The Peony Pavilion

The Peony Pavilion (1598), also known as The Return of the Soul, is written by the prominent playwright Xianzu Tang (1550-1616), a play included in his four dream plays and long regarded as a masterpiece of Chinese literature and kunqu.

The play depicts the love story of Liniang Du, a maiden of sixteen, and Mengmei Liu, a young scholar, who first meet each other in a dream. One day at spring’s peak, Liniang visits a deserted garden with her maidservant. Seeing the multi-colored blossoms, exuberant yet neglected, Liniang is made conscious that the state of her youthful beauty parallels that of the garden scene. After the visit, fatigued and drowsy, Liniang sinks into a day dream in which a young scholar passionately courts her by the peony pavilion in the garden. The next day, attempting to retrieve any hints of the dream, Liniang revisits the garden: the spring scenery remains the same, yet the dream encounter seems to have transpired there. The two visits cause much melancholy and induce illness in Liniang who gradually wastes away. She wishes to be buried in the garden and have her self portrait hidden under a garden rock. Three years later, Mengmei visits the garden and discovers her portrait by chance as the rock crumbles. He falls in love with the maiden in the portrait, Liniang, whose ghost calls upon him at night and eventually reveals her identity and story. With disbelief but courage, Mengmei digs up her grave and brings her back to life.

An Interrupted Dream

One day at spring’s peak, Du visits a deserted garden with her maidservant Chunxiang. Seeing the multi-colored blossoms, exuberant yet neglected, Du is made conscious that the state of her youthful beauty parallels that of the garden scene. After the visit, fatigued and drowsy, Liniang sinks into a day dream in which a young scholar passionately courts her by the peony pavilion in the garden.

The Self-Portrait

The Self-Portrait depicts Liniang’s realization of her wasting away after the two garden visits, due to poor rest and diet. To capture the time of her youth and beauty, Liniang uses her reflection in the mirror to draw a self-portrait on a silk scroll with ink and brush.

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