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Studies in 








From the Estate 


Urie McCleary 












Studies in 




The Four Seas Company 


Copyright, 1922, by 


The Four Seas Press 
Boston, Mass., U. S. A. 


C. H. B. and C. B. B. 

"Without error there could be no such thing as truth.'' 



Chapter Page 

I. Origin of the Chinese Drama . . .15 

II. Types of Plays 20 

III. The Plays as Literature .... 27 

IV. Religious Influence upon the Drama 36 
V. Types and Characters 41 

VI. The Actors 46 

VII. The Music 53 

VIII. Decoration, Costume, and Symbolic 

Design 61 

IX. Customs of the Playhouse and the 

Greenroom 71 



Mei Lan-fang, Celebrated Chinese Actor of 

Today frontispiece 

The Great Monad 13 

The Theatre God 14 

Scene from an Event in the Sung Dynasty 16 

Figures from a Play of the Tai-ping Rebel- 
lion 20 

God of Agriculture 24 

Mei Lan-fang in Costume 30 

Three Chinese Actors in Costume .... 34 

Meditation — a Buddhist Exercise .... 38 

Trio of Actors in an Historical Scene from 

the Wei Dynasty 40 

Two Male Actors in Costume 42 

Program of a Theatre in Peking, 1920 ... 44 

A Portrait of Mei Lan-fang 48 



Strolling Musicians 50 

Strolling Mountebank with Monkey ... 52 

Bamboo Kouan 54 

Chinese Guitar 56 

Hou K'in, or Two-String Violin .... 60 

Mei Lan-fang in the Costume of an Ancient 

Warrior 62 

Chinese Symbol for Age 64 

Symbol for Happiness 64 

The Five-clawed Imperial Dragon .... 66 

Lei Shen, the Thunder God 68 

Kuan Ti, God of War 70 

A Permanent Theatre in Peking, Estab- 
lished During the Ming Dynasty . 72. 

A Temporary Theatre, of Mats and Bamboo . 74 

A Movable Stage 76 


IT is to be supposed that a republican gov- 
ernment in China will interrupt the Imperial 
drama convention. Historically the Imperial 
theatre ended with the dissolution of the Ching 
dynasty nine years ago, but the tradition which 
has maintained it during the last six hundred 
years is powerful enough to have continued it to 
the present hour as the popular contemporary 
theatre, and, in most parts of the country, as 
the only type of dramatic production. Recent 
deviations in a few minor theatres are as yet 
transitory and without focus. 

This book is concerned solely with the Imperial 
drama. It is compiled from widely scattered texts 
and illustrations; and is intended to be commen- 
tarial rather than analytical. I desire to thank 
Dr. John C. Ferguson, Professor Edward S. Morse, 
Mr. Shen Hung, Mr. Y. Wong, and Mr. Aram 
Antranikian for assistance in obtaining notes and 

When scores of dramatists present a contem- 
porary or a traditional people it is inevitable that 



they present a considerable degree of fact. Chi- 
nese plays and the Chinese drama intrigue the 
mind and invite the Occidental to their study for 
the historical, civil, and spiritual reflection of 
forty centuries of civilization, and for the cere- 
monious and enduring conventions they reveal. 

To understand is the dilemma! Many for- 
eigners have visited Chinese theatres: heard the 
"clamour" of music that is unfamiliar both in 
interval and orchestration, listened to a strange 
language and looked upon fantastic costumery, 
to write a lot of nonsense about the Chinese stage ; 
they have not been able to separate opposing tra- 
ditions — and it is they who have shrouded Chinese 
splendour in incorrect adjectives. 

The Chinese drama must be judged by native 
standards. Unlike her Nipponese neighbour, China 
is not a borrowing nation. Her arts of painting, 
calligraphy, literature, the theatre, et cetera, are 
indigenous, and can be received in their proper 
magnificence only when disassociated from the 
theories that control Western arts, from which 
they differ in purpose, in thesis, and in exposition. 


October 1921 



The Grea/ Mo /73a/ 

T/?ej/re God 



Origin of the Chinese Drama 

THE birth year of the Chinese drama is 
unknown. Dates are variously suggested 
and disagreed upon and enclose a period 
of more than twenty-five centuries. The reason 
for this divergence of opinion is that while one 
writer considers the pantomimic dances — for re- 
ligious worship or military jubilation — which were 
presented to musical accompaniment, a dramatic 
production, another waits to name the century of 
the initial stage performance until festival rites 
unite with speech in dramatic situation and an 
histrionic denouement; or, one studies drama 
from the assumption of the aesthetic, and another, 
the anthropologist, considers physical trait and 
language and primitive custom to find in the 
emotional agreement in ceremony and ritual a 
dramatic presentation. 

Like its other arts a nation's drama is a develop- 
ment and is incepted, as they are, by civic and 
national ceremony. It is only the shortlived that 



is born completely functioning. And the tenacious 
Chinese drama can have had neither a definitely 
marked inception nor a conclusion for the early 
scribe to have noted, even in a country of remark- 
able literary antiquity and the habit of notation. 
From the cult of the dead Chinese drama has been 
developed by assimilation, by the patronage of 
succeeding emperours, and the corresponding 
conversion of the Chinese people. 

Historians say that music existed in China in 
B. C. 5400. Of China's second dynasty and its 
"Golden Age" B. C. 2205-1766, we read that re- 
ligious worship was accompanied by music and 
dances which represented the occupations of the 
people — plowing and harvesting, war and peace; 
and that these dances illustrated the sensations 
of working, joy, fatigue, and content. 

The Chou Ritual classic written several cen- 
turies before the time of Confucius states that 
six ceremonial dances were in vogue at that early 
period: "In the first, wands with whole feathers 
were waved — in the worship of the spirits of 
agriculture; in the second wands with divided 
feathers were used — in the ancestral temples; in 
the third feather caps were worn on the head, and 
the upper garments were adorned with kingfisher 
feathers— in blessing the four quarters of the 
realm; in the fourth yak-tails were used — in 
ceremonial for the promotion of harmony; in the 





fifth shields were manipulated — to celebrate mili- 
tary merit; in the sixth the bare hands were 
waved — in homage to the stars and constellations. 

But the ceremonial dances chiefly in vogue 
were to celebrate, and partly to portray, civil and 
military accomplishment. "Royal music was of 
two kinds. If civil merit was to be celebrated the 
posturers grasped feather wands ; if martial prow- 
ess, they grasped vermillion shields and jade 
(embossed) battle-axes. The jade signified virtue, 
and the shields benevolence, to inculcate clemency 
to those defeated." 1 

Here, without question, is action to an accom- 
paniment of music. Speech and song were a 
later emanation. Gradually these dances ex- 
pressed more license than litany and during the 
Chou dynasty, B. C. 1122-255, were forbidden in 
association with religious worship ; they were then 
presented under separate ceremonials but con- 
tinued to give honour to the same symbols. Elab- 
ourate and fantastic costumery and an increased 
ballet were added and pantomine had become a 
spectacle for popular entertainment, and was pre- 
sented on a stage built for the purpose instead 
of in a temple. 

Other early Chinese writers mention oc< 'urrences 
which establish the fact of some form of drama: 

i W. Arthur Cornaby in "The New China Review" for 
March, 1919. 


we read of an emperour who lived seventeen hun- 
dred years before the Christian era who was com- 
mended for having forbidden certain stage con- 
ventions; another ruler of a pre-Christian dynasty 
was deprived of funeral honours because he was 
thought to have too much enjoyed the theatre; 
and a third emperour was advised to exclude 
actors from his court. 

Emile Guimet 1 says that a Chinese theatre was 
established by an emperour about B. C. 700 and 
that the writers of that century applied them- 
selves to the development of a poetic drama. Any 
literature which may have existed has been de- 
stroyed by succeeding rulers. 

We find more definite drama chronicle of the 
eighth century. The emperour Hsuan Tsung, or 
Ming Huang as he is commonly called from a 
posthumous title, established a school in the 
gardens of his palace to teach young men and 
women the arts of dancing and music, and prob- 
ably chose his court entertainers from this group. 
Many actors of today associate themselves with 
this early imperial school and call themselves 
members of the College of the Pear Orchard. Ming 
Huang, who is said to have acted upon his own 
stage, is today's patron saint of all actors, and his 
statue, with incense burning before it, may be 
seen in Chinese greenrooms. 

i "Theatre Chinois" 


Plays during this century, which is sometimes 
called the first period of Chinese drama, focused 
on extraordinary themes, and anticipated the 
present heroic drama. It is probable that interest 
in the drama did not extend further than the 
Imperial court until the thirteenth century. 

During the Yuan dynasty, founded in 1280 by 
the Mongol warrior Kublai Khan, drama, as it now 
exists in China, appears to have slipped into being 
as quietly as a fall of snow overnight, and, as far 
as most historians are concerned with the subject, 
is an established fact only from this time. What 
actually happened in the thirteenth century was 
that divisions of subject and character were fixed 
and an enduring literature produced. 


