Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2018

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

East Asian Languages and Culture: Chinese

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



This dissertation looks into tongue-in-cheek moments in Chinese romantic chuanqi plays of the late 17th and 18th centuries and examines their reflections on the chuanqi dramatic genre and its close ties to the discourse of qing (sentiment, feeling). The discourse of qing during the late imperial era highlighted emotional authenticity and spontaneity as the defining elements of oneճ self and celebrated romantic love as an important manifestation of such elements. After Tang Xianzuճ dramatic masterpiece, The Peony Pavilion (Mudanting, 1598), pushed the literary rendition of the discourse of qing to its peak, chuanqi became an important vehicle for representing deep and spontaneous emotions. The standardization of the chuanqi genre, the concentrated interest in the theme of caizi-jiaren (scholar-beauty) love affairs, and the popularity of chuanqi as a writing practice among the educated elite led to the rather predictable problem of repetition and clich. But in many chuanqi compositions, we also witness increased self-reflexivity that directs romantic narratives toward the comic and the ironic.

My dissertation focuses on four chuanqi plays that represent this rhetorical turn: Wu Bingճ The Remedy for Jealousy (Liaodu geng, ca. 1633), Ruan Dachengճ The Swallowճ Letter (Yanzi jian, 1642), Li Yuճ Ideal Love Matches (Yi zhong yuan, 1655), and Wang Yunճ A Dream of Glory (Fanhua meng, 1778). These plays underline the tension between the artificial conventions of the chuanqi genre and the emotional spontaneity that the genre is purported to convey. They also expose many incongruities and contradictions embodied in the concept of qing: qing as both authentic emotion and textual imitation, devoted love and abundant desire, an aspiration for transcendence and an excuse for mundane self-interest. Furthermore, these chuanqi plays and their commentaries demonstrate that behind these incongruities and contradictions lie contested understandings of gendered emotions and ambitions.

This dissertation recognizes parodies of qing, glorified emotion, as a main source of amusement in romantic chuanqi plays. It is not only a study of a literary genre but also an inquiry into how the development of this genre facilitated reflections on one of the most important intellectual trends in late imperial China.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Robert E. Hegel

Committee Members

Beata Grant, Robert Henke, Marvin Marcus, Jamie Newhard,


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