As a Lioness Roars

Written by Wang Tingna of the Ming dynasty (1369-1644), a renowned playwright and poet whose dates are not known to us today, except that he was active during the twilight years of the 16th century and a contemporary and close associate of Tang Xianzu (1550-1616), author of The Peony Pavilion, As a Lioness Roars shines as one of the most popular and enduring Kunqu comic plays. The title has become a familiar metaphor in Chinese culture that refers to a jealous and tempestuous woman and her henpecked husband.

The central theme of the play was quite unique at the time when the play was written. It elaborates on the universal yet never before depicted subject of how possessive and jealous a wife can be at a time that is particularly confining and repressive to women, which is the Ming society in ancient China. The most fascinating cultural phenomenon with regards to this hilarious but touching drama is how differently the play once impacted the audiences and public from the 17th century down throughout the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) from how it impresses on the audience today.

What was written, and played for over 200 years, as a severe criticism of and warning against jealous women who felt an uncontrollable urge to keep a tight rein on their husbands who might otherwise wander off to engage in various sexual escapades and other debaucheries and extra-marital affairs is now to the audience a vivid and dramatic manifestation as a natural and very human demonstration of emotions on the part of an overly loving wife, a little impetuous perhaps, protesting her husband who though quite doting and gentle has, much to her annoyance, a roving eye!

Like the popular operas by Mozart, such as Cosi Fan Tutte and The Marriage of Figaro, As a Lioness Roars tells the story of how the young scholar Chen Jichang, despite his affection for Liu Shi, his extremely jealous wife, misbehaves as a married man weakened under the bad influence of his close friend, Su Dongpo, a famous poet of the Northern Song dynasty, who, like a devil, tempts him with many romantic opportunities.

In the end, however, jealousy and reproaches give way to harmony, trust and, above all, true love. As a Lioness Roars ends with our lioness domesticated into a sweet kitten, and she and her now-reformed man live happily and peacefully ever after.

Kneeling by the Pond

Kneeling by the Pond happens on one such day, when Liu Shi learns that not only did her husband go the night before to another party with Su (A truly bad influence!) and joined by some despicable sing-song vixens — openly defiant of her repeated warnings against such outings — but, worse still, he had the nerve to lie to her about the presence of the hired girls! Ignoring her husband’s pathetic pleas for mercy, she determinedly gives him another one of her famous punishments, which is for him to be on his knees for as long as she sees fit, out in the cold by the pond.

As the hen-pecked husband is quite willingly bearing this indignation alone by the pond, Su Dong-po comes again to visit him. Upon seeing the pitiful state Chen is in, Su volunteers to reprimand Lady Willow for her unfit shrewdness and give her a grand lecture on how to behave like a gentle woman and decent wife, but only to find out a few moments later who the real censurer and lecturer is. The play ends with Su fleeing for his life and Lady Willow, her mortified husband tailing subserviently after her, marching triumphantly back into the house.

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