his friends. 'Here, now, is quite a different custom from ours, where the buyer invariably tries to beat down the seller, and the seller to run up the price of his goods as high as possible. This certainly looks like the 'consideration for others' of which we spoke just now.'
"The man at the stall here replied, 'Your wish, sir, should be law to me, I know; but the fact is, I am already overwhelmed with shame at the high price I have ventured to name. Besides, I do not profess to adhere rigidly to 'marked prices,' which is a mere trick of the trade, and consequently it should be the aim of every purchaser to make me lower my terms to the very smallest figure; you, on the contrary, are trying to raise the price to an exorbitant figure; and although I fully appreciate your kindness in that respect, I must really ask you to seek what you require at some other establishment. It is quite impossible for me to execute your commands.'
"T'ang was again expressing his astonishment at this extraordinary reversal of the platitudes of trade, when the would-be purchaser replied, 'For you, sir, to ask such a low sum for these first-class goods, and then to turn round and accuse me of over-considering your interests, is indeed a sad breach of etiquette. Trade could not be carried on at all if all the advantages were on one side and the losses on the other; neither am I more devoid of brains than the ordinary run of people that I should fail to understand this principle and let you catch me in a trap.'
"So they went on wrangling and jangling, the stall-keeper refusing to charge any more and the runner insisting on paying his own price, until the latter made a show of yielding and put down the full sum demanded on the counter, but took only half the amount of goods. Of course the stall-keeper would not consent to this, and they would both have fallen back upon their original positions had not two old gentlemen who happened to be passing stepped aside and arranged the matter for them, by deciding that the runner was to pay the full price but to receive only four-fifths of the goods.
"T'ang and his companions walked on in silence, meditating upon the strange scene they had just witnessed; but they had not gone many steps when they came across a soldier similarly engaged in buying things at an open shop-window. He was saying, 'When I asked the price of these goods, you, sir, begged me to take them at my own valuation; but now that I am willing to do so, you complain of the large sum I offer, whereas the truth is that it is actually very much below their real value. Do not treat me thus unfairly.'
"'It is not for me, sir,' replied the shopkeeper, 'to demand a price for my own goods; my duty is to leave that entirely to you. But the fact is, that these goods are old stock, and are not even the best of their kind; you would do much better at another shop. However, let us say half what you are good enough to offer; even then I feel I shall be taking a great deal too much. I could not think, sir, of parting with my goods at your price.'
"'What is that you are saying, sir?' cried the soldier. 'Although not in the trade myself, I can tell superior from inferior articles, and am not likely to mistake one for the other. And to pay a low price for a good article is simply another way of taking money out of a man's pocket.'
"'Sir,' retorted the shopkeeper, 'if you are such a stickler for justice as all that, let us say half the price you first mentioned, and the goods are yours. If you object to that, I must ask you to take your custom elsewhere. You will then find that I am not imposing on you.'
"The soldier at first stuck to his text, but seeing that the shopkeeper was not inclined to give way, he laid down the sum named and began to take his goods, picking out the very worst he could find. Here, however, the shopkeeper interposed, saying, 'Excuse me, sir, but you are taking all the bad ones. It is doubtless very kind of you to leave the best for me, but if all men were, like you there would be a general collapse of trade.'
"'Sir,' replied the soldier, 'as you insist on accepting only half the value of the goods, there is no course open to me but to choose inferior articles. Besides, as a matter of fact, the best kind will not answer my purpose so well as the second or third best; and although I fully recognise your good intentions, I must really ask to be allowed to please myself.'
"'There is no objection, sir,' said the shopkeeper, 'to your pleasing yourself, but low-class goods are sold at a low price, and do not command the same rates as superior articles.'
"Thus they went on bandying arguments for a long time without coming to any definite agreement, until at last the soldier picked up the things he had chosen and tried to make off with them. The bystanders, however, all cried shame upon him and said he was a downright cheat, so that he was ultimately obliged to take some of the best kind and some of the inferior kind and put an end to the altercation.