Types of Plays 

VENERATION of the dead controlled China 
centuries before Confucius wrote "Ever 
think of your ancestors and cultivate 
virtue," and is today the active principle in the 
moral and mental lives of four hundred millions 
of Chinese. Arts are featured by this national 
superstition and frequently seem to have en- 
dured because of it; the routine of diurnal living 
and the festival and ceremony of birth and burial 
proclaim the animate influence of the departed. 
Someone has said that China is a country where 
a few hundred millions of living are terrorized by 
a few thousand millions of dead. 

In the drama ancestor worship is an emphasized 
and recurrent theme. 

Of the three types of plays that are said to in- 
clude all the variations of contemporary dramatic 
presentation the Vun Pan Shi is known as the 
oldest form. Patriotism and filial devotion are its 
subjects; and in it music and action unite to play 
upon the emotions of the audience. 






The Jin Pan Shi presents civil and military 
conditions. The difference between the Vun Pan 
Shi and the Jin Pan Shi is not in the libretto as 
one might suppose but in the manner of singing 
certain roles and in the tradition of the acting. 

A third dramatic form is the Vun Min Shi or 
"modern" play. Colloquial dialects are allowed in 
the Vun Min Shi instead of Mandarin — the dialect 
of Peking — which is the accepted speech of the 
stage as well as of the nation. 

Another classification > is the Cheng-pan or 
historical plays; the Chu-tou, civil pieces; and the 
Ku-wei or farces. 

A civil and a military play must be included on 
each day's program ; the latter is a popular subject 
that may appear in several of the six or eight 
plays presented during an evening. 

Civil and military plays are sometimes mistak- 
enly said to represent comedy and tragedy. Like 
the Hindu the Chinese stage does not distinguish 
carefully between the two; and when a so-called 
tragedy is presented it usually takes the form of 
melodrama with a "happy" ending. "Beauty" 2 
is a rare example of a Chinese stage tragedy. 
"Beauty" was a faithful Chinese maiden who was 
lured from her home by wandering marauders; 
and the story of her patriotism and tragic death 

i W. Stanton. 

2 Translated by the Reverend J. Macgowan. 


is a popular one in Chinese theatres. But the 
Chinese are instinctively a humourous people — 
even the lines of their architecture turn up like 
a smiling mouth — and as entertainment they 
prefer to laugh than to cry. 

Men and women who have conducted them- 
selves heroically while alive and who in a Eu- 
ropean country might be known as saints or 
martyrs are deities in China and may appear as 
characters in the civil plays which are written 
around domestic incident, and in the military 
plays of historical and legendary fact. 

Military plays are concerned with historical 
episode and heroic or filial acts. Civil plays, fre- 
quently of a farcical nature, deal with the en- 
tanglements of every day life. 

As they may be read in classical collections 
Chinese plays — like Chinese poetry — are straight- 
forward in any seeming unmoral tenets they may 
hold. And, before accepting the statement that 
the Chinese stage is immoral, the foreigner should 
recall that plays exist as they are to be read, as 
they appear in acting editions, and also as they 
may be interpreted and developed by the actor 
who is sometimes allowed great license in "gag- 
ging". In most reputable theatres plays teach 
the wisdom of morality; and indeed the denoue- 
ment of a comedy is usually the triumph of virtue 
over the machinations of some evil influence. 


The Chinese penal code states the aim of 
dramatic performances to be to offer either real 
or imagined pictures of just and honourable men, 
chaste women, and obedient children who will 
encourage the spectator in the practice of virtue. 
The writer of an indecent play is supposed — even 
after death — to be persecuted by evil spirits as 
long as his play appears upon any stage. 

China has no stage censor. Anyone may set 
up a theatre, elabourate his artistic principles or 
develop his business theories without fear of the 
hectoring thumb; and, except for the rule which 
was enforced during the imperialistic government 
forbidding the impersonation of a reigning em- 
perour, any spectacle and any type of character 
may be presented. 

Plots are usually simple and well sustained but 
subjects are numerous and of wide range. While 
the most enduring plays feature the history of the 
country, others, no less frequently seen, include 
such subjects as filial and parental piety; the ex- 
altation of learning ; native vices and peculiarities 
of official corruption; vices common to mankind; 
legal anomalies; and the absurdities of religious 
practices. The depravity of the priesthood and 
the corruption of official China have been two 
controlling elements that are lashed by the dram- 
atist, and as theatre subjects never fail to find 
appreciative audiences. The five blessings for 


which the Chinese pray, and which are also libret- 
to subjects, are sons, riches, long life, recovery 
from sickness, and office. It is noticable that 
these are all material blessings . . . even the 
wish for sons springs from the desire to provide 
for old age, and as a means to placate the gods 
after the death of parents. Other favours that the 
Chinese ask of their gods are that crops shall be 
well protected and harvests rich, and that men and 
beasts shall be immune from cholera. To obtain 
these gifts the people offer the pageants and fes- 
tivals which have become so popular a form of 
dramatic presentation in the open fields of the 
countryside in the spring and autumn. Such 
spectacles may be financed by the rich man of the 
village or by a community. 

If rains are heavy, prayer and sacrifice are com- 
monly offered to the god of rain that he will close 
the gates of Heaven in order that the rice will not 
rot from too profuse a supply of moisture ; and to 
the god of the harvest thanks are returned, in 
drama festival, for bountiful crops. 

Puppet shows are a form of amusement com- 
mon to many nations and to which certain writers 
attribute the beginning of the Chinese drama. In 
some sections of the country a dramatic perform- 
ance invariably opens with marionettes. Punch 
and Judy are more frequently seen in the East 



than in the West and are probably a product of 
the Chinese imagination. 

Confucian themes include the popular cult for 
learning and filial devotion. Buddhism is the 
source of most of the buffonery and farce; in the 
theatre it not only defies but debases; it makes 
hideous the actual and enhances the chimerical, 
and suggests comic relief from religious hysteria. 
Not all Chinamen believe in the divinity of Bud- 
dha — or Fu as he is sometimes called — but all 
men who go to the Chinese theatre know his 
stage omnipotence. 

Satire is always a development of an old civili- 
zation and in that ageless country of stability and 
decay is a style which is profoundly and profusely 
worked upon. The Chinaman understands and 
responds to satirical comedy. He is directed on 
the honourable path by its smile and intrigued 
by its humour. Even when the Chinese dramatist 
writes about love he handles it with humour — 
with irony. To the Oriental a love that torments 
and tyrannizes is an absurd and stupid exaggera- 
tion, and the drama that depicts it has small 
chance of success. 

Plays are divided into acts and scenes. Change 
of scene is indicated by pantomine, or by a rapid 
walk about the stage of all the characters in the 
piece. Acts usually number four and the first 
may be preceded by a prologue which is spoken 


by one of the principal characters. The denoue- 
ment occurs in the final act. Dualism of con- 
trasted scene with scene achieves the dramatic 
effect as in Western theatres. 


The Plays as Literature 

ALTHOUGH nearly all Chinese plays in 
contemporary use date from one of the 
three prolific literary periods of the 
country it is agreed they lack the literary value 
of the poetry and the novels written during the 
same epochs. The Tang dynasty, A. D. 720-905; 
the Sung dynasty, A. D. 969-1277; and the Yuan 
dynasty established in 1277 and defeated by the 
native Chinese in 1368 — of which the third is the 
most important — are the significant periods both 
of general literature and of the drama, and pro- 
vide the theatre of today with the great bulk of 
its plays. Contemporary drama writing usually 
follows the Mongol (Yuan) construction. 

Five hundred plays of known authorship are 
ascribed to the Yuan dynasty. Among the 
eighty-five names of playwrights Bazin mentions 
four women, Tchao-Ming-king, Tchang-koue-pin, 
Hong-tseu-li-eul, and Hoa-li-lang, each of whom 
wrote several plays. On the list of men who were 
dramatists of this same period are Kouan-han- 



king, the author of sixty dramas; Kao-wen-sieou 
with thirty to perpetuate his name; Tching-te- 
hoeii, who wrote eighteen plays; and Pe-jin-fou, 
fifteen. 1 

"The Romance of the Western Pavilion" is said 
to be the first play to have been translated into 
a European language. And as Chinese literature 
it ranks as one of the best examples; this play 
was written in the late thirteenth or early four- 
teenth century, and as "Hsi-siang-chi" is well 
known to this generation of theatregoers. It is 
the story of a scholar named Chang who makes 
love to his hostess' daughter Ying-ling and leaves 
her in order to compete in the government exam- 
inations. This separation by examinations is a 
frequent theme that is inherited from Confucian 

In 1755 a Jesuit priest named Premare trans- 
lated into French "Tchao-chi-Kou-eul" or 
"L'Orphelin de la Chine." In it cruelty and craft 
are conquered by self-sacrifice, and the play is 
probably the nearest approach to tragic exposition 
that any Chinese dramatist has accomplished. 
When Voltaire adapted this play to the French 
stage he wrote of it, "Malgre l'incroyable, il y 
regne de l'interet et malgre la foule des evene- 

i These titles are in French. In English spelling tch is 
often written as ch; eu is shortened to u; urh becomes erh, 
et cetera, and accents, except the circumflex, are omitted. 


ments tout est de la clarte la plus lumineuse." 
He added that in spite of the fact that it lacked 
eloquence, reason, and passion it was a more 
brilliant play than any that French dramatists had 
produced during the same period — the fourteenth 
century. If Voltaire could have read a later trans- 
lation, made in 1834 by Stanislas Strange, in 
which the songs are included (a poignant part of 
any Chinese drama that is too often supposed un- 
important because sung) he would have recog- 
nized the passion and reason and eloquence that 
are in the original play. 

