- Monks, Bandits, Lovers and Immortals: Eleven Early Chinese Plays transed. by Stephen H. West and Wilt L. Idema, and: Battles, Betrayals, and Brotherhood: Early Chinese Plays on the Three Kingdoms transed. by Wilt L. Idema and Stephen H. West
These two anthologies fill a scholarly gap and provide readers with reasonably priced texts that cross language boundaries and give excellent translations of early Chinese classical plays. Monks, Bandits, Lovers and Immortals contains eleven plays, first written in the period from 1250 to 1450, which build on and reflect an oral performance tradition. The second work, Battles, Betrayals, and Brotherhood compiles seven early Chinese plays about the Three Kingdoms era. Unlike recent scholarly trends with the focus on contemporary works, these two books highlight Idema and West's edits and translations of the early traditional Chinese dramas. Rather than having a single author translating the seven early plays on the saga of the Three Kingdoms in Chinese classical drama (xiqu), the two co-editors and translators worked together, focusing on their areas of expertise (Idema on early traditional Chinese literature and West on the textual culture of late medieval and early modern China 1000–1600) to give coherence to the whole. The resultant two books are a significant contribution to the study of Chinese drama, especially xiqu and associated early forms.
In the book Monks, Bandits, Lovers and Immortals, Idema and West selected eleven early Chinese plays to edit and translate. Except for the anonymously written eighth play, the rest were written by Guan [End Page 274] Hanqing, Bai Pu, Ma Zhiyuan, Zheng Guangzu, Li Xingdao, Zhu Youdun, and—for the final, eleventh play—by the Writing Club of Hangzhou. The plays included in the anthology include three by Guan Hanqing: Moving Heaven and Shaking Earth: The Injustice to Dou E, Rescriptor-in-Waiting Bao Thrice Investigates the Butterfly Dream, and A Beauty Pining in Her Boudoir: The Pavilion for Praying to the Moon. Other plays included are Bai Pu's The Autumn Nights of the Lustrous Emperor of Tang: Rain on the Wutong Tree, Ma Zhiyuan's Breaking a Troubling Dream: A Lone Goose in Autumn over the Palace of Han, Zhang Guangzu's play Dazed behind the Green Ring Lattice, Qiannü's Soul Leaves Her Body, Li Xingdao's Rescriptor-in-Waiting Bao's Clever Trick: The Record of the Chalk Circle, the anonymously authored Zhongli of the Han Leads Lan Caihe to Enlightenment, the Writing Club of Hangzhou's Little Butcher Sun, and two plays by Zhu Youdun, A Leopard Monk Returns to the Laity of His Own Accord and Black Whirlwind Li Spurns Riches out of Righteousness. The translations are useful for the readers, especially for the Western readers who do not read in Chinese.
The plays selected are good choices for the readers to understand a wide variety of topics, including early Chinese literature, women's literature of the premodern world in China, and the urban theatre. Readers will also get a sense of the world of these plays; the texts highlight the early modern urban setting and illustrate late medieval and early modern Chinese culture, markets, and so on. For example, in the introduction of the book, there is a description of "the capital at Kaifeng, a city of over a million inhabitants in its heyday from 1000 to 1125, Dreaming of Splendors Past: The Eastern Capital (Dongjing meng Hua lu), finalized in 1147 and first published in 1187" (p. xi). Idema and West deal with not only the early Chinese plays, but also compare the Chinese tile markets (called washe or wazi) with the similar "floating world" (ukiyo) of Japanese cities. Both of them constituted a similar "labyrinth...