"A little farther on our travellers saw a countryman who had just paid the price of some purchases he had succeeded in making, and was hurrying away with them, when the shopkeeper called after him, 'Sir! sir! you have paid me by mistake in finer silver than we are accustomed to use here, and I have to allow you a considerable discount in consequence. Of course this is a mere trifle to a gentleman of your rank and position, but still for my own sake I must ask leave to make it all right with you.'
"'Pray don't mention such a small matter,' replied the countryman, 'but oblige me by putting the amount to my credit for use at a future date when I come again to buy some more of your excellent wares.'
"'No, no,' answered the shopkeeper, 'you don't catch old birds with chaff. That trick was played upon me last year by another gentleman, and to this day I have never set eyes upon him again, though I have made every endeavour to find out his whereabouts. As it is, I can now only look forward to repaying him in the next life; but if I let you take me in in the same way, why, when the next life comes and I am changed, maybe into a horse or a donkey, I shall have quite enough to do to find him, and your debt will go dragging on till the life after that. No, no, there is no time like the present; hereafter I might very likely forget what was the exact sum I owed you.'
"They continued to argue the point until the countryman consented to accept a trifle as a set-off against the fineness of his silver, and went away with his goods, the shopkeeper bawling after him as long as he was in sight that he had sold him inferior articles at a high rate, and was positively defrauding him of his money. The countryman, however, got clear away, and the shopkeeper returned to his grumbling at the iniquity of the age. Just then a beggar happened to pass, and so in anger at having been compelled to take more than his due he handed him the difference. 'Who knows,' said he, 'but that the present misery of this poor fellow may be retribution for overcharging people in a former life?'
"'Ah,' said T'ang, when he had witnessed the finale of this little drama, 'truly this is the behaviour of gentlemen!'
"Our travellers then fell into conversation with two respectable - looking old men who said they were brothers, and accepted their invitation to go and take a cup of tea together. Their hosts talked eagerly about China, and wished to hear many particulars of 'the first nation in the world.' Yet, while expressing their admiration for the high literary culture of its inhabitants and their unqualified successes in the arts and sciences, they did not hesitate to stigmatise as unworthy a great people certain usages which appeared to them deserving of the utmost censure. They laughed at the superstitions of Eêng-Shui, and wondered how intelligent men could be imposed upon year after year by the mountebank professors of such baseless nonsense. 'If it is true,' said one of them, 'that the selection of an auspicious day and a fitting spot for the burial of one's father or mother is certain to bring prosperity to the survivors, how can you account for the fact that the geomancers themselves are always a low, poverty-stricken lot? Surely they would begin by appropriating the very best positions themselves, and so secure whatever good fortune might hap-pen to be in want of an owner.'
"Then again with regard to bandaging women's feet in order to reduce their size. 'We can see no beauty,' said they, 'in such monstrosities as the feet of your ladies. Small noses are usually considered more attractive than large ones; but what would be said of a man who sliced a piece off his own nose in order to reduce it within proper limits?'
"And thus the hours slipped pleasantly away until it was time to bid adieu to their new friends and regain their ship."
