From Heroes to Villains: Comparison between the Ming Novel of Shuihu Zhuan and the Qing Adapted Court Play of Zhongyi Xuantu

By Sasiporn Petcharapiruch.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The Ming novel entitled Shuǐhǔ Zhuàn 水浒传 or Outlaws of the Marsh, attributed to Shī Nài’ān 施耐庵 (1296-1372) is regarded as the first Chinese vernacular novel that reflects peasants’ rebellions. The novel reveals the corrupt and cruel officialdom and portrays a group of 108 daring heroes headed by Sòng Jiāng 宋江 who had done righteous deeds in the name of Heaven during the Song dynasty. From the Ming to the Qing dynasties there have been several adaptations of this classical novel. One of the unique and intriguing revisions was the court play entitled Zhōngyì Xuántú 忠义璇图 or A Diagram of the Stars of Loyalty and Righteousness, commissioned by the Qianlong 乾隆 emperor (1736–1796). It was scripted to be dramatized on the “three-tiered stage” (chóngtai sāncéng 崇臺三層), an innovation of Chinese theatrical architecture during the Qianlong reign. To legitimize the court performance of this play, the Qianlong emperor commissioned the new ending, which highlights the story with scenes in heaven and hell where each character was rewarded and punished with karmic retribution. Surprisingly, Song Jiang and other 107 rebels are portrayed as treacherous villains who were penalized in Hades at the end of the play. This paper explores the variations of the Ming original novel and the Qing adapted court play and investigates the extent in which social, political and religious aspects during the Qing dynasty are delineated in the Qianlong emperor’s predilection for the rewritten denouement of this court play.

Keywords: Shuǐhǔ Zhuàn, Zhōngyì Xuántú, The Qianlong Emperor, Chinese Three-Tiered Stage

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp.107-120. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.464MB).

Dr. Sasiporn Petcharapiruch

Full-Time College Instructor, Chinese Section, Department of Eastern Languages, Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Bangkok, Thailand

Dr. Sasiporn Petcharapiruch is a full-time instructor in the Department of Eastern Languages at the Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University. She teaches the introductory courses in Chinese language and culture to a very diverse student body. Her areas of expertise are ancient Chinese literature and Chinese drama. She is currently Director of Bachelor of Arts Program and Deputy Director of BA Program in Language and Culture (International Program).

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