Mudan Ting, which is better known as The Peony Pavilion, is a Ming Dynasty play written by Tang Xianzu. According to Jain (2002), it is regarded as a part of the noted play Four Dreams by Tang, and in general sense it is performed as opera in the form of Kunqu. Jones (1996) noted that this form of opera developed during the 16-18th century and is believed to be derived from Kunshan melody. Before its revival during the early mid 20th century it was almost forgotten. Peking opera was regarded as one of the most important venues of this form of the art structure. I saw this performance at the famous Shanghai Kunqu Theatre in Shanghai. It was an amazing performance that followed every traditional step, including stage preparation, presentation, musical arrangements and traditional acting methods. The two sets of Chinese musical instruments, Wen Chang and Wu Chang, which are regarded as inseparable in the context of Kunqu performances, were also present. The Wu Chang occupied the left part or left corner of the stage, whereas the right part or the right corner of the stage was occupied by the Wen Chang instruments.
The theme of this performance is based on the love affair between Liu Mengmei and Du Liniang that is generally backed by songs which are believed to have acted as a defense mechanism against the Jin Dynasty. However, in the play the daughter of a diplomat Du Liniang takes a stroll in the garden where she feels very drowsy and falls asleep. In her dreams, Liu Mengmei, her lover, appears. The interesting part is that she has never met Liu Mengmei before. In her dreams, her lover was coming into life when a petal fell and Du Liniang’s dream fell into pieces. Du Liniang is not able to withstand this and dies. When Du Liniang appeared before the court of hell, the judgment passed in her favor in the sense that Du Liniang’s marriage with Liu Mengmei in her dream was accepted to be predestined, and therefore she could not be detained in hell. From this point, Du Liniang’s duty was to haunt her lover. In the meantime, Liu Mengmei is found in the same garden. Liu Mengmei recognizes Du Liniang’s as the woman of his own dream and agrees to ask her father to dig her up as she is now resurrected. While Liu Mengmei was about to act on this context, he was captured by Du Liniang’s father who mistook him as a grave robber. He was about to be executed but he managed to top the list of the examination conducted by the imperial authorities. After this the emperor was pleased and Liu Mengmei was pardoned.
Though the performance was extremely fascinating, it should be mentioned that the ending of the play resembles more of a deus ex machine form and thereby can be regarded as a controversial gesture. However, nothing can be criticized when it comes to the performance of the poems in the play. Though these poetries do not reproduce the basic mood of these lively acts, they can well determinate the basic essence. The poems like “Searching for the Dream”, “The Dream Interrupted” and “Traveling in the Garden” could really be considered as real life masterpieces in terms of craft and music. Overall, this enjoyable performance really makes you interested in a culture that is quite different from the western civilization and induces one to learn more about it in the near future.