Peony Pavilion


A sixteen-year-old girl visits a forbidden garden and falls in love with a young man she meets in a dream. She has an affair with her dream-lover and dies longing for him. After her death, her unflagging spirit continues to wait for her dream-lover. Does her lover really exist? Can a youthful love born of a garden dream ever blossom?

Based on a famous sixteenth-century Chinese opera (now a major Lincoln Center production) written by Tang Xianzu, "the Shakespeare of China," the ...

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A sixteen-year-old girl visits a forbidden garden and falls in love with a young man she meets in a dream. She has an affair with her dream-lover and dies longing for him. After her death, her unflagging spirit continues to wait for her dream-lover. Does her lover really exist? Can a youthful love born of a garden dream ever blossom?

Based on a famous sixteenth-century Chinese opera (now a major Lincoln Center production) written by Tang Xianzu, "the Shakespeare of China," the novel leads the reader into a mythical world of passion and romance. Its many fascinating characters include a failed scholar, a Taoist nun, a husband and wife rebel team, a dissolute emperor, and Tartar invaders from the North.

About the Author:

Xiaoping Yen teaches composition and literature at City University of New York. From 1981 to 1989 he taught English at East China Normal University in Shanghai, China. He earned a Ph.D. degree from Syracuse University in 1994. With his China background and American experience, Dr. Yen has written a book that best keeps Tang Xianzu's spirit while making it more enjoyable for readers of a different culture.

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Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times
A masterpiece of China's kunju opera.
New York Times Book Review
A canonic work… one of the most venerable and refined forms of Chinese opera.
Washington Post
No soap opera; it's a Chinese love story . that evokes the subdued sensuality of Ming Dynasty romance.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780966542127
  • Publisher: Homa & Sekey Books
  • Publication date: 1/28/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 252
  • Sales rank: 1,156,316
  • Product dimensions: 5.49 (w) x 8.53 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Read an Excerpt


“What is the female prisoner charged with?” the judge asked the chief clerk after the flying creatures were all gone.

“She is charged with free love.”

“Call the female prisoner,” the judge ordered.

Liniang came into the court. One hand covering her breasts and the other hand covering her lower belly, she looked mortified. But at the same time, she was happy that she had gone through the yellow gate and finally had a chance at reclaiming her human life.

“Oh, my heaven, what an unearthly beauty,” the judge grabbed the candle on his table and shone it on Liniang. His eyes transfixed on her.

Embarrassed, Liniang lowered her head, “Your Honor, please.” “I am sorry, your prettiness. I couldn’t help myself,” he apologized to Liniang. The chief clerk, seeing his boss’s interest, whispered in his ear. “If you like her, sir, why don’t you keep her as your concubine?”

“Be my matchmaker,” the judge told the chief clerk, his eyes still on Liniang. The clerk drew Liniang aside and whispered, “Congratulations, young lady. The judge wants you to be his concubine.”

Liniang lowered her head, “I’m flattered, but I can’t.”

“You refuse to accept his proposal?” the chief clerk was surprised. He could not imagine why a prisoner whose fate depended on the good will of the judge would flatly refuse such an opportunity.

“Yes, sir. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be stupid, young lady,” the clerk admonished Liniang. Then he lowered his voice further. “If I were you, I would live with the old man for a few years. When he got bored with me, I would then ask the old man to give back my human life. I’m giving you this advice because I like you, young lady.”

“Thank you very much, sir, but I can’t.”

“You can’t refuse him,” the clerk was annoyed by Liniang’s stubbornness. “He can burn you, he can slice you, he can hammer you, he can grind you, or he can turn you into the lowest life form.”

“Please don’t do it to me,” Liniang begged.

“Then be his concubine.”

“I can’t,” Liniang again shook her head.

The chief clerk turned to the judge, “Sir, maybe I should take the young lady on a tour of the red cave.”

“Why can’t you be my concubine, my prettiness?” the judge asked Liniang. He looked deeply hurt. “Am I too old?”

