This article explores the late imperial imagination of the nonhuman other by way of a curious creature that appears in the southern drama Dushu sheng. Midway through the play, set in the early years of the Yuan dynasty, the young literatus protagonist is abandoned on a remote island, where he is rescued by a renxiong, a fierce yet empathetic bear-like creature that takes him as its mate. Though short-lived, their union is one of several in the play in which marginal characters are brought into the (narrative and imperial) center through marriage: by the end of the play, the protagonist is wed to both the daughter of a boatman and the daughter of a Mongol official. But while this double marriage offers the possibility of a productive overcoming of the distinctions between scholar and merchant and between Chinese and barbarian, the tragic fate of the renxiong forecloses any possibility of overcoming that which divides man and beast. Rather, as the human community is expanded to include merchant and Mongol, the renxiong serves as the necessary limit, allowing the play to rescue these social and ethnic others from baseness and barbarity. At the same time, the exclusion of the renxiong from this new community is not untroubled; in resisting the genre's compulsive imposition of wholeness, Dushu sheng dramatizes the fractures and exclusions that made possible the restoration of order in the early Qing.

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