Starting from a discussion of Yao Shouzhong's sanqu suite “The Complaint of the Ox,” in which the slaughtered animal lays its plaint before King Yama, this article calls attention to the scholarship on sanqu of the Japanese scholar Tanaka Kenji (1912–2002) of the 1950s and 1960s, which culminated in his 1969 article “Gendai sankyoku no kenkyū” (A Study of the Sanqu Songs of the Yuan Period). In this long and highly original article, Tanaka first traced the origin of sanqu back to the tradition of vernacular ci of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that resulted in the detailed description of daily life, including its less pleasant aspects. He next noted how sanqu, through impersonation, transformed the tradition of yongwu poetry by allowing the objects of description to speak in their own voice. Seeing the true originality of the genre in the combination of these two developments, Tanaka hailed Yao Shouzhong's work and some comparable texts as the genre's culminating achievement.

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