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Lecture 4 - Liu Yilong, “Descending the Mountain” (“Xiashan” 下山) from Ocean of Sin (Niehai ji 孽海記)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 January 2023

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Summary

Recorded 1 June 2011

Translated and annotated by Josh Stenberg

Lecturer

Liu Yilong 劉異龍 (b. 1940) has for many years been a leading chou 丑 of the Shanghai Troupe. Born in Jiangxi, outside kunqu's core area, he had to acquire the Suzhou dialect as a young man. In theatre school he cycled through numerous role types before settling into the chou repertoire. He studied with “chuan” generation (chuan zi bei 傳字輩) performers, including Hua Chuanhao 華傳浩 and Wang Chuansong 王傳淞 [Appendix H]. His stage collaborations with the versatile dan 旦 Liang Guyin 梁谷音 [see Lecture 11], including for this scene, are particularly well known.

Synopsis

“Descending the Mountain” (“Xiashan” 下山) is one of the most popular comic scenes in kunqu. Since Chinese monasteries and nunneries are usually (and in narratives, reliably) located on hills and mountains, reference to “descending the mountain” already implies escape from religious life.

“Descending the Mountain” can refer to the whole scene or just to a solo section for the monk Benwu 本無, which can also be called “The Little Monk Descends the Mountain” (“Xiaoheshang xiashan” 小和尚下山). When specified as “Double Descending the Mountain” (“Shuang xiashan” 雙下山), also known as “Monk Meets Nun” (“Sengni hui” 僧尼會), a second part is performed during which Benwu is joined by the nun Sekong 色空. “Descending the Mountain” is closely linked to Sekong's scene, “Longing for the Ordinary World” (“Si fan” 思凡), which takes place previously, and in which Sekong prepares to leave the abbey and rejoin the ordinary world.

Both scenes had become popular in kunqu by the eighteenth century (Goldman 2001). Older versions ended with karmic retributions for the characters for their sins, perhaps extracted from or related to the Mulian narrative. In the scenes as extant in repertoire (which do not treat their later lives at all), that harsh judgment is absent in favor of the celebration of the characters’ amorous rebellion against the strictures of religion, since they were given to the temples as children (to save their lives) and have no religious vocation.

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Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2022

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