Two Illustrations from "Selected Arias of the Yuan Dynasty"
These prints from around 1615 show two figures from Yuan-dynasty (1279-1368) poetry. The right-hand picture illustrates a play about Zheng Kongmu, a law clerk, and Song Bin, a young man who accidentally killed a man. Zheng recognizes Song Bin as an honorable man and convinces the judge not to execute him. Instead, he is exiled to a penal colony where he has many adventures, including meeting up with and helping Zheng Kongmu when he himself runs afoul of the law by killing a woman who mistreated his children. The other picture shows Peng Zu, a longtime assistant to a fortuneteller named Zhou, and Ren Taohua, who can tell fortunes and find ways to change a person's fate. The story begins with Widow Shi's anxiety over her son, Liuzhu, who had gone away as a merchant and not returned. Zhou tells the widow that her son will die that very night. Taohua confirms the prophecy but says the young man can be saved if his mother says "Brother Shi Liuzhu" three times at the third watch. Liuzhu is saved when he hears his mother’s voice calling, but Zhou is disturbed to discover that there is a "merciful star," i.e., the mother, in the picture that he had not seen before and decides to test his own magical powers. The story continues with many incidents involving Zhou, Peng Zu, and Taohua.
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Last updated: September 29, 2014