Han Koong Tsew
THE following Drama was selected from the “Hundred Plays of Yuen,” which
has already supplied to Europe two specimens of the Chinese stage—the
first, called the “Orphan of Chaou,” translated by Père Premare, and the
second entitled an “Heir in Old Age,” by the author of the present
version. The “Sorrows of Han” is strictly historical, and relates to one
of the most interesting periods of the Chinese annals, when the growing
effeminacy of the court, and consequent weakness of the government,
emboldened the Tartars in their aggressions, and first gave rise to the
temporising and impolitic system of propitiating those barbarians by
tribute, which long after produced the downfall of the empire, and the
establishment of the Mongol dominion.
The moral of the piece is evidently to expose the evil consequences of
luxury, effeminacy, and supineness in the sovereign,
“When love was all an easy monarch’s care,
Seldom at council—never in a war.”
The hero, or rather the chief personage, of the drama, came to the
throne very near the beginning of the Christian era, about B.C. 42. The
fate of the Lady Chaoukeun is a favorite incident in history, of which
painters, poets, and romancers, frequently avail themselves: her
“Verdant Tomb” is said to exist at the present day, and to remain green
all the year round, while the vegetation of the desert in which it
stands is parched by the summer sun.
In selecting this single specimen from among so many, the translator was
influenced by the consideration of its remarkable accordance with our
own canons of criticism. The Chinese themselves make no regular
classification of comedy and tragedy; but we are quite at liberty to
give the latter title to a play, which so completely answers to the
European definition. The unity of action is complete, and the unities of
time and place much less violated than they frequently are on our own
stage. The grandeur and gravity of the subject, the rank and dignity of
the personages, the tragical catastrophe, and the strict award of
poetical justice, might satisfy the most rigid admirer of Grecian rules.
The translator has thought it necessary to adhere to the original in
distinguishing by name the first act (or Proëm) from the four which
follow it: but the distinction is purely nominal, and the piece
consists, to all intents and purposes, of five acts. It is remarkable,
that this peculiar division holds true with regard to a large number of
the “Hundred Plays of Yuen.”
The reader will doubtless be struck by the apparent shortness of the
drama which is here presented to him: but the original is eked out, in
common with all Chinese plays, by an irregular operatic species of song,
which the principal character occasionally chaunts forth in unison with
a louder or a softer accompaniment of music, as may best suit the
sentiment or action of the moment. Some passages have been embodied in
our version: but the translator did not give all, for the same reasons
that prompted Pére Premare to give none—“they are full of allusions to
things unfamiliar to us, and figures of speech very difficult for us to
observe.”—They are frequently, moreover, mere repetitions or
amplifications of the prose parts; and being intended more for the ear
than for the eye, are rather adapted to the stage than to the closet.
His judgment may perhaps be swayed by partiality towards the subject of
his own labours; but the translator cannot help thinking the plot and
incidents of the “Sorrows of Han” superior to those of the “Orphan of
Chaou”—though the genius of Voltaire contrived to make the last the
groundwork of an excellent French tragedy. Far is he, however, from
entertaining the presumptuous expectation that a destiny of equal
splendour awaits the present drama: and he will be quite satisfied if
the reader has patience to read it to the end, and then pronounces it to
be a somewhat curious sample of a very foreign literature. The original
text of the Proëm, or introductory act, is added to the translation.
The following list of Chinese Play-Books may perhaps be useful to
students of the language:
Chang seng teën (258.8812.10141) . . . . 4 volumes.
Chue peh kew (1469.8526.8295) . . . . . 24 volumes.
Chun tang me (1638.9896.7558) . . . . . 4 volumes.
Foong kew hwong (2781.6287.4380) . . . . 16 volumes.
Han heang ting (3192.3511.10222) . . . . 4 volumes.
Hoo kow yu seng (4078.6514.12405.8812) . . . 4 volumes.
Hoong low moong chuen ke (4168.7343.7840.1498.5240) 6 volumes.
Hwang ho low (4398.4039.7343) . . . . . 2 volumes.
Hwuy chin ke (4562.943.5189) . . . . . 6 volumes.
Keaou twan yuen (5565.11470.12536) . . . . 2 volumes.
Kew too (6263.10345) . . . . . . . 2 volumes.
Kew chung keo (6263.1709.6210) . . . . . 9 volumes.
Moong le yuen (7840.12559) . . . . . . 2 volumes.
Nae ho teën (7878.3993.10095) . . . . . 10 volumes.
Pa mei too (8129.7658.10344) . . . . . . 10 volumes.
Pe muh yu (8263.7803.12413) . . . . . . 2 volumes.
Peih yu sze (8517.12560.9666) . . . . . . 6 volumes.
Se keang chuh kea (8840.5500.1613.5394) . . . 4 volumes.
Se seang (8840.8859) . . . . . . . 6 volumes.
Shan hoo keue (9096.4100.6126) . . . . . . , 2 volumes.
She shen ke (9164.9210.5189) . . . . . . 2 volumes.
Shih lew ke (9239.7194.5189) . . . . . . 2 volumes.
Shwong tsuy yuen (9427.11197.12550) . . . . 4 volumes.
Shwong chung meaou (9427.1669.7592) . . . . 2 volumes.
Teng wong keh (9900.11618.6450) . . . . 2 volumes.
Taou hwa shen (9916.4199.9210) . . . . . 4 volumes.
Yih tseen yuen (12175.10726.12559) . . . . 4 volumes.
Yö foo hoong shan (12378.2378.4168.9096) . . . 6 volumes.
Yu shwuy yuen (12413.9430.12559) . . . . 4 volumes.
Yuen haou mei (12504.8259.7636) . . . . . 2 volumes.
Yu saou tow (12560.8829.10366) . . . . . 2 volumes.
Yuen jin pih chung keo (12504.4693.8526.1709.6210) . 40 volumes.
 ^(*) For some observations on this subject, see Treatise on Chinese
Poetry, Part II.
 ^(†) The numbers refer to the characters in Dr. Morrison’s Chinese
and English Dictionary, arranged alphabetically.