The Chinese Repository, Volume 6 (May 1837)

  • Info
  • Pages
  • Transcript
  • Related
The Chinese Repository, Volume 6 (May 1837)
The Chinese Repository, Volume 6 - May 1837
Guangzhou, China: Publisher not identified
Edited by Elijah Coleman Bridgman. Known in Chinese as 中國叢報
Page 1
Page 2

ART. IV. Remarks on the Chinese theatre; with a translation of a farce,
entitled ‘the Mender of cracked China-ware.’

The lighter literature of the Chinese has, until within a few years
past, received as little attention from European students of the
language and customs of this country, as from the more grave Chinese
literati themselves; and, by those who are strangers to the country, it
might from this have been inferred, that the drama and romance in China
do not occupy any conspicuous place in the esteem of the people. But of
late years, several specimens, both of the drama and romance, have been
added to the solitary examples that we previously possessed. These
examples were, the Orphan of Chaou, a tragedy translated by Père
Prémare, in 1731; and the Pleasing History, an esteemed work of fiction,
published, in part from a Portuguese, and in part from an English,
translation, in 1761. From several romances and tales, translated,
within the last twenty years, by Remusat, Davis, Julien, and others, we
are now enabled to form a tolerably correct judgment of the general
character of Chinese romance-writers. As examples too of the histrionic
art, we have (besides a new translation of the Orphan of Chaou, the Heir
in Old Age, a comedy, translated by Mr. Davis; the Sorrows of Han, a
tragedy, by the same translator; and the Circle of Chalk, translated
into French by M. Stanislas Julien. For remarks upon these translations,
and on the general character and peculiarities of the Chinese stage, we
must refer our readers to the sixteenth chapter of Mr. Davis’s work—‘The
Chinese,’—reserving to another occasion the criticisms which we have to
make upon some portions of those remarks. Our present purpose is simply
to introduce to notice a translation of a different nature from those
above mentioned, with which we have been kindly favored by a

It must be premised, that the Chinese have no theatres, and a company of
players, or corps dramatique, consisting usually of from twenty to forty
individuals, having been engaged to perform in any neighborhood, a
covered stage is erected of bamboos and mats—except in those places
where permanent stages exist. On the evening preceding the day of
representation, the dresses of the actors are removed from the boat or
house which is the ordinary abode of the company, to the place where the
play is to be performed. The principal piece, usually an historical
tragedy, opens about the middle of the day, and continues during two or
three hours; but on some occasions, it commences sooner, and, a long
piece having been selected, the whole performance continues for five or
six hours. The tragedy or comedy ended, tumbling and various feats of
agility succeed. These are then followed by a short piece, wherein, in
most cases, the dramatis personæ do not exceed two or three. Of those
pieces, which are usually of a farcical (though not uncommonly of an
indecent) character, and which, while conveying perhaps little of
interest or amusement to the mere reader, yet display frequently good
action and much comic gesture in stage exhibitions, no specimen, so far
as we are aware, has yet been given to the European public. On this
account, we think, that the subjoined translation will not be without
interest, notwithstanding the disadvantage it labors under, from the
absence of all the droll gesticulatious, the impromptu allusions to
passing occurrences, and the often powerful pantomimic action, which are
its usual accompaniments. The dresses, which, in the more regular
dramatic performances, are rich and gaudy, but no way resembling those
that we every day see in use, are, in these pieces, different from the
dresses of the present time only in occasional additions intended to aid
the drollery of a comic actor. One great advantage, it should be added,
that these pieces have to European ears, is, the absence of the
deafening crash of the gong and the excruciating sounds of some of the
other instruments peculiar to the Chinese. The music, in which good time
is always most carefully preserved, is not, when divested of these
ear-breaking accompaniments, devoid of merits of, a more intrinsic
character. With these brief remarks we present the piece to the perusal
of our readers.