The Chin Ku Ch'i Kuan, or Marvellous Tales, Ancient and Modern, is a great favourite with the romance-reading Chinaman. It is a collection of forty stories said to have been written towards the close of the Ming dynasty by the members of a society who held meetings for that purpose. Translations of many, if not all, of these have been published. The style is easy, very unlike that of the P'ing Shan Lêng Yen, a well-known novel in what would be called a high-class literary style, being largely made up of stilted dialogue and over-elaborated verse composed at the slightest provocation by the various characters in the story. These were P'ing and Yen, two young students in love with Shan and Lêng, two young poetesses who charmed even more by their literary talent than by their fascinating beauty. On one occasion a pretended poet, named Sung, who was a suitor for the hand of Miss Lêng, had been entertained by her uncle, and after dinner the party wandered about in the garden. Miss Lêng was summoned, and when writing materials had been produced, as usual on such occasions, Mr. Sung was asked to favour the company with a sonnet. "Excuse me," he replied, "but I have taken rather too much wine for verse-making just now." "Why," rejoined Miss Lêng, "it was after a gallon of wine that Li Po dashed off a hundred sonnets, and so gained a name which will live for a thousand generations." "Of course I could compose," said Mr. Sung, "even after drinking, but I might become coarse. It is better to be fasting, and to feel quite clear in the head. Then the style is more finished, and the verse more pleasing." "Ts'ao Chih," retorted Miss Lêng, "composed a sonnet while taking only seven steps, and his fame will be remembered for ever. Surely occasion has nothing to do with the matter." In the midst of Mr. Sung's confusion, the uncle proposed that the former should set a theme for Miss Lêng instead, to which he consented, and on looking about him caught sight through the open window of a paper kite, which he forthwith suggested, hoping in his heart to completely puzzle the sarcastic young lady. However, in the time that it takes to drink a cup of tea, she had thrown off the following lines:—
"Cunningly made to look like a bird,
It cheats fools and little children.
It has a body of bamboo, light and thin,
And flowers painted on it, as though something wonderful.
Blown by the wind it swaggers in the sky,
Bound by a string it is unable to move.
Do not laugh at its sham feet,
If it fell, you would see only a dry and empty frame"
All this was intended in ridicule of Mr. Sung himself and of his personal appearance, and is a fair sample of what the reader may expect throughout.
The Erh Tou Mei, or "Twice Flowering Plum-trees," belongs to the sixteenth or seventeenth century, and is by an unknown author. It is a novel with a purpose, being apparently designed to illustrate the beauty of filial piety, the claims of friendship, and duty to one's neighbour in general. Written in a simple style, with no wealth of classical allusion to soothe the feelings of the pedant, it contains several dramatic scenes, and altogether forms a good panorama of Chinese everyday life. Two heroes are each in love with two heroines, and just as in the Yü Chiao Li, each hero marries both. There is a slender thread of fact running through the tale, the action of which is placed in the eighth century, and several of the characters are actually historical. One of the four lovely heroines, in order to keep peace between China and the Tartar tribes which are continually harrying the borders, decides to sacrifice herself on the altar of patriotism and become the bride of the Khan.
The parting at the frontier is touchingly described; but the climax is reached when, on arrival at her destination, she flings herself headlong over a frightful precipice, rather than pass into the power of the hated barbarian, a waiting-maid being dressed up in her clothes and handed over to the unsuspecting Khan. She herself does not die. Caught upon a purple cloud, she is escorted back to her own country by a bevy of admiring angels.
There is also an effective scene, from which the title of the book is derived, when the plum trees, whose flowers had been scattered by a storm of wind and rain, gave themselves up to fervent prayer. "The Garden Spirit heard their earnest supplications, and announced them to the Guardian Angel of the town, who straightway flew up to heaven and laid them at the feet of God." The trees were then suffered to put forth new buds, and soon bloomed again, more beautiful than ever.
The production of plays was well sustained through the Ming dynasty, for the simple reason that the Drama, whether an exotic or a development within the boundaries of the Middle Kingdom, had emphatically come to stay. It had caught on, and henceforth forms the ideal pastime of the cultured, reflective scholar, and of the laughter-loving masses of the Chinese people.
The P'i Pa Chi, or "Story of the Guitar," stands easily at the head of the list, being ranked by some admirers as the very finest of all Chinese plays. It is variously arranged in various editions under twenty-four or forty-two scenes; and many liberties have been taken with the text, long passages having been interpolated and many other changes made. It was first performed in 1704, and was regarded as a great advance in the dramatic art upon the early plays of the Mongols. The author's name was KAO TSÊ-CH'ÊNG, and his hero is said to have been taken from real life in the person of a friend who actually rose from poverty to rank and affluence. The following is an outline of the plot.
