A Dream of Glory (Fanhua Meng): A Chuanqi Play by Wang Yun (review)
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A Dream of Glory (Fanhua Meng): A Chuanqi Play by Wang Yun. Translated, with introduction and annotation, by Qingyun Wu. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2008. 300 pp. Cloth $39.00.

A Dream of Glory (Fanhua meng), a Chinese chuanqi play by the Qing dynasty female writer Wang Yun (1749-1819), tells the story of a woman named Wang Menglin who is transformed in her dream into a man, obtains first place in the civil service examination, and marries three women, only to wake up after twenty years of glory to find it all an empty dream. As one of the rare full-length chuanqi plays written by a female author, A Dream of Glory had until recently been thought to exist only in fragments. According to the volume's introduction, the complete script was discovered at the National Library of China in Beijing in 1993 by Qingyun Wu, who has now published her translation, together with the Chinese original, an introduction, and a bibliography that includes a valuable section titled "Women Playwrights of the Ming and Qing Dynasties" (pp. 193-195). As a whole, the volume serves as a tremendous addition to our understanding of plays by women authors in premodern China.

In her often illuminating introduction, Xu seeks to address the significance of the play through a series of comparisons between A Dream of Glory and other works: with Ming and Qing plays about women dressed as men to highlight the play's cross-gender strategy as being more subversive, with other works of lesbian love (both from the Qing and the twelfth-century Japanese cross-gender novel The Changeling) to argue that it is a play about lesbian love rather than heterosexual fantasy, with late Ming and early Qing writings by [End Page 370] male authors on the theme of qing (emotion) and yu (lust/desire) to underscore female subjectivity, and with the eighteenth century English novel The Female Quixote to illustrate the eventual death of utopian imagination in both cases. These comparisons provide a broad context of the play's themes and serve as the basis for further discussion of the play.

For example, Wu situates A Dream of Glory in the wave of Qing cross-dressing plays and popular fiction, which enables her to argue that Wang's unique cross-gender strategy is a more powerful tactic to "purposely set a woman free with all her desires from her opposed social and psychological state" (p. 12). Wu persuasively contrasts the play with such representative cross-dressing plays as Xu Wei's Female Mulan Joins the Army in Her Father's Stead (Ci Mulan tifu congjun) and The Female Number One Scholar Declines a She-Phoenix and Gets a He-Phoenix (Nü zhuangyuan cihuang defeng). Wu sees both these plays as adhering to the patriarchal social and moral order "by upholding marriage as a woman's ultimate goal and molding each to potential dutiful wife and good mother" (p. 13). In contrast, Wu argues that Wang Menglin's transformation into a man and waking up from the dream of glory is far more subversive since it "enables Wang Yun to see through the concept of glory based on male values" (p. 10). Wu is equally persuasive in comparing Wang Menglin to Jia Baoyu and Du Liniang, the quintessential representatives of qing and yu from Dream of the Red Mansion and The Peony Pavilion. In the hands of a woman writer, however, Wang's pursuit "redefine[s] qing as the passion of a woman for women" and "legitimizes lesbian desire and creates the possibility to fulfill this desire on stage" (p. 10). Wu argues that even though Wang Menglin's glories are conditioned on her gender transformation, her/his love for the other women are based on her expressed desire for the women on scroll portraits before her dream. Even after waking up from the dream, her distress is not about losing her/his officialdom but separating from the beauties. Finally, this qing and yu is also evident among Wang's wives in the form of "female same-sex lover overtures" (p. 18).

At times, though, Wu's utility of comparison and contrast...