"Tchao-Mei-Hiang" or "Les Intrigues d'une 
Soubrette" is a comedy in prose and verse that 
is translated into French, and offers an opportun- 
ity to contrast four styles of writing which follow 
one another almost on succeeding pages. In 
scene four of the first act Siao-man speaks in 
the classic style when she tells her maid, Fan-sou, 
of Chinese tradition and her own passion for the 
intellectual life; the speech commences "Du fleuve 
Ho est sortie la table." The dialogue which fol- 
lows between Siao-man and Fan-sou is in semi- 
literary, semi-popular style known in Chinese as 
pan-wen-pan-sou. In the same scene the verses 
sung by Fan-sou, who is the principal character 
and to whom therefore the singing part is given, 
and which commence "Entendez vous les modula- 
tions pures et harmonieuses", are subject to both 


rhyme and rhythm in the original and are rhythmic 
in the translation. In the answer that Siao-man 
makes to Fan-sou: "Fan-sou, si je consens a aller 
me promener avec toi, et que Madame Han vienne 
a le savoir, que deviendrai-je ? " the familiar style 
is used. 

Modes of speech usually correspond to types of 
character and therefore vary throughout any play. 

Mandarin is the dialect of most theatres. Local 
dialects are sometimes heard in village playhouses 
and in certain popular farces. Although the 
Peking dialect is the official one a dozen others 
are heard in various parts of the country, and 
they differ as a romance language differs from an 
Anglo-Saxon. If the stage speech of the actor 
from Peking is not understood by the Chinaman 
from the South stage action and characters are 
so prescribed by tradition and familiar from fre- 
quent repetition that plays even in an unfamiliar 
dialect are intelligible to almost any audience. 

The adherence in China's theatre curriculum 
to the traditions of religious and philosophic 
teaching and the playwright's reiteration of his- 
torical event and personage as dramatic material 
operate conjointly as an educational medium in 
every part of the country to which the drama 
penetrates. And this semi-standardization — semi 
because there is always the possible element of 
the distorting actor or the too imaginative drama- 



tist — has linked dynasties in a more or less fac- 
titious pictorial history. 

Thus, operating upon one another like a boom- 
erang, the audience is placidly quiescent when 
confronted with the monotony of tradition and 
the playwright is content to rearrange the same 
stories that were the dramatic inheritance of his 
predecessors, and each has but little interest in 
the drama as a form of literature. It is true 
that, like the poet and the novelist, the playwright 
is concerned with sentiment and ideals and that 
he handles them with a suppleness that is elo- 
quent; but the beauty which derives from fine 
cohesion of thought and harmony of words has 
been, in his estimation, as it has been in that of 
the people, outside the province of the theatre. 

The actor is so despised in China that he has 
not had the association of scholars, and the play- 
wright has suffered for the actor's stigma. He is 
not classed among the "literati", and if occasion- 
ally a literary man is sufficiently intrigued by the 
drama form of literature to write a play he pub- 
lishes it under a nom de guerre. 

The fact that it has been the custom to hire a 
playwright by the season to travel with a troupe 
of actors to write librettos from popular novels 
or retell an historic episode, gives an idea of what 
his status has been, and of the difficulty to be 


overcome before playwriting in China is con- 
sidered to be a literary profession. 

A collected but incomplete dramatic library 
exists in fifteen volumes under the title "Shi 
K'au". Another, of Mongol plays, the "Yuan Ch'u 
shuan tsa chi", is in eight volumes. A Chinese 
edition of the latter was published in 1615 that 
includes one hundred dramas and an illustration 
for each play. Plays to be read are shorter than 
the acting version. Acting editions may be 
bought in China three for a penny. They are 
thin paper covered volumes in uniform size and 
varying colours, and resemble the "Farmer's Al- 
manac" of New England book tradition. These 
editions carry a few stage directions; "entrance" 
and "exit" are written as "ascend" and "descend", 
and "turn the back and say" replaces the "aside" 
of the Western theatre. 

There are many Chinese plays that are avail- 
able for reading in English, French, and German 
translations. "Tchao-Mei-Hiang" or "Les In- 
trigues d'une Soubrette" a is one of the rare Chi- 
nese love dramas and is often played. It was 
written during the Yuan dynasty. "Hoei-Lan-Ki" 
or "The Circle of Chalk" 2 is a drama of high 
adventure and the vindication of personal inno- 
cence. "Pi-Pa-Ki" or "L'Histoire du Luth" written 

i Translated by M. Bazin ainS. 
2 Translated by Stanislas Julien. 


by Kao-tong-kia of the Yuan dynasty is a popular 
example of the recurrent theme of filial piety. 
Filial and family devotion are the love inhibitions 
of the Chinese mind. A father rules over his son 
as long as the former lives, and retains a certain 
dominion after death, and a son's acceptance of 
this traditional subjection is uncomplaining and 
complying; he waits for his turn to be the head 
of the family when he shall have the much desired 
sons of his own. Such filial relations of respect 
and self-sacrifice are more important to the Chi- 
nese than sex love and marriage, and are the 
dramatist's most passional material. 

"Sanh Yoer Gi Ts" or "Leaving a Son in a 
Mulberry Orchard" is the story of a father's sac- 
rifice. The play dates from the Tsur dynasty and 
is an example of family pride and integrity. "Ho 
Din Mung" is another popular play. Its story is 
from the Chow dynasty, B. C. 1122-255. In it 
the wife of Tsang Ts dies, and the action centers 
upon a dream in which Tsang Ts sees his wife's 
coffin split in pieces by an axe. The Chinese 
understand the significance of dreams in relation 
to repressed desire and many of their plays were 
concerned with this theme a long time before 
dream purport was written about and treated as 
a new subject in Europe. 

"K'ung Dsun Ci" or "Empty City Trap" is an 
example of the Jin Pan Shi, or military play, and 


is the story of an episode of the Hur dynasty. An 
important city of China — so the story goes — was 
about to be attacked while its soldiery was absent. 
The Military Advisor opened the city gates, sta- 
tioned at the entrances what few soldiers he could 
command, armed them with brooms and uni- 
formed them as street sweepers. When the 
enemy approached it heard these "sweepers" 
singing of the strength of the city, of its great 
army, and of plans to torture the captured enemy 
after battle. The enemy was frightened and ran 
away. The important city in China was saved. 
As a drama this bit of history is rich in humour 
and provides a constant entertainment to the 
Chinese who, as a race, have a keen sense of the 

Other plays in French are "Ho Han-Chan" or 
"La Tunique Confrontee" a drama in four acts 
written by a woman, Tchang-Koue-Pin ; "Ho- 
Lang-Tan" or "La Chanteuse", author unknown; 
"Teou Ngo-Youen" or "Le Ressentiment de Teou 
Ngo", by Kouan-Han-King. 1 

English translations include "Han-Koong-Tsen" 
or "The Sorrows of Han", an historical play of 
conditions existing about the beginning of the 
Christian era; its moral teaches the evil con- 
sequence of luxury and supineness in the reign- 

i These three plays were written during the Yuan dy- 
nasty and have been translated by M. Bazin aine. 



ing emperour; "Ho Man San-Peng Tsu Muk 
Lan's Parting"; "The Golden Leafed Chrysan- 
themum"; "The Sacrifice of the Soul of Ho 
Man Sau"; and "Lao-seng-erh" or "An Heir in 
His Old Age". The last play is a story of domestic 
life in which an old man is so desirous of a son 
to perform the obsequies at his tomb that he takes 
a young wife into his family. Two plays already 
mentioned under the French translated titles 
appear in English as "The Orphan of the Chou 
Family" and "The Intrigues of a Maid". 

If, as we are told, they lack any particular 
literary merit, they are remarkable documents of 
the inconceivable magnificence of Imperial China 
and the faithful and fantastic and isolated mind 
of the Chinese people. 


