The Columbia Anthology of Yuan Drama. Edited by C. T. Hsia, Wai-YEE Li, and George Kao. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014. Pp. ix + 409. $40.
Yuan drama, one of the most important genres of Chinese literature, offers the earliest body of texts for multi-character performance and contains a wide variety of themes, settings, characterizations, and writing styles. Of the 162 extant and complete plays assigned to this period, only a small number have been translated into English. More plays of high literary quality and cultural importance deserve translation and interpretation, and this volume is a welcome and handsome contribution toward this goal.
The editors have selected ten plays for translation and arranged them in five topics. In the following list after the translated title come the Chinese short title and the author's name:
The Zhao Orphan, Zhaoshi gu 'er, Ji Junxiang
Tricking Kuai Tong, Zhuan Kuai Tong, anonymous
Crime and Punishment
Selling Rice in Chenzhou, Chenzhou tiao mi, anonymous
The Moheluo Doll, Moheluo, an onymous
Folly and Consequences
The Eastern Hall Elder, Dongtang lao, Qin Jianfu
The Tiger Head Plaque, Hutoupai, Li Zhifu
Rescuing a Sister, Jiu fengchen, Guan Hanqing
Qiu Hu Tries to Seduce His Wife, Qiu Hu xi qi, Shi Junbao
On Horseback and over the Garden Wall, Qiangtou mashang, Bai Pu
Scholar Zhang Boils the Sea, Zhangsheng zhu hai, Li Haogu
The translators are Wai-yee Li, George Kao, Pi-twan Huang, Richard C. Hessney, Jonathan Chaves, Robert E. Hegel, Yoram Szekely, C. T. Hsia, James M. Hargett, John Coleman, Kuan-fook Lai, Gloria Shen, Wang Ming (the last five members of Professor Wu-chi Liu's drama class at Indiana University), Jerome Cavanaugh, and Allen A. Zimmerman. The back cover of the paper edition has brief notices on the editors, but other than the note on the members of the drama class, information on the translators is not provided.
Although the range of topics is extensive and, up to a point, representative of the genre, if the scope of the anthology allowed for one or two more topics, one might be Buddhist-Daoist deliverance. Scholar Zhang Boils the Sea has such a framework, but as Wai-yee Li aptly points out, "Most deliverance plays involve acts of renunciation or the protagonists' realization of the futility of mortal strivings and passions" (p. 373). This play, on the other hand, affirms passion, albeit one more divine than mortal. Another worthy topic is military. The two historical plays include some military...