A brilliant young graduate and his beautiful wife are living, as is customary, with the husband's parents. The father urges the son to go to the capital and take his final degree. "At fifteen," says the old man, "study; at thirty, act." The mother, however, is opposed to this plan, and declares that they cannot get along without their son. She tells a pitiful tale of another youth who went to the capital, and after infinite suffering was appointed Master of a Workhouse, only to find that his parents had already preceded him thither in the capacity of paupers. The young man finally decides to do his duty to the Son of Heaven, and forthwith sets off, leaving the family to the kind care of a benevolent friend. He undergoes the examination, which in the play is turned into ridicule, and comes out in the coveted position of Senior Classic. The Emperor then instructs one of his Ministers to take the Senior Classic as a son-in-law; but our hero refuses, on the ground, so it is whispered, that the lady's feet are too large. The Minister is then compelled to put on pressure, and the marriage is solemnised, this part of the play concluding with an effective scene, in which on being asked by his new wife to sing, our hero suggests such songs as "Far from his True Love," and others in a similar style. Even when he agrees to sing "The Wind through the Pines," he drops unwittingly into "Oh for my home once more; "and then when recalled to his senses, he relapses again into a song about a deserted wife.
Meanwhile misfortunes have overtaken the family left behind. There has been a famine, the public granaries have been discovered to be empty instead of full, and the parents and wife have been reduced to starvation. The wife exerts herself to the utmost, selling all her jewels to buy food; and when at length, after her mother-in-law's death, her father-in-law dies too, she cuts off her hair and tries to sell it in order to buy a coffin, being prevented only by the old friend who has throughout lent what assistance he could. The next thing is to raise a tumulus over the grave. This she tries to do with her own hands, but falls asleep from fatigue. The Genius of the Hills sees her in this state, and touched by her filial devotion, summons the white monkey of the south and the black tiger of the north, spirits who, with the aid of their subordinates, complete the tumulus in less than no time. On awaking, she recognises supernatural intervention, and then determines to start for the capital in search of her husband, against whom she entertains very bitter feelings. She first sets to work to paint the portraits of his deceased parents, and then with these for exhibition as a means of obtaining alms, and with her guitar, she takes her departure. Before her arrival the husband has heard by a letter, forged in order to get a reward, that his father and mother are both well, and on their way to rejoin him. He therefore goes to a temple to pray Buddha for a safe conduct, and there picks up the rolled-up pictures of his father and mother which have been dropped by his wife, who has also visited the temple to ask for alms. The picture is sent unopened to his study. And now the wife, in continuing her search, accidentally gains admission to her husband's house, and is kindly received by the second wife. After a few misunderstandings the truth comes out, and the second wife, who is in full sympathy with the first, recommends her to step into the study and leave a note for the husband. This note, in the shape of some uncomplimentary verses, is found by the latter together with the pictures which have been hung up against the wall; the second wife introduces the first; there is an explanation; and the curtain, if there was such a thing in a Chinese theatre, would fall upon the final happiness of the husband and his two wives.
Of course, in the above sketch of a play, which is about as long as one of Shakespeare's, a good many side-touches have been left out. Its chief beauties, according to Chinese critics, are to be found in the glorification of duty to the sovereign, of filial piety to a husband's parents, and of accommodating behaviour on the part of the second wife tending so directly to the preservation of peace under complicated circumstances. The forged letter is looked upon as a weak spot, as the hero would know his father's handwriting, and so with other points which it has been suggested should be cut out. "But because a stork's neck is too long," says an editor, "you can't very well remedy the defect by taking a piece off." On the other hand, the pathetic character of the play gives it a high value with the Chinese; for, as we are told in the prologue, "it is much easier to make people laugh than cry." And if we can believe all that is said on this score, every successive generation has duly paid its tribute of tears to the P'i Pa Chi.