Religious Influence upon the 

IT is not possible to understand the Chinese 
drama without some knowledge of the re- 
ligious doctrines and the demonolatry of the 
Chinese people. Not only was the stage incepted 
by religious rite but it has remained dependent 
upon Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism for 
theme and character and symbol. 

Supersitions inherited from Buddhistic princi- 
ples frequently denude the stage of mortality and 
are the playwright's inspiration for extravaganza; 
he may create a mise en scene in terrestial im- 
mortality and people it with nostalgic gods and 
provoking genii and find it more absorbing to an 
audience than the type of play that transpires on 
an earthly plane and presents the principles of 
morality that Confucius meditated upon. The 
playwright may even unite the two — and add a 
theme from Taoism — in his high romance. But 
when fact and fancy meet and have been mingled 
in such heterogeneous drama as this even a 
Chinaman is sometimes unable to decide whether 



a play that turns on the achievements of a general 
and attendant genii, or of an emperour and cer- 
tain immortals, is, except for the genii and the im- 
mortals, all reality, or except for the general and 
the emperour, all supposition. Upon such mis- 
leading and rare occasion the general may be as 
foreign to the battle lists as the genii are to the 
birth registry, for when a Chinese dramatist most 
clearly limns the unlikely he may the most ar- 
dently surround it with every ramification of the 

Confucianism is based upon ancestor worship 
and teaches that the source of morality is in filial 
piety. Confucianism is so definite a theory of 
conduct that it cannot be expressed in many sym- 
bolic forms such as Buddhism furnishes, but it 
provides themes for numberless librettos. Bud- 
dhism teaches that release from one's present 
existence is the greatest happiness. Its four 
"truths" are that life is sorrow; that the chain 
of reincarnation results from desire ; that the only 
escape is through annihilation of desire; and that 
the way of escape is through the "eightfold path" 
of right belief, right resolve, right words, right 
acts, right life, right effort, right thinking, right 
meditation. Buddha denied the virtue of caste, 
ritual, and asceticism as taught by the Hindu sage 
Guatama, and insisted upon the necessity of pity, 
kindness, and patience to receive salvation. 


The most common form of Buddhist drama is 
the fantasia or the buffoonery of deity and demon 
symbols through which Buddha is frequently 

Taoism teaches that contemplation and reason, 
avoidance of force, and disregard of mere cere- 
mony, are the means of regeneration. It may be > 
( said that Confucianism is based upon morality, 
\ Buddhism upon idolatry, and Taoism on super- 
stition; that the one is man-worship, the second 
image-worship, and the third spirit- worship. Or, 
in another form, Confucianism deals with the 
dead past, Buddhism with the changing future, 
and Taoism with the evils of the present. 

However we classify we shall inevitably mix 
them and be justified by the fact that a Chinaman 
sometimes confuses, and often has some belief in, 
all three. A Confucian may worship in a Buddhist 
temple and follow a Taoist ritual. 

Two thousand years of peaceful existence in 
one country of a trilogy of doctrines, and the com- 
mon meeting ground of the theatre of gods and 
demons and genii, of teaching and tenet that rep- 
resent all three, indicate a certain degree of 
national religious indifference. 

To add to the long list of mythological beings 
derived from doctrinal sources are the idols of 
historic association which have been deified for 
battle valour or for civil accomplishment. During 

A Buddhist Exercise 


the twelfth century Kaing T'ai Kung deified many 
soldiers, and in the fourteenth century the first 
emperour of the Ming dynasty appointed a great 
number of city gods. It was then only a short 
step from a "Great man to a little idol" and ulti- 
mately to become both a household and a stage 
deity. There seems a god for every occasion and 
a dozen needs for his favour every day. 

In the Imperial Theatre in Pekin there are three 
stages, one above the other: the highest is for 
gods, the middle space is for mortals, and the 
lowest plane receives the slain villian. Heaven 
above, the earth beneath, and the waters under 
the earth, with all that these planes may be sup- 
posed to control, appear to figure in dramatic per- 
formances, and may even be shown during a 
single play. 

Such fantastic, and so traditioned an imagina- 
tion, and such uncircumscribed deification baffle 
the "barbarian" and disqualify him to accept a 
stage performance with a tenth part of the intelli- 
gence and, in the beginning, almost none of the 
pleasure he will remark in every Chinaman in the 
audience. But as he continues to study the Chi- 
nese drama he will not fail to perceive the virtue — 
and the attendant weaknesses — of ancestor wor- 
ship, of the belief in recurrent life, and the earned 
privileges of another existence, which govern and 
satisfy the great majority of the Chinese people. 


If it seems strange to find dogma in the theatre, 
the fear of evil demons and the respect for, and 
placation of, symbols, we have only to recall that 
doctrines and drama have developed concurrently. 
Any attempt to separate them might destroy the 
potency of both; and would certainly rob the 
Chinese theatre of many of its most popular 

While an occasional "modern" Chinaman may 
believe himself indifferent to religion, or may call 
himself a Christian and forsake his native gods 
as religious deities, most men instinctively believe 
in the protective power of inherited idols and 
retain the habit to enjoy them at the theatre, 
where, received only as entertainment, there may 
be a subconscious sense of placating the family 
deities in the playhouse for neglect of them in the 
temple and the home. 

* rf . 

! lfl{ 


r - 

• - - Ml 



Types and Characters 

ALTHOUGH deity and demon are lavishly 
presented in the Chinese theatre they do 
not overbalance the mortal stage types 
of heroine, ingenue, villian, et cetera, who people 
the stage of every country. 

The ubiquitous human being who conserves his 
own blood and spills that of his enemy, who weds 
and repents to solace himself as best he may, 
who clings to life and dies with valour, is the 
villian and the hero of Eastern drama as he is 
the villian and the hero in a western playhouse. 
Tradition of doctrine and philosophy and the cir- 
cumstance of government decorate this universal 
figure with the trappings of nationality and cause 
his digression from the general dramatic path to 
fulfil an occidental or an oriental destiny. 

Stage characters in China represent every 
class of society and are a long list of emperours, 
generals, scholars, heads of families and sons, 
and, among women, empresses, court attendants, 
courtesans, serving women and soldiers, the 



mother, the wife, the concubine. In associated 
action, these terrestial personages appear with 
gods and not infrequently assume immortal priv- 
ilege as well as present earthly foible. 

Stage characters are classified according to 
type; and are interesting to an audience as types 
quite as much as the individuals of the immedi- 
ate drama in which they may be playing. Each 
has a traditional makeup that is well known to 
theatre habitues. 

Hsiao Sheng represents young civilians; there 
are several in each company and they alternate 
to impersonate hero roles. 

Cheng Sheng appears as an emperour or dis- 
tinguished person and wears the traditional long 
and flowing beard. 

Wu Sheng impersonates elderly military com- 
manders, and wears a beard. 

Tsung Sheng may be a minister of state and 
must wear a beard. 

Wai or Ta Hua Mein has a dark painted face 
and a villian's role ; Lui Fen also signifies a villian. 

Pu Tieh Shik is of martial character and per- 
forms feats of strength. 

Kung Chiao plays a father or corresponding 
elderly role. 

Nan Cho or Pien Eho may be either a clown or 
deformed person, and has a much painted face. 





Wu Chun Hu is a painted-face warrior adept 
with sword and spear and at tumbling. 

Chun Shou Hsia means a soldier's makeup. 

Sheng signifies male character and Tan a 
woman's role. 

The infrequent appearance of women upon the 
Chinese stage during the last few centuries has 
not noticeably affected dramatic presentation ex- 
cept in the amourous parts which, even to an 
accustomed eye and ear, are sometimes grotesque 
when mimed by a man. But the youths of eight- 
een or twenty who are usually seen in feminine 
roles are surprisingly natural. They trip about 
with toes thrust into tiny slippers, to produce the 
effect of bound feet; their voices are trained to 
high tones, and their faces are painted in delicate 
or exaggerated imitation of the infrequent sex. 
These actors, who impersonate women, receive 
the highest salaries. As in the early Greek and 
Roman dramas women's roles are sometimes 
played by eunuchs. 

The following list includes the important fem- 
inine roles. 

Cheng Tan, an empress or principal wife. 

Hua Tan, who takes youthful roles and may be 
the heroine. 

Hsiao Tan, the house servant type who may be 
an intermediary in social intrigue. 


Wu Tan, who impersonates a woman soldier, 
and of whom there may be four in a company. 

Wen Wu Tan assumes either military or civil 
character and may be the heroine. 

Chan Tan is a young married woman. "He" 
usually has considerable ability as a singer. 

Fu or Lao Tan represent elderly women. 

Nu Chou signifies a wicked and disagreeable 

Tang Tan represents several minor characters. 

