The Story of Pei Du, Who Returned the Belt He Had Found at the Fragrant Hill


This work is based on a play by the notable Yuan dynasty playwright, Guan Hanqing (circa 1225–1302), Shan shen miao Pei Du huan dai (Pei Du returned the belt at the Temple of Mountain Deity). Ming dynasty playwright Shen Cai revised the story under the title Xin kan chong ding chu xiang fu shi biao zhu Pei Du Xiangshan huan dai ji (The story of Pei Du, who returned the belt he had found at the fragrant hill). Shen’s play follows the Yuan poetic drama format, called si zhe yi xie (four scenes and one prologue), which prescribes the length of the drama. The story tells of young Pei Du, who, living in poverty and with both of his parents dead, resides in the Temple of Mountain Deity, where a Daoist priest, upon seeing his face, predicts that Pei will have an untimely death. A girl named Qiongying, daughter of a Luoyang prefect who has been wrongly accused of a crime and put in jail, is desperately seeking financial assistance to save her father and has been given a jade belt by a benefactor. She goes to the temple to pray but leaves behind the belt, which Pei Du finds and returns to her. The priest, upon meeting him again, tells him that his fate has changed to one in which “heaven assists the virtuous.” Years later, Pei Du goes to the capital to take the imperial civil examination, is the highest-ranking candidate, marries the girl Qiongying, and returns home with wealth and power. Although Pei Du was a historical figure, the story came from the folk tradition and, after Guan Hanqing’s rewrite, became a moral lesson about repayment for good and evil and the prediction of destiny by physiognomy. The play became a positive teaching tool, used to call on people to perform good deeds, and it was very popular among the common people. This copy, in two juan and two volumes, was printed at the famed workshop Shide Tang, in the Jinling area (present-day Nanjing) during the Wanli reign (1573–1620), by the family of Tang Sheng, who also printed many other famous plays. The work has woodblock printed illustrations, in the typical style of Jinling, with forceful strokes. Each illustration has a title that serves as a highlight for the drama. Besides this drama, Shen Cai left behind two other works: Qian jin ji (Story of a thousand pieces of gold), a tragic story about the legendary military leader Xiang Yu (232–202 BC) of Western Chu and his concubine Consort Yu; and Si jie ji (Stories of four seasons), a collection of four poetic dramas.

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Shide Tang, Nanjing, Jiangsu Province


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2 juan in 2 volumes

Last updated: January 3, 2018