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A Study on the Thematic, Narrative, and Musical Structure of Guan Hanqing’s Yuan «Zaju, Injustice to Dou E»

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Yumin Ao

This book is a study of the thematic, narrative, and musical structure of Yuanqu xuan [A Selection of Yuan Plays] edition of the Yuan zaju (variety play) Dou E yuan [Injustice to Dou E] originally composed by the highly regarded playwright Guan Hanqing (fl. 1260). Although other authors have studied these three aspects of Dou E yuan separately, this is the first comprehensive treatment of the topic as a scholarly monograph in English. Yumin Ao’s analysis is based on the edition of the play in the Yuanqu xuan [A Selection of Yuan Plays] compiled by the Ming publisher Zang Maoxun (ca. 1550–1620). Ao proposes that Dou E yuan, as a dramatic narrative which develops through its enactment on the stage rather than by verbal presentation as a story, displays its integrative structure of narration through its thematic development and within its musical conventions.
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Chapter Three: A Study on the Original Story

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CHAPTER THREE

Guan Hanqing composed his celebrated four-act Yuan zaju called Dou E yuan by drawing on ancient legendary accounts of a filial woman known as “Donghai xiaofu” (a filial woman from Donghai) who was subject to injustice and then appealed to Heaven to redress her grievance.

A chuanshuo (legend or legendary account1) in Chinese is conventionally regarded as a story without genuine historical authenticity, although it might be based on some historical event or person.2 This, however, does not rule out that there exists an “integrative” relationship between the legend of “Donghai xiaofu” ← 57 | 58 → and its socio-historical contexts. Using this conjecture, I will uncover this relationship to expose the reasons for the transformation of the legend of “Donghai xiaofu.” The exposition in Chapter 3 may contribute to a critical examination in Chapter 4 of the configuration of the thematic structure in Dou E yuan.

Legendary accounts of “Donghai xiaofu” have their origins in the Warring States period, and had been in oral circulation for over one thousand years before Guan Hanqing adapted them into a Yuan zaju. With a centuries-long history of oral transmission, the legend of “Donghai xiaofu” passed from one generation to another, and was finally written down by literati. Moreover, in the literary era, the topos of “an unjustly accused woman” became a conventional and recurrent motif and was repeatedly reproduced in Chinese narrative tradition.3 Numerous variants of the legend are found that provide a wealth of resources for...

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