The judge’s hair was completely white, his face was deeply wrinkled, and his head shook sideways as he spoke. To Liniang, he looked at least in his eighties. But Liniang was too clever to speak her mind. “No, you look young to me.”

“Am I too ugly?”

“No, Your Honor. You are very attractive.”

“Then why can’t you accept my proposal?”

“I am in love, Your Honor.”

“In love? With whom?”

“With a man I met in my back garden. He was very affectionate and loving.”

“Did your parents approve of him?”

“My parents did not know of it.”

“You had a liaison with a man before the holy ceremony of marriage and without the consent of your parents-this is free love, a very serious offense, my prettiness,” the judge said sternly.

“Your Honor, all that happened in a dream,” Liniang pleaded.

“In a dream?” The judge turned to his chief clerk. “Don’t tell me our officers are snatching up pretty young girls just because they had an amorous dream?”

“What was your justification?” the clerk turned to the horse-headed fiend that was standing beside him.

“Your Honor,” the fiend answered, “this young lady had a dream in the garden, which was morally repugnant but not a criminal offense. However, after the dream, she pined away, visiting the garden everyday, rain or shine. That surely was a flagrant disregard of maidenly virtues.”

The judge nodded his head. “Although you are not guilty of free love as charged,” he told Liniang, “you are guilty of self-indulgence. Accept my proposal, or I’ll have to turn you into a flying creature.”

“Please give back my life,” Liniang pleaded with the judge, “and let me wait for him in my garden.”

“Wait for him in your garden?” the judge laughed hilariously. “What makes you think that the man you dreamed of in your garden dream will reappear in your garden?”

“He asked me to wait, and I believe him.”

“You are crazy, my prettiness,” the judge told Liniang.

“Crazy or not, please give me a chance,” Liniang begged the judge with tears in her eyes.

The judge hesitated. He knew it was a ridiculous idea, but he hated to disappoint a pretty and earnest girl who had just told him that he looked young and attractive.

“May I remind Your Honor of a tradition here?” Irked at the female prisoner’s disregard for his advice, the clerk whispered to the judge. “Anyone who is guilty of self-indulgence, no matter how minor it is, cannot get his former life back. He has to be reincarnated into a lower life form.” “Shut up,” the judge pushed his chief clerk away from him. “I am the judge and I decide as I see fit.”

“Of course, Your Honor,” the chief clerk retreated, his face red with embarrassment.

“Well, my beauty, I shall give you a chance on one condition,” the judge told Liniang.

“What is it, Your Honor?”

“Your spirit will have one year to roam freely in your former residence and the attached garden. If, during the time period, you meet the man of your dream and you two unite in holy matrimony, I shall let your spirit return to your body. If not, you have to willingly and happily become my concubine.”

Liniang wavered. She was not sure whether the man in her dream would ever appear again, but the judge’s offer seemed to be her only opportunity.

“What do you say?” the judge urged her.

“I accept your proposal,” Liniang told the judge.

“Very good.”

“Kneel,” the clerk yelled at Liniang, sore that she got a better deal than the one he had brokered.

Liniang knelt and thanked the judge for his generosity.

“Get up, young beauty. I like it better when you are standing.” As if it were only an afterthought, the judge added, “By the way, every morning when roosters crow, you must come here to report to this court on your progress.”

“Can I put on something when I come to report?” Liniang asked bashfully.

“A spirit has no worldly possession, at least not in this court,” Judge Hu gazed at Liniang for a few seconds and burst into a hearty laughter.

“Treat this wandering spirit well and make sure that her body remains intact and fresh in the grave,” the judge ordered his chief clerk. “Remember she will be my favorite concubine in one year.”

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  • Posted November 17, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Beautiful translation of an amazing historic tale

    An amazing translation of a historic opera. The Peony Pavillion is a must read for anyone who enjoys Asian literature, history, culture and traditions. Reading this story pulls you right back to the time that Liniang, the lead character, lives. The original opera was written during the Ming Dinasty and we are just so fortunate to be able able to enjoy it today.

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