Ma Tan is a serving woman or soldier. 1 

The majority of these roles require a painted 
face; and colours symbolize types. A sly but 
dignified person paints with white; a sacred 
person, either a deity or an emperour, uses red 
colouring; black belongs to the honest workman; 
green sometimes means a demon; and gold is the 
property of the gods. Variations on these definite 
types may be suggested by mixed colours. 

On the program the characters are announced 
as well as the names of the actors. The entrance 
of an important player is immediately followed 
by a self introduction in which he talks of the 
person he is to present ; sometimes he will recount 
in detail his family history, why he appears, where 
he is from, and what he desires to accomplish 

i Characters quoted from W. Stanton's book, "The 
Chinese Drama"; with one or two added from information 
received from Mr. Shen Hung, a Chinese actor. 





if & 

ffi &l*>4k£g> 

^ *i 











during the entire period of the play; he may even 
repeat certain of these speeches upon a second 
and a third entrance — these repetitions of char- 
acter exposition are often erroneously omitted in 
translated plays. 

Throughout a performance an intimate relation 
is maintained between the characters and the 


The Actors 

"The art of the actor cuts the sinews 
of all earnest government." 

THE Chinese actor seldom experiences in 
private life any of the respect that his 
roles obtain within the theatre. An 
occasional remarkably gifted player attached to 
a permanent theatre in Peking or Canton — and 
who makes a good deal of money — may end by 
receiving a degree of deference but he is the rara 
avis of his profession. 

Usually deriving from low birth, and inheriting 
the position of a social outcast which developed 
for actors during the Mongol dynasty, he is cut 
off from other society than that of theatre people. 
Until recently the descendants of an actor, to the 
third generation, were forbidden to compete in the 
public examinations which offer to the poor man 
in China the unique opportunity to acquire wealth 
and influence. 

The manager of a traveling troupe of players 
not infrequently buys very young boys and trains 



them to become members of his company. Dur- 
ing six years each is forced to learn innumerable 
plays and their accompaning songs; to become 
enough of an athlete to perform the acrobatic 
tricks which are so popular a part of military 
plays ; to walk with bound feet in case he develops 
an ability to take women's roles; and to ex- 
ercise an hour a day with head thrown back and 
mouth stretched wide to strengthen his voice. All 
of this time he is under the implacable rule of a 
master, and his diet is fixed and frugal. To better 
this condition to any extent in later years an 
actor must display a marked talent or meet and 
please an influential patron of the stage who will 
purchase his independence. 

Sons of actors have few opportunities to enter 
any other profession than that of the theatre. 

There is no prompter, and every player must 
memorize from one to two hundred roles. He 
must also cultivate the quality of suggestion for, 
by the inflection of his voice, by action and 
gesture, it devolves upon him to suggest absent 
properties and scenery. 

Actors are often hired by wealthy men to pro- 
vide an evening's entertainment in a private house. 
When the guests sit down to dinner five players 
in rich costume enter and bow profoundly. One 
of them presents a book in which the titles of 
several scores of plays are written. The list is 


examined by the principal guests and if the name 
of anyone of them is found among the names of 
the characters in a play the piece containing it is 
immediately discarded from the possible ones 
chosen for presentation. Etiquette is so crystal- 
ized and carefully maintained in China that even 
such slight association with an actor is against 
social tradition. Occasionally a youth belonging 
to the troupe may go about among the guests and 
be talked to if a capricious host invites, but apart 
from his role as entertainer, he associates only 
with his own class. 

As one believes, or not, in the proverb that the 
exception proves the rule he is glad to learn that 
there is a notable exception to this prevailing 
prejudice in the person of Mei Lan-fang, a young 
actor who is finding favour with a group of liter- 
ary men and a discerning theatre public in Peking. 
Although his celebrity has developed since the 
fall of the empire nine years ago, the plays in 
which he appears and the manner of his acting 
belong to the Imperial Stage tradition. Mei Lan- 
fang limits himself to about twenty plays and 
presents each role with remarkable intelligence 
and sympathy; his songs have been rewritten for 
him by celebrated poets in order that they shall 
be of literary merit. 

The Chinese say of Mei Lan-fang that not only 
is he unusually gifted, but that he is a student, 





pleasing of voice and face, careful of his civilian 
position, and unwilling to play an immoral role, 
and that by the force of these qualities he is 
influencing the general public to regard the actor 
with less disfavour. Mei plays only women's roles 
and, in stage makeup, is as feminine in appear- 
ance as his voice is in sound. 

It is frequently said that there have been no 
actresses in China, but during the Mongol and 
the beginning of the Ming dynasty women took 
all feminine roles. The Ming emperour Ch'ien 
Lung forbade their appearance upon the stage for 
the reason that his mother had been an actress — 
it was during the thirteenth century that a law 
was passed ranking actresses and courtesans in 
the same official group. From that time until 
towards the finish of the Manchu power in 1911 
actresses were seldom seen. The profession was 
considered to offer individual privilege and a free- 
dom from moral restraint that has periodically 
been frowned upon by a nation in which the 
majority of women are still at the disposal of 
fathers and husbands. 

It is the "courtesanes savantes" who, in some 
measure, have continued the feminine element 
in the theatre during the prohibitive years. They 
have been playwrights, and are often portrayed as 
stage characters — they should not be confounded 
with the "women who smile in public" who are 


seldom presented upon the stage. These "courte- 
sanes savantes" attend and understand the 
theatre and may become actresses; they belong 
to an established order of educated women and 
must qualify in many studies before they are 
"diplomee". Each possesses what seems to be 
all the charms of spirit as well as of person . . . 
"In order that a young girl be admitted into the 
society of courtesans ... it is necessary that she 
is distinguished by beauty, by the delicate percep- 
tions of her spirit, and a careful education; she 
must understand vocal music, the flute, the guitar, 
the dance, history and philosophy; she must also 
be able to write all the characters of 'Tao-te 
king' — a book which contains the doctrines of 
the philosopher Lao-tsu and is one of the most 
obscure volumes in the Chinese language. When 
she has spent several months in the Pavilion of 
One Hundred Flowers; when she knows how to 
dance and sing and play a castanette accompani- 
ment she becomes a 'free' woman; she then feels 
above the young girl who is dependent upon her 
father or the legal concubine who is under the 
protection of her husband, and above the widow 
who is dependent upon her son" ; 1 but while her 
"freedom" excuses her from duties peculiar to her 
sex it debars her from civil and religious 

i M. Bazin in "Theatre Chinois". 





Today the actress is again commonly seen in 
China and is usually histrionically gifted. In 
Peking women sometimes maintain their own 
theatres and appear with men or form separate 
companies of their own sex and play men's roles. 

There are many classes of male actors : the first 
in importance is the permanent theatre group 
who appear only in a few large cities; temporary 
players perform in temples in cities and villages; 
the Ts'au Dan Shi or Grass Stage Players also 
perform in villages but build a stage upon the 
grass; the Kang Woo Pei or River and Canal 
actors who live upon boats, use this floating 
domicile as a stage and are content with an 
audience that gathers upon the river bank. There 
is a great army of solitary players — the Speaking 
Books — these men appear in tea houses and res- 
taurants; their accomplishments are singing and 
story telling. 

The itinerant actor group includes the fre- 
quently met master of a trick monkey; the stroll- 
ing musicians with a drum and gong to sound 
and a few stories to relate; and the men who are 
heard upon bridges and street corners chanting 
historical fact and adventure. These solitudin- 
arians, who are particularly ill paid, ill treated 
beyond their fellows, and as despised as human 
beings may be, have not even the companionship 
of their own kind to mitigate their sad existence; 


they earn only a sufficient number of cash 1 each 
day to buy the two bowls of rice which maintains 
their strength to wander. 

In Peking there are many permanent theatres 
and a pronounced interest in the drama, and 
actors like to consider themselves native of this 
city no matter how far outside its gates they may 
be forced to travel. There, where the most tal- 
ented may live the year round in quarters in the 
theatre district, maturity occasionally brings one 
of them the lenitive of success — as in the case of 
Mei Lan-fang — but to the majority, either per- 
manently placed or among the ambulant enter- 
tainers of the nation, whatever comedy and con- 
tent the actor may experience is within the 
illusory existance of the playhouse itself. 

i A cash is considerably less than an American penny. 





The Music 

"The former kings ordained music 
to inspire reverence for virtue." 

TO unaccustomed ears the music in Chi- 
nese theatres — usually played fortissimo 
and with much brass — is as formless and 
lacking in melody as sound may be. It is an art 
developed for Chinese people and is based upon 
a different scale from the one the Western 
auricular sense has been trained to register with 
pleasure. Before we consider the importance of 
music in the theatre it is well to understand some- 
thing of the principles which govern Chinese mu- 
sical sound. 

