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Reviewed by:
  • The Columbia Anthology of Yuan Drama ed. by C. T. Hsia, Wai-Yee Li, and George Kao
  • David Rolston
THE COLUMBIA ANTHOLOGY OF YUAN DRAMA. Edited by C. T. Hsia, Wai-Yee Li, and George Kao. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014. ix + 409 pp. Cloth, $120.00; paper, $40.00; ebook, $39.99.

There are five things that are very striking about The Columbia Anthology of Yuan Drama (hereafter, Anthology) and set it apart from recent anthologies of Yuan drama, which have been dominated by the work of Wilt L. Idema and Stephen H. West.1 The first is how long ago the first drafts of some of the translations were done: Those drafts were done more than forty years ago as part of a graduate seminar taught by C. T. Hsia (1921–2013; the volume is dedicated to him), one of the editors, at Columbia University. The second thing, surely connected to the first, is the fact that all but two of the eleven translations of the ten plays in the anthology use as their base text the versions included in Zang Maoxun’s 臧懋循 (1550–1620) Yuanqu xuan 元曲選 (Anthology of Yuan Plays), the edition that won the most respect from Chinese literati, the one that is furthest from stage practice and most heavily edited, and the one that was invariably picked for English translation before Idema and West (of the plays they have translated, only a small number are based on Yuanqu xuan texts).2 The third thing is that the translations in Anthology use rhyme in the translations of the arias much more than has been common in translations of traditional Chinese drama for some decades now.3 Idema and West’s anthologies focus on reflecting early Chinese drama, which for them extends into the Ming dynasty; to that end they both include translations of not only editions published in the Yuan dynasty (the so-called Yuankan 元刊 [Yuan editions]; these basically only provide the texts of the arias and enough dialogue or stage directions for the main performer to know when to sing), but also plays by the Ming prince Zhu Youdun 朱有燉 (1379–1439), whose plays are the first to be published with full dialogue, and versions that more directly reflect early Ming palace performance, rather than editions produced primarily for readers, such as Yuanqu xuan. Anthology can be said to be designed for readers of Chinese drama rather than for students or scholars interested in the history of Chinese theatre, the processes whereby plays were textualized and circulated, and stagecraft. Although West and Idema are clearly very interested in the levels of language in the plays they translate (their translations do not shy from highlighting the rawer or racier elements of plays in ways generally ignored or suppressed by other translators), the emphasis on general readability in Anthology might make this volume more appealing to a general audience or to undergraduates.4 The fourth thing is that none of the three editors and only [End Page 663] one5 of the twelve translators wrote a graduate thesis on Yuan drama or published in that field beyond the plays they translated. Finally, despite the fact that I have been speaking as if there were already anthologies of translations of Yuan drama in English available (see the footnote above for the quite loose definition employed), under a more strict definition, only three works would qualify, and there would be absolutely no doubt that Anthology is light years ahead of the other two6 in conception, coverage, readability, and quality.

Anthology presents ten plays divided into five categories (two plays each). In the order they appear in the volume, these categories are historical plays, crime and punishment, folly and consequences, female agency, and romantic love.7 As in West and Idema’s 2014 anthology, both the Yuan edition and the Yuanqu xuan versions of The Orphan of Zhao (Zhao-shi gu’er 趙氏孤兒) are included.8 Including the Yuan edition (which is very hard to make sense of without reference to the more complete version and notes that attempt to fill in what is going on in the missing dialogue and stage directions) is clearly in imitation of...


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