The Peony Pavilion – 2nd Day of Lenaia 2020

The text I selected for the second day of Lenaia is taken from an adaptation of The Peony Pavilion by Tang Xianzu for the Hong Kong scene of Cantonese opera. The strength of the story lies in an encounter which is actually not a real encounter. Lai Neung is dreaming for the first time of a man called Mung Mui. And in her dream, she fells in love with him. That man actually exists and will also come one day to the Peony Pavilion, but after Lai Neung’s death. In her turn, she will appear in his dream and ask him for help so their souls could finally gather.

The excerpt is the scene when Mung Mui appears in Lai Neung’s dream. Encounter? Not encounter? Dream? Reflections on the water. Self and not Self. Isn’t the other another ego which is still expected to come?


Lai Neung wakes up and sees Mung Mui. Taken by surprise, she covers her face with her fan and moves rapidly to the willow shade. Mung Mui goes up to her. He bows and says:

Young mistress.

Remains silent, Lai Neung gives Mung Mui a side glance through the slits on her fan. The tune of “Cannot be exchanged with Gold” begins. Mung Mui bows again and says:

Young Lady.

Lai Neung gives Mung Mui a side glance again through the slits on her fan. Finding out Mung Mui is a young handsome guy, Lai Neung heads down and turns her back to him. Background music should be well-played here. Mung Mui says:

Young Lady. I have greeted you again and again. Why

you have to cover your face, lower your head, and face

me with your back? Why don’t you respond to me?

Bow again.

Nice meeting you, young mistress.

Lai Neung would like turn to Mung Mui and greets him. Yet she makes herself remain dignified and soliloquizes in rhymed haugu:

As virgin, my body is worth for thousands of gold.

Standing alone in the solitude of this garden, I used

not to see any unacquainted guests.

We have, moreover, never seen each other. How could I

not cover my face with the fan.

Still covering her face with her fan, Lai Neung side glances Mung Mui through the slits. Mung Mui laughs and says:

Young mistress, we have seen each other…

Lai Neung looks surprised.

Mung Mui recites in rhymed haugu:

This sandalwood fan is hold too high. It only hides

your head ornaments. But your smart and pretty eyes

have already conveyed your love to me.

Lai Neung feels ashamed as Mung Mui read her heart. She stands next to the pond and look at it leisurely. Taken by a little surprise, she further bends over and stares at the pond as Mung Mui’s charm and attitude are reflected from the water. Getting closer to Lai Neung, Mung Mui laughs and says:

Young mistress, why are you staring at the lotus pond?

Why don’t you turn your back and take a look at me?

Still facing Mung Mui with her back, Lai Neung fixates on the pond and recites in rhymed haugu:

Who wants to see you? I am looking at the dragonflies

skimming over the water and I am addicted to the beauty

of lotus.

Mung Mui laughs and recites in rhymed haugu:

Young mistress, how could there be dragonflies

skimming over the water when it is not raining?

You look so attentive, it is obvious that you want to see the

handsome face behind you through the reflection from water.

Lai Neung is angry for Mung Mui reads her secret thoughts again. She wants turning to Mung Mui and hits him with her fan. Yet, her voice gets softer with the slow wooden block strokes and says:

Gentry scholar, please stand aside.

Mung Mui laughs as he moves his steps. Lai Neung walks past him and stands on the left. When Lai Neung is moving in front of him, Mung Mui says:

Young mistress, as the saying goes, a beautiful woman

Should have a distinguished husband, a lady would

rather not marry if no perfect match were to be found.

Why bother to shun yourself from me?

Lai Neung is inspired as she moves and listens to Mung Mui’s words. Stopping suddenly, she turns her head and softly speaks:

Gentry scholar, what can we talk about if I don’t

shun myself from you?

Mung Mui is happy and says:

Great, great. Young mistress finally talks face-to-face

with me .

Recites in rhymed haugu

I happened to see a beautiful willow tree in the garden.

and I broke off one branch for you.

You are such a well-versed lady

I should like you to compose a poem to honor it.

Gives Lai Neung the willow branch. Surprised by Mung Mui’s genteel charm, Lai Neung would like to take the branch. Yet, she is still shy and says:

Gentry scholar, thanks for letting me show up myself.

Thinks for a moment and recites in rhymed haugu:

Surrounded by the mist, the greenish willow swings

along the pond side. The unexpected broke made by the

scholar causes me to ponder and pity on it.

Mung Mui is surprised and says:

Young mistress, you are so talented.

Blushed, Lai Neung speaks in a lower voice:

Gentry scholar, what do you want?

Mung Mui says:

Mistress, please sit on this peony bench and let me tell

you a few hearty words.

Lai Neung shakes her head lightly and smilingly, but she can’t help herself from sitting down with Mung Mui.


The Peony Pavilion

《牡丹亭驚夢》

Cantonese opera, adapted from Tang Xianzu’s play

Libretti by Tong Dik Sang

Translated by Gwendoline Kam Cho-ning


Picture Credits: Sue Jie 〈The Peony Pavilion〉1982

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