Liyuan Opera Lizhiji: new materials, stories and insights
Lizhiji, or Legends of Lychee, is the most important work of the Liyuan Opera, a vernacular local opera prevalent in southern Fujian and eastern Guangdong provinces which is representative of the region’s performing arts and folk cultures. This thesis, as a work of literary study, analyses a newly-discovered edition of Lizhiji found in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, together with five other previously studied editions of the work. Chapter 1 introduces the aims, objectives and research questions of the study. Followed by an overall review of previous related studies, the methodologies and approaches used in this research are explained. Chapter 2 foregrounds the bibliographical problems of the new-found Lizhiji, before conducting research on all the Lizhiji editions. By collating this new edition with other editions and comparing the illustrations with coeval publications, it can be deduced that the Lizhiji in Edinburgh was published in Zhangzhou around the thirty-second year of the Wanli reign period (1604). By comparing all six extant editions, a new and more convincing edition-relationship diagram can emerge. Furthermore, it can also be seen that the Quanzhou and Chaozhou versions of the Lizhiji story eventually came together during the Qing Dynasty. Chapter 3 mainly focuses on the text of Lizhiji. Developing from the bibliographical findings of Chapter 2, this section revisits the story and characters whilst critically engaging with previous research into the opera. The whole story of Lizhiji can be divided into two parts, with the main love story centred on Wu Niang, and the interwoven story concentrating on Yi Chun. Wu Niang and her lover Chen San are not typical caizijiaren (the gifted scholar and the beauty), and their striving for romantic freedom eventually gives way to social and moral regulations. As for Yi Chun, we find there are two alternative endings for her depending on different editions. One ending sees her become the concubine of Chen San; the other ends with her as the wife of Xiao Qi, the servant. On the whole, the prominence of the central love story declined whilst the interwoven story gained new importance. Such a change is in accordance with trends in the history of Chinese opera as a whole. Chapter 4 explores the spread and development of Lizhiji and Liyuan Opera. It examines why Lizhiji is limited to a certain geographical area and was faced with a recession in the Qing Dynasty. Another form of performing art, Nanyin, is introduced. After Nanyin and Liyuan Opera blended with each other at the end of the Ming dynasty, the former controlled the literati resources which originally belonged to the Liyuan Opera. This distancing from the literati resulted in the decline of the Liyuan Opera and Lizhiji. Chapter 5 concludes the whole study, as well as bringing up some possible questions for future research. This thesis is a case study of local vernacular opera based on bibliographical opera studies. On the one hand, the significant bibliographical study involved in this project will facilitate better literary research. On the other hand, it reveals a new way of writing the new history of the literature of our age, which shines a light on local vernacular literature works whilst focusing on mainstream masterpieces.