Music is a measurable art, and it is therefore 
possible to understand why the Occidental does 
not often respond to Chinese music by a realiza- 
tion that tone measurement varies in different 
parts of the world. The Western scale is tempered 
and because we are trained to the almost imper- 
ceptible deviation from the absolute purity of its 
intervals the nerves of the ear cannot endure, 



without offense, the excess or deficency in an 
interval of the Chinese untempered scale. And 
while the Chinese have what corresponds to our 
chromatic scale, tone measurement is again not 
the same. 

In China a scale of only five tones was in gen- 
eral use until B. C. 1100, when two more were 
added by the system of measuring sound with 
liis-bamboo reeds and the scale became like the 
Western diatonic and was composed of five full 
tone and two half tones, but one of the latter 
occurred between the fourth and fifth degrees 
instead of in its Western place between the third 
and fourth degrees. 

When the Mongol warrior Kublai Khan became 
emperour he introduced a new scale of ten notes ; 
during the Ming dynasty this was rearranged: all 
notes producing half tones were excluded and the 
scale became pentonic again; but while it con- 
tained only seven notes it measured more than 
an octave. 

Such experiment and change unite to increase 
the difficulties of Chinese music in its own country 
as well as in the West and add to Occidental 

"According to Chinese ideas music rests upon 
two fundamental principles — the shen-li or spirit- 
ual, immaterial principle, and the ch'i-shu or sub- 
stantial form. All natural productions are rep- 



resented by unity; all that requires perfecting at 
the hands of man is called under the generic term 
(wan), plurality. Unity is above, it is heaven; 
plurality is below, it is earth. The immaterial 
principle is above, that is, it is inherent in material 
bodies, and is considered their (pen) basic origin. 
The material principle is below; it is the (shing) 
form or figure of the shen-li. The form is limited 
to its proper shape by (shu) number, and it is 
subjected to the rule of the shen-li. Therefore 
when the material principle of music (that is, the 
instruments) is clearly and rightly illustrated, the 
corresponding spiritual principle (that is, the 
essence, the sounds of music) become perfectly 
manifest." * 

The Chinese have always liked to find a simili- 
tude of contrast existing between everything in 
creation. Between heaven and earth, they say, 
there is perfect harmony. Three is the emblem 
of heaven and two the symbol of earth. If two 
sounds are in the proportion of three to two they 
will harmonize as perfectly as heaven and earth. 

"On this principle the Chinese evolved musical 
sound through a series of bamboo tubes differing 
in length ; the first tube was cut nine inches long, 
and the second exactly two thirds this length, 
which rendered a perfect fifth — in European 
music also expressed by a ratio of three to two. 

i J. A. Van aalst. 


The second bamboo, being treated on the same 
principle, produced a third tube measuring exactly 
two thirds of the length, and giving a note a per- 
fect fifth higher than that of the second tube. 
This new sound seeming too far distant from the 
first or fundamental note, the length of the pro- 
ducing tube was doubled and the note became an 
octave lower." 1 The tubes engendered one an- 
other and always measured two-thirds or four- 
thirds of their generator. These bamboo tubes 
are known as liis. 

This short technical account will serve to show 
that Chinese music is not merely the "delirious 
noise" the Westerner is apt to style it and then 
dismiss from his mind as something without prin- 
ciple or value. And when we realize that the 
eight men (Pang-Mein) who form the orchestra 
must serve a long apprentice to learn the tech- 
nique of moon-guitars, flute, two-string fiddle, 
cymbals, drums, and gongs which make up the 
theatre orchestra, we are further convinced that 
there are directions and difficulties for the Orien- 
tal musician which are quite as exacting as those 
for the European. 

In theatres the orchestra is seated on the floor 
at the back of the stage. The man who plays 
the side drum is the conductor — when such a 
person is needed, — he is known as the Ku Shou. 

i J. A. Van aalst. 



The Shang Shou plays the moon-guitar, flute, and 
reeds ; San Shou plays cymbals and the two string 
violin which is so popular an instrument among 
celestial music lovers; it varies in form but never 
has more than two strings which are tuned to a 
distance of a fifth from each other. The Erh 
Shou plays the three string violin, reeds and flute. 
Other men play upon large and small metal or 
stone gongs and various drums; and there is a 
player to relieve with the brasses. 

Each style of music is named. To illustrate: 
Erh- Wang is played during solemn, and Pang tsu 
during martial, action. Every musical theme has 
its particular emotional appeal and its significance 
is understood by the audience. A few characters 
in a play may have an associated melody as in 
Occidental musico-dramatic performance. 

A change in the music is indicative of a change 
in the action, and announces an attendant event — 
a battle, a marriage, a burial. Stringed instru- 
ments usually accompany singing; but drums, 
cymbals, gongs, and castanets may sound in the 
finale. In listening to Chinese music the strike 
of a wooden stick upon a block, by which the 
conductor marks time, is agreeably evident. 

During military plays, strings, in conjunction 
with the drums and cymbals of Western martial 
association, replace the wind instruments. After 
a quotation or a command spoken by an actor 


cymbals sound ten or fifteen notes in rapid suc- 
cession, and often drown his voice — but as the 
audience has usually seen the play, or another 
almost identical, so many times that it knows 
what he is saying, this conflict of sound is not 
considered to matter. Cymbals also provide the 
only evident separation between the several 
dramas on each day's program, which, with only 
such musical warning, follow in quick sequence. 

Chinese musical instruments have been made 
from stone, earth, metal, bamboo, wood, silk, skin, 
and gourds, and each material has its traditional 
association with nature. 

History guarantees the existence of music in 
China as far back as the forty-fifth century before 
Christ when it attributes the seven-string lute to 
Fou-hi. And the ardent editor Confucius wrote 
of music that was played in B. C. 2200; and 
mentioned that it was passing through a decadent 
period during his own lifetime. 

About the tenth century A. D., during the second 
era of drama significance, a singing role which 
has continued to the present time, was introduced 
into plays to accompany and elabourate the 
speaking part. In the earliest translated Chinese 
plays the words of these songs were often 
omitted as they were supposed to be of slight 
importance; actually they are necessary for se- 


quence and emphasis, and contain much of the 
poetry and delicate sentiment of the play. 

Musical themes are traditional in the theatre 
and are constantly repeated to accompany new 
groupings of words. The songs interest an au- 
dience less as composition than for the manner 
in which they are sung. They are often long 
recitatives in which words are pronounced to 
several successive notes, and differ from the 
sacred music of China, which is slow and sweet, 
in that the songs of the theatre are sung in high 
and shrill head tones, or falsetto. 

They differ in significance from the Greek 
chorus, and are sung by one person who is usually 
the principal character, and who may be drawn 
from any social condition. In the "Sorrows of 
Han" the singer is an emperour; in the "Intrigues 
of a Maid" it is a young slave girl. In this use of 
the singing among the spoken roles a theory of 
dramatics offered by Lope de Vega was illustrated 
long before he lived. De Vega said that when a 
man wishes to give counsel he speaks in a differ- 
ent tone with a studied choice of words and an 
emphasis that he would not use in ordinary 

Musical notation in China is difficult to under- 
stand both because it varies in old and new music 
and because it is inexact. The native musicians 
say that to be able to decipher manuscript music 


they must first hear it played. A sheet of music 
looks very much like a page of writing to the 
foreigner, who can read neither, as no staff is 
used in music; and notes, after the manner of 
ideographs, are printed from the top of the page 
down and from right to left. The tone symbols 
have changed with the succeeding dynasties: 
there are twelve in present usage. They may be 
written in two sizes to suggest two octaves, and 
dots are sometimes added to indicate held notes, 
two for a half and three for a whole note. The 
usual time is four-four, although three-four tempo 
is also popular. Space left between two notes may 
indicate a rest, but the time duration must either 
be learned or be decided by individual pleasure. 
When words are printed with music they are 
placed between the notes. 

However irregular notation may be the origin 
of music is authentic and ancient; and the sound 
of it in the theatre, either sung by young actors 
or played upon strings and reeds and metal, is 
of remarkable emotional significance and appeal. 
Although a dissimilar sense perception renders 
Chinese music unpleasant to the average West- 
ener, an occasional Occidental agrees with the 
Chinese to find it passionate, provocative, submis- 
sive, commanding, or sentimental, in accord with 
the action of the play, and of an inherent and 
singular beauty. 



Decoration, Costume, and 
Symbolic Design 

DECORATION is usually considered as an 
external of the drama. In China, however, 
it has so profoundly infiltered into the 
dramatic spectacle through the national disposi- 
tion to symbolism (in all the seductive fantasie of 
form and colour to which the symbol lends itself) 
that decoration has become an essential, as well 
as a sentient, component of the Imperial theatre. 
And this occurs in a country where the stage has 
no scenery. Such apparent anachronism is ex- 
plained by Chinamen that as their theatre is not 
imitative, landscape, or an interiour, is created 
for an audience by suggestion; by emotion; and, 
it must be confessed of the theatre habitue of 
today, by drama tradition. 

