The Freer and Sackler Galleries Exhibition “The Last Empresses of China: 1644-1912” (紫鸾金凤：清代宫廷皇后艺术与生活大展 2018-19年美国巡展)
Shanghai Kunqu Troupe 上海崑劇團
Sackler Pavilion, Freer and Sackler Galleries
Independence Ave at 12th St. SW, Washington, DC 20560
½ block from Smithsonian Metro Stop
I. The Butterfly Dream: Matchmaking 【蝴蝶梦：说亲】
“Matchmaking” is a short and humorous scene taken from a much longer and complex Ming drama chuanqi 传奇 called The Butterfly Dream, a traditional story which fictionalizes the life of Zhuangzi zhuang 莊子, an ancient Chinese philosopher (flourished, 350 and 300 B.C.E.). As told by the traditional story, Zhuangzi traveled a lot, leaving his young wife at home. On the road, he once saw a widow fanning the wet earth covering a new grave, and learned that she wanted the earth to dry up and harden so that she could remarry—she had vowed to her deceased husband that she would not remarry until the earth in his grave dried up. This incident prompted Zhuangzi to contemplate on the institution of marriage and to want to test his own wife’s devotion to him. Thus, he returned home, and faked his own death, making his wife a widow.
“Matchmaking” begins Zhuangzi’s young wife, Madame Tian, lamenting her loneliness as a new widow. Her lament, however, quickly changes to her dreaming of marrying the young scholar who has come to visit Zhuangzi—the young scholar, needless to say, is the transformed Zhuangzi. Thus, the widow approaches the young scholar’s old servant (transformed from a large butterfly) and asks him to serve as a match maker. Through the dialogues and interactions between the young widow and the old servant, the old servant agreed to be her match maker. The scene delivers a comical drama that highlights human emotions, desires, while making fun of the Chinese institution of marriage.