In the third century B.C., during the period of Warring Kingdoms, what is today North China (north of the Yangtse River) was split into seven countries. In 262 B.C. the largest of the seven kingdoms, Chin, attacked its northeastern neighbor, Jiao, and after three years of warfare received the surrender of Jiao's armin in the field and promptly interred, still alive, the 400,000 prisoners taken, and proceeded to lay siege to Handan, the capitol city. Jiao turned to its southern neighbor, Wei, for help. The king of Wei, fearing the power of Chin, sent an army as far as the border of Jiao but refused to commit it to battle, in spite of the urging of his half-brother and counselor, Prince Shinling. So the Prince, convinced of the rightness of his viewpoint, embarked on an ambitious enterprise, with the help of the king's concubine Zhuji, to steal the king's emblem of military command, a bronze tiger, and lead the army into battle himself. This five-act play describes the events surrounding the stealing of the tiger.
The play is set in Daliang, capital of Wei; acts one and four take place in Prince Shinling's household, act two at the city's eastern gate, and acts three and five in the city's graveyard. The major characters are Shinling, Zhuji, Shinling's mother, two of his retainers, their two daughters, and the king. All are well-defined and most are likeable, the king being a notable exception.
The translation is well done and easily readable; Seimin, whose name is new to me, is someone whose work I hope we see more of. The only problem I had with his writing was an occasional preference for an unnecessary synonym (why use liva in the third line of act I when he is going to use maldekstre two lines further down, anyway?).
The author wrote this work during the second world war as a means of arousing the will to battle of the Chinese people in the face of an apparently implacable enemy (the similarities between Guo's Chin and 20th century Japan are marked). He may also have intended it as a tract in favor of democracy as opposed to autocracy -- Zhuji's description of King Anli as a "despot" in the last act is totally justified, and in marked contrast to Shinling's insistence in the third act that the king should "treat people as people, not as horses or cattle." So it is interesting to note that Guo assumes throughout the whole work, perhaps unconsciously, that in fact political decisions must be made autocratically. When push comes to shove, Shinling is as much the despot as Anli; the difference is that he is a "benevolent despot," whatever that means. When he marches his three thousand retainers off to certain death in Jiao, he does not take a vote to see whether they want to go (the author assumes that their support for Shinling's decision was remarkably unanimous); he does not propose a plebiscite to determine whether he should steal the bronze tiger and go to war with Chin, he simply does it. His attitude is not what we in the West would call "patronizing" -- he is certainly willing to accept the advice of the old gate guard, Ho Ying, on the best way to get the bronze tiger -- but on questions of policy he is very much the traditional feudal autocrat.
Two other points in the play struck me as interesting from a Western point of view. In act five, when Zhuji offers her apology (in the Greek sense of the word) for her impending suicide, the thought suddenly struck me that perhaps the Christian Church's relegation of suicide to the category of Mortal Sin was politically, rather than religiously, inspired -- it removes from the individual his right to exercise his ultimate sanction against the state.
And in act three, when King Anli decides to recruit the aged mage Tang Jiu to hypnotize the members of his court so that he can determine the extent of their loyalty, I thought of a recent attempt by another government to require lie detector tests of its employees. Truly there is nothing new under the sun.
Sendu demandojn kaj proponojn alDon Harlow <email@example.com>