To the Chinese, scenery is a "silly and unneces- 
sary bother." A court event which may have 
taken place centuries ago in a magnificent en- 
tourage will be reproduced in the playhouse with 
every detail of costume and mode of speech care- 



fully exact but without scenery and with almost 
no stage furnishing. The imagination that has 
created in Chinese art so much chimerical humour 
of animal and flower and fetish can find a river 
where there is no water, and a mountain where 
none is painted. 

Prescribed action creates scenery! If some 
character must climb a mountain, pantomimic 
motions assume the presence of the granite hill. 
If a criminal is to be executed it is accomplished 
with a bamboo pole and traditional movements on 
the part of the actor. He, the criminal, wails a 
confession of guilt, walks to one side of the stage 
and stands under a bamboo pole on which a cloth 
is tied; he indicates strangulation by throwing 
back his head and looking up to heaven. If, in a 
stage story, a general goes upon a journey, the 
scene is not changed to transport one's mind to 
another place, instead the soldier cracks a whip, 
dashes across the stage to a crash of cymbals, and 
announces that he has arrived. To dismount from 
his absent steed he pirouettes upon one foot and 
drops his whip ; to mount he turns upon the other 
foot and picks up his whip. If a plot demands 
that a fairy enter in a chariot of clouds, a feminine 
figure advances bearing horizontally two flags 
upon which clouds and wheels are painted; she is 
accompanied by another actor in the ubiquitous 
blue cotton of the Chinese workman. 



Upon the stage a man may drink wine in which, 
unknown to himself, a venomous snake has been 
dissolved, he may suffer a frightful irritation, 
throw himself into a pond, wash, and find himself 
cured, in a propertyless pantomine that is per- 
fectly understood by his audience. Rivers, walls, 
temples, groves, thrones, couches, are represented 
by a bench or screen, and if the acting is good 
everyone is satisfied. 

But if scenery exists only in the imagination, 
costumery is splendidly authentic and is fre- 
quently of astonishing beauty. Chinese costume — 
like plumcake — from the very richness of its 
material, is long lived; and the clothes used in 
today's theatre may have been worn several cen- 
turies ago by mandarins and court officials, by 
emperours, their wives and concubines. 

As Chinese dress was designed for ceremonial 
purpose — a cloak in which to hide any condition 
of spiritual or physical poverty — and to present 
men to the world as they wished to appear, it is 
not difficult to realize why it is so magnificent and 
costly. The traditional stage dress of even a 
beggar is a silk coat of a gay checked design. 
There is a tradition too to be followed in the 
"barbarian's" dress, and he must wear a bit of fur 
about his throat no matter what the temperature. 

The necessity for accuracy in stage dress means 
that an actor's wardrobe may be so expensive that 


he more often hires than owns it. Establishments 
exist to furnish stage clothes by the season to an 
entire company; and servants, who return every 
costume to its particular box after each wearing, 
are included in the rental price. 

Faces are painted with red, black, white, green, 
and gold, and add their colour characterization 
to the spectacle. The effect, even without scenery, 
that is obtained by groups of painted figures 
dressed in stiff brocade of all tints, by the glitter 
of immense jewels, of gold traceries and silver 
tissue, of tufted plumes and long pheasant 
feathers that wave above glistening headdresses, 
of glinting swords and brilliantly uniformed 
soldiery, is of memorable dazzle and magnificence. 

Pierre Loti mentions 1 the stage trappings for 
the actors who played in the Empress' theatre 
in Peking, and which he was privileged to see 
when he was one of the Occidental soldiery ap- 
pointed to guard the looted Imperial City in which 
the imperial ruler, Tsu-Hsi, gratified her whims 
and cruelties, her emotional desires and her de- 
mand for entertainment, during the years she 
lived behind the inner walls of Peking. Tsu-Hsi 
was deeply entertained by the theatre and wrote 
a few plays herself for palace presentation. 

Loti says "I arrive in time to see . . . the decora- 
tions, emblems, and accessories of the Chinese 

i "The Last Days of Pekin." 

" St 

Symbol for "Happiness" 



Imperial theatre. They were cumbersome, frail 
things, intended to serve but for a night or two, 
and then forgotten for an indefinite time in a 
room which was never opened . . . mythological 
representations were evidently given at this 
theatre, the scene taking place either in hell or 
with the gods in the clouds ; and such a collection 
as there was of monsters, chimeras, wild beasts 
and devils, in cardboard or paper mounted or 
carcasses made of bamboo or whalebone, all 
devised with perfect genius for the horrible, with 
an imagination surpassing the limits of a night- 

It is this imagination surpassing a nightmare 
that shaped avatar and devil to scurry and swoop 
as stage character, and that wove grotesque and 
fantastic forms into brocaded robe for Mongol 
and Ming and Manchu to reappear upon the stage 
of today. Although fact and fancy offer rare 
latitude for spectacular effect they maintain this 
separation : gods and mortals as stage people may 
be creatures of imagination, or legendary por- 
traits — if a god has made the step from person 
to personification — but costumes must be either 
authentic or minutely copied from models of the 
period they dress. 

Candles, lamps, or, in a few permanent theatres, 
electric lights, illumine the stage, but lighting for 


artistic purpose is not included in the Chinese 
theory of dramatic art. 

The Chinese differ from many other Eastern 
people in that they understand the ancient sym- 
bols woven or painted or cut into their decoration 
and continue to utilize them to tell a story or re- 
flect an early superstition — to protect, to ridicule, 
to praise. 

Tae-Keih, or Great Monad, is a significant 
symbol in Celestial design. It represents the dual- 
istic principle of man and woman (the male in 
the female and the female in the male) ; and the 
harmony of the universe is supposed to depend 
upon the balance maintained between these two 
elements. This design is everywhere, on book, 
wall, porcelain, tablet, and brocade. It is a symbol 
of Chinese cosmogony. It may apply to opposites 
that exist in pairs — to the world and hades, to the 
sun and moon, to hard and soft. The great 
Monad symbolizes the basis of Chinese philos- 
ophy, science, and religion, and thus its univer- 
sality in decoration is inevitable. 

In China the dragon is the male element. He 
is the emblem of Heaven as, since B. C. 206, he 
has been the device of emperours. He is a stage 
character and appears in apparent flesh as well 
as in sinuous embroidery. Although he is wing- 
less he has the power to rise in the air at will. 
As the sender of rains and floods and the ruler of 




the clouds he dominates the type of village stage 
performance which is arranged during a too rainy 
season to pray for dry weather. The earth dragon 
marks the course of rivers. 

The monkey too is immortalized. He is sup- 
posed to have existed before there was a Heaven 
and earth — where we are not informed. He de- 
feated the generals of Heaven in battle and was 
finally captured by Buddha, in the end to be re- 
leased from earth wanderings by a mighty 

The fox is a comic symbol whose stage "busi- 
ness" seems limitless. He may be either man or 
woman, and practises every deceit. His glance 
is said to be as efficacious as a drop of benzine 
for removing spots, and soiled garments are left 
before his shrine. 

The god of thunder association is called Lei 
Shen. His birthday is on the twenty-fourth of 
the sixth moon, and during the three weeks which 
preceed this date the people feast in his honour. 
He has three eyes and rides a tiger. 

There are many gods in the likeness of men. 
In the third century the present god of war was 
a famous general named Kuan Yii. He slept 
quietly for twelve hundred years until, in 1594, he 
was deified and became known as Kuan Ti. He 
is usually in armour and carries a long weapon. 
Confucians call him the military sage. To the 


Buddhists he is the god of protection, and to the 
Taoists the minister of Heaven. In popular usage 
he is also the head of the military. Although 
habit is in a great measure responsible for the 
continuing faith in deity prescience and protec- 
tion, it is interesting commentary on the popular 
European legend that China's martial spirit is 
not awake, to recall that a picture of Kuan Ti 
hangs in every tent and officer's camp of her 
million and a half soldiers, and that the god of 
war is the patron of many trades and professions. 

The theatre god is in the likeness of Ming 
Huang, the eighth century emperour who estab- 
lished a school for actors in the garden of his 
palace. While most actors have another patron 
saint to whom they make added sacrifice, they 
also worship the theatre god to be saved from 
laughing upon the stage. The image of Ming 
Huang is seen in theatres. The symbol called 
age represents a force to be placated that is used 
at birthday celebrations of gods and mortals and 
finds place upon the stage. For festival use "age" 
is of carved and gilded wood and is about four 
feet high; as a motif it decorates many surfaces 
of porcelain and silk, and its general popularity 
is a common expression of the psychic effect in 
associated ideas. 

The ideograph for happiness and for bat are 
both pronounced as "fu" and the Chinese wit 

T/?(/f7der- (jo</ 



often plays with this dual significance in design. 
If five bats are shown together the five blessings 
are signified. 

