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Literary Criticism General

The Peony Pavilion, Second Edition

Mudan Ting

by (author) Xianzu Tang

translated by Cyril Birch

introduction by Catherine Swatek

Indiana University Press
Initial publish date
Mar 2002
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2002
    List Price

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The celebrated English translation of this classic work of Chinese literature is now available in an updated paperback edition. Written in 1598 by Tang Xianzu, The Peony Pavilion is one of literature's most memorable love stories and a masterpiece of Ming drama. Cyril Birch has captured all the elegance, lyricism, and subtle, earthy humor of this panoramic tale of romance and Chinese society. When Indiana University Press first published the text in 1981, it seemed doubtful that the work would ever be performed in its entirety again, but several spectacular and controversial productions have toured the world in recent years. For this second edition, which contains a fully revised text of the translation, Cyril Birch and Catherine Swatek reflect on contemporary performances of the play in light of its history.

About the authors

Contributor Notes


Cyril Birch is Agassiz Professor Emeritus of Chinese and Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley. His books include the
two-volume Anthology of Chinese Literature, Stories from a Ming Collection, Scenes for Mandarins, Mistress and Maid, and Tales from China.

Catherine Swatek is Associate Professor of Asian Studies, University of British Columbia, and author of Peony Pavilion Onstage: Four Centuries in the Career of a Chinese Drama.

Editorial Reviews

An example of the southern, or chuanqi, genre of opera from Ming dynasty China (14th to 17th centuries), The Peony Pavilion, completed in 1598, was Tang's masterpiece and, according to Birch's preface, a profound meditation on the nature of love. Selected scenes have become near necessities of any traditional Chinese opera repertoire. The tale concerns a cloistered girl and young scholar who fall in love in dreams. After the heroine pines away from longing, their devotion transcends death, resulting in her resurrection and a happy union. Birch (Univ. of California, Berkeley) has captured the beauty and elegance of Tang's original drama, conveying even the humor of subtle puns. With such titles as Stories from a Ming Collection (1958), Scenes for Mandarins (CH, Feb'96), and Mistress & Maid (CH, Jan'02) to his credit, Birch has long been a leading translator of Chinese literature. This second edition of the Birch translation (first edition, CH, Mar'81) includes revisions of the translation; a preface in which Birch provides a general introduction to the drama; and a fascinating introduction by Catherine Swatek (Univ. of British Columbia), in which she introduces three recent productions of Peony Pavilion. All levels.


Birch (Univ. of California, Berkeley) has captured the beauty and elegance of Tang's original drama, conveying even the humor of subtle puns. . . . October 2002