Through detailed analysis of several case studies, this essay investigates a special form of sanqu 散曲 song, namely, songs that embed references to dramas (quzhong daixi 曲中帶戲). A long song suite (changtao 長套) by Yuan author Sun Jichang 孫季昌 (fl. 14th century) is the best-known example of a pastiche of zaju play titles and dramatic protagonists intended to stimulate and guide readers' imagination. When late Ming dramatist Shen Jing 沈璟 (1553–1610) imitated Sun's pastiche song suite, he painstakingly sought to disrupt the obvious association between lyric and invoked play in an appeal to the literati aesthetic of lyrical indirection. Another, shorter song suite from the Ming, this one by an anonymous author, incorporates chuanqi play titles with little literary embellishment, catering to popular tastes. Finally, set to the tunes “Pipo yu” 劈破玉 and “Gua zhen'er” 掛真兒, popular songs featuring chuanqi play titles appear in three late Ming miscellanies. As these songs describe their source play's main protagonists and plot elements, they may be seen as expressing the voice of commoners and at the same time promoting ethical values. Taken together, these examples illustrate that it was not unusual for sanqu songs to incorporate dramatic references. This blending of song and drama can be traced to the arbitrary Yuan dynasty definition of yuefu 樂府 (literally, “Music Bureau songs”) and its relationship with sanqu songs. Thus the heterogeneous and inclusive nature characteristic of sanqu songs can be viewed in a new light.

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