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
Meyer Auditorium, Freer and Sackler Galleries
Independence Ave at 12th St. SW, Washington, DC 20560
½ block from Smithsonian Metro Stop
The Jade Hairpin 玉簪記 is a chuanqi 传奇 play by Gao Lian, written around 1570, some seventy years before the fall of the Ming dynasty. The play is divided into 33 scenes, but it would always have been common for scenes to be presented individually as selections rather than in sequence. The result is that certain scenes have very well-developed individual performance traditions. Chuanqi, sometimes translated as “marvel plays,” are the long scripts that in the Ming were the major drama genre.
The story is set in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 – 1279). As children, a match was arranged between befriended families who lost contact as they fled from war. The girl, orphaned, has sought asylum in a Taoist abbey and became a novice there, adopting a religious name. Unbeknownst to her, the abbess is the boy’s aunt.
As the play begins, the boy, Pan Bizhen, arrives at his Aunt’s abbey, to study for the civil service examination, which he has already failed once. There he meets the abbey novice, Miaochang. Without realising that they were intended for one another by their parents, they fall in love almost at first sight.
One evening, Pan expresses his love by playing romantic music on the zither. Miaochang is moved but nevertheless rejects his suit, since she is a novice. Pan, lovesick, receives a visit from Miaochang and his aunt to comfort him in his illness. A few days later, Pan visits Miaochang in return. He discovers, by chance, her poem describing her hidden love toward him. Miaochang can no longer hide her love anymore and declares herself.
Learning this, the abbess flies into a rage. She forces Pan to leave for the capital city immediately to take the examination again. Pan and Miaochang are heart-broken. She engages a boatwoman to follow him down the river in order to bid him a fond farewell.
Finally, Pan succeeds in the examination and became a Mandarin. Now his father considers him of age to marry and reveals to him his childhood engagement. Pan realizes that