Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Li Xiangjun and "The Peach Blossom Fan"

As I previously mentioned, Li Xiangjun 李香君 (1624 – 1653) is one of the three leading characters of my upcoming novel. She was among the Eight Beauties of Qinhuai 秦淮八艷 and the subject of Ming scholar Hou Fangyu’s 侯方域’s literary essay titled Biography of Lady Li 姬傳.

The premises where Li used to reside and ply her trade as a courtesan (she was a celebrated kunqu opera singer) were called Villa of Alluring Fragrance 媚香樓, which was located along the banks of the Qinhuai River, a glitzy pleasure district of Nanjing in the late-Ming dynasty. The above photographs show the reconstructed building at No. 38, Bank Note Vault Street, Qinhuai, Nanjing 南京秦淮區鈔庫街三十八.

If you have read Kong Shangren’s 孔尚任’s iconic historical play The Peach Blossom Fan 桃花扇, you would already be familiar with the real-life heroine Li Xiangjun. This classical play is a dramatized narrative based on Hou’s essay Biography of Lady Li and is a poetic weaving of the tragic love affair between Hou and Li with the collapse of the Ming dynasty.

I’ve recently stumbled across a poem written by renowned writer and philosopher Lin Yutang 林語堂 (1895 – 1976), which gives a reflective and laudatory description of Li Xiangjun’s character, with gibes targeting men in general. He inscribed this poem on a scroll portrait of Li Xiangjun that he had privately commissioned.



My Translation:

Lin Yutang’s Ode to Xiangjun:-

Xiangjun is a woman, her blood spilt on the peach blossom fan.
Her moral virtue lights up history, and shames the macho men.
Xiangjun is a woman, and she has grit aplenty.
I have her painting hung on the wall, to teach me humility.
Take a look at all the men, is there any with intrepidity?
They’re all wishy-washy; what have become of them!
The world these days, is filled with crooks and shams.
I can’t go wrong admiring, beauties in a distant time-span.

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