Shen examines The Peach Blossom Fan in the context of the fall of the Ming dynasty and the investigation by Qing dynasty scholars that followed on the role of Confucian philosophy in the political and moral degeneracy of Ming monarchs. Shen argues that though Kong, a Confucian, intended to contrast the illusions of people in the last days of the Ming dynasty with reality by means of the play’s historical presentation of other plays about the past, his intention is undermined by intertextual references.
K'ung Shang-jen wrote the play T'ao-hua shan during the reign of Emperor K'ang-hsi, less than half a century after the royal house of Ming had fallen to the Manchus. The dramatist attempted in this work not only to retell for common theatre-goers a romantic love-story but also to arouse scholars-especially Confucian intellectuals-to consider why and how China so easily lost her strength in the national crises of 1644-45. In order reciprocally to enact affection and morality, with each influencing the other, T'ao-hua shan proceeds with all its vernacular tableaux in a double plot which is itself based on a highly metaphysical paradigm derived from classical literature. The play is exact in its ethical and historical references while, stylistically, it is rich in literary craft and philological implications, one of the latter discovered here being the mocking of the Manchu conquerors.
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