There is a group of sacred and profane symbols 
called the "Hundred antiques" which includes the 
pearl, a charm against flood and fire ; coin, emblem 
of riches ; Artemisia leaf, good fortune ; two books, 
representing learning; and the jade gong which 
aids in procuring justice. 

The "Twelve ornaments" should not be ignored 
in any consideration of Chinese design; they ap- 
pear alone or in grouped decoration, and fre- 
quently are embroidered upon robes of ceremony 
worn in the theatre both by actors and the au- 
dience. These "Twelve ornaments" are: 

1. Sun, in a bank of clouds, with a three- 
legged bird inside the disc. 

2. Moon, containing a hare and a mortar and 

3. Constellation of stars connected by straight 

4. Mountains. 

5. Five clawed dragon (already mentioned). 

6. Flowery fowls, two varigated pheasants. 

7. Temple vessels, used in ancestral worship. 

8. Aquatic grasses in sprays. 

9. Fire in flaming scrolls. 

10. Millet grains grouped in medallions. 


11. Fu = axe or weapon of warrior. 

12. Fu = symbol of distinction or happiness 
(already mentioned). 1 

Symbols — as is the god of war — may very in 
name to accord with the three doctrines of China; 
they may differ even in form among the Manchus 
of the north or the Chinese of the south; but how- 
ever symbol and image may change in outline 
their presence and influence is universal. Scroll 
and animal and flower, knots and leaves, claws, 
scaly tails, fangs and squinting eyes depict fury, 
malice, cunning, goodness or wisdom; a dragon 
protects, a fox betrays, a squat old mandarin ad- 
vises, a bit of golden scroll blesses; monsters of 
lacquer or bronze or jade; vermillion, nocturnal 
blue or the yellow of old faience; deities of the 
house, the street, the tomb, the temple, the theatre, 
speak the secrets of the Violet City; and confess 
in contortions and audacious prostrations the 
superstitions of the Chinese ; to link dynasties and 
repeat the imponderable fantasie and the bland 
cruelties of twice two thousand years. 

i Sir A. W. Franks. 

6od 'of ' ttter 



Customs of the Playhouse and 
the Greenroom 

THE building in which drama is presented 
is of little more importance in theatre 
tradition, and apparently as unnecessary 
for the enjoyment of a play, as scenery or prop- 
erties. Only in large cities are permanent theatres 
to be found. 

China is a country of extremes, in wealth and 
distances as well as in every art expression, and, 
in spite of its long existence as an amusement for 
emperours and the wealthy class, the theatre has 
held to something of the early nomadic habit of 
the Chinese people who wander — tents more or 
less under arm— about the country. 

The temporary or "mat" theatre made of mats 
and bamboo poles is the most usual form of play- 
house, and one large enough to hold a thousand 
people may be erected in a few hours from ma- 
terial which each traveling company carries for 
the purpose. 



In town and village a stage may be hastily put 
up in a field; or a traveling troupe of actors may 
be allowed to play in a temple or its courtyard if 
some deity shrined within is featured in the per- 
formance. Even a convenient street corner is not 
disdained by a manager, to whom the actual stage 
is of small interest. 

Superior companies of actors do not travel far 
from Peking or some other large city where they 
are less despised and better paid than in small 
towns, but the majority of troups are nomadic; 
and Chinese villages are few which do not have 
at least one annual series of dramatic perform- 

The actor is the troubadour of China. He 
carries the news, the entertainment, and a degree 
of instruction to millions of remote people who 
have no other association with cities than that 
which is brought to them by the traveling players. 

Mat theatres include a stage, a greenroom, 
several loges in which seats are placed, and, 
usually, pavillions in which tea and sweets are 
sold. The majority of the spectators stand or sit 
upon the ground close to the stage, sometimes 
remaining a half dozen hours without appearing 
to tire of the acrobatic tumbling, the grotesque 
humour, and the military manoeuvres that the 
long performances offer. 

Seating arrangements vary with the type of 

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theatre. In a permanent playhouse the stage is 
at one end with a gallery opposite and loges on 
either side at the stage level. Both the auditorium 
and the stage are rectangular. Tables and chairs 
are in the pit and seats in the rear gallery. Stands 
for teapots and cups are within reach of every- 
body, and tea is served continuously; even an 
actor may be offered a cup of tea while playing, 
if his part is difficult or prolonged. 

All Chinese theatres have certain unhygienic 
customs such as a common use of wet towels, 
passed about to "refresh" the audience; the 
omnipotent teacup; and the unfreshened air; 
which to an Occidental make the out of door per- 
formance, even under a hot sun, preferable to 
the congested audience chamber of the permanent 

The so called evil smells of China — in the West 
China is the proverbial home of the "bad egg" — 
what they smell of and why they endure, are 
astounding. They too are traditional; and give 
pleasure to the Chinaman, whose idea of sweet 
and foul differs from our own, and whose scent 
perception is so developed that a man sitting 
within a house is able to say whether or no a 
passerby is a native of his own town. But to 
the Westerner who cultivates only his senses of 
sight and hearing (taste he dulls and touch and 
smell he scarcely thinks of to secure enjoyment) 


and who names only a rose or a pudding "sweet" 
even the mention of Chinese smells is anathema. 

The average permanent theatre holds about 
seven hundred people. A loge is supposed to seat 
five but no one objects if a few other persons 
crowd into it. Ideas of comfort in sitting — as in 
smells — change with the latitude, and the average 
Chinaman is indifferent to what the Occidental 
calls "comfort." 

It is the custom to collect the admission fee 
during the evening after those persons who may 
not find themselves interested in the performance 
have had time to depart. In permanent theatres 
admission has been no more than twenty-five 
cents until the last few years when a performance 
by a celebrated actor may command several times 
that amount. In temporary theatres entrance is 
usually free. Country festivals are paid for either 
by a wealthy man of the village or by popular- 
subscription. Money may be tossed upon the 
stage at the end of a performance. 

Transportation of stage panoply — costumes, 
mats, et cetera, and the hundred odd people who 
form the company, is uniquely accomplished. A 
group of players hires its own "junk" and sails, 
or is towed, to cities and settlements along the 
rivers and waterways. The "junk" serves also as 
hotel, and is one of the diverting sights of the 
heterogeneous river life. 



Once a twelvemonth actors disband to form 
new combinations and sign fresh contracts. Each 
company is given a name, to which a number may 
be added, to accord with the rank it holds in the 
public and in the managerial estimation. Natur- 
ally this method is confusing. 

The greenroom of a permanent theatre is an 
exotic spectacle and must be in some degree a 
confused domicile even to the actor who spends 
most of his life passing in and out of it, gambling, 
drinking tea, or sleeping on a pile of boxes, when 
he is not actually on the stage. Customs, or 
rather rules, are rigidly enforced in the green- 
room; for example: it has always been the priv- 
ilege of only the actors who impersonate em- 
perours to sit upon the "big clothes box" which 
belongs to a prominent member of the troupe. 

Leading actors have individual dressing rooms, 
but to the majority of the company the greenroom 
is both dressing room and property chamber. 
Makeup stands and tables are frequent and are 
littered with colours and brushes; and hooks 
along the walls suspend a medley of masks, false 
beards, wigs, helmets, thick soled shoes to in- 
crease the stature of their wearers, swords, bows 
and arrows and early implements of war, symbolic 
pennants and wands, and the patched and dis- 
coloured clothes belonging to the lowest members 
of the company who take a variety of minor parts 


and are known as the "waste-paper-basket" 

Most Chinese actors are pallid and dirty individ- 
uals and a great deal of paint is needed to trans- 
form them into beautiful women; but there are 
such exceptions as Mei Lan-fang who are young 
and comely and who show remarkable skill in 
makeup. Such men are greatly appreciated up- 
on the stage and when they totter in on their 
"golden lilies" the audience signifies its approval 
by calling out "how," meaning good. If a specta- 
tor is displeased he is allowed to shout "tung" 
(bad) and if a sufficient number is dissatisfied 
with a performance it may be repeated upon 

The greenroom is directly behind the stage and 
equals it in length. Two doors, as entrance, and 
exit, connect them. 

The Chinese stage has no curtain to separate 
the actor and the spectator. A smoke screen is 
sometimes used to obscure the stage from gods 
who are being presented upon it and who may be 
offended to see themselves caricatured or bur- 

Such involved and dual use of supernatural 
characters — impersonation and the concomitant 
attempt to placate for such imitation— provides 
both the genius and the illusion of the Imperial 
drama which in unique artistry has been the 


paradise of immortal adventurers; the unrolled 
scroll of grotesque, lascivious, and sacred symbol; 
and the unchanging national picture-book of his- 
toric fact and fantasia during the past six cen- 
turies of succeeding dynasty and despot. 

And at this hour in the Chinese theatre the dis- 
turbing and vital question is whether or no a 
republican government will corrupt the Imperial 
drama to destroy such unparallelled stage tra- 

L 007 300 254 5 


AA 001 124 445 6