Deng Shaoji, male, Han nationality, born in January, 1933, is a native of
By Pursuing Meticulously, One can see how
things will develop from the first small beginnings
Li Mei (hereinafter referred to as Li): Mr. Deng, I remember reading the book Literary History of Yuan Dynasty edited by you after I assiduously studied for my doctoral degree under your guidance. Literary History of Yuan Dynasty was published in 1991. I noticed that in the recent ten years, although the range of your research is wide, your main academic interest is still in the research of literature from the Yuan dynasty. I think maybe because of the compilation and accomplishments of Literary History of Yuan Dynasty, you are unable to stop researching this field even though you want to. As we all know, it is difficult to devote oneself to the research of the literature from the Yuan dynasty. As for the research on poems and essays of the Yuan dynasty, the difficulty lies in extremely few academic accumulations; although the research on poetic drama in the Yuan dynasty is comparatively hot in academic circles, retained materials are limited. How to deepen the research in this area through developing a new method of your own?
Deng Shaoji (hereinafter referred to as Deng): when I edited Literary History of Yuan Dynasty, I always felt that the version research of poetic drama of the Yuan dynasty was a complicated topic. Wang Guowei compiled The History of Chinese Drama in Song and Yuan Dynasties that year, mainly relying on Selection of Yuan Drama by Zang Maoxun. And this drama collection compiled at the end of Wanli of the Ming dynasty gathered more than one hundred dramas (there are a few articles about people in the Ming dynasty). For the past 380 years, it has been widely popular, and has had great influence. Since the 18th century, foreign scholars have begun to translate Yuan poetic drama, mostly relying on Selection of Yuan Drama. In consideration of this condition, Literary History of Yuan Dynasty mainly relied on Selection of Yuan Drama. Some famous dramas collected in Selection of Yuan Drama, when compared with other versions that exist presently, are different, even extremely different. Literary History of Yuan Dynasty to some extent explained it. However, it is difficult to state the origin of these differences, whether they were changed by Mr. Zang or not. As a result, I decided to continue to review the work on drama in the Yuan dynasty after Literary History of Yuan Dynasty was finished. I have always wanted to research Yuan poetic drama from the angle of the macro and then to write a book, but I wouldn’t like to give up the reviewed work which was started earlier and interrupted once in a while. Individual energy is limited, and my research on drama of the Yuan dynasty has been concentrated on version proofreading, or it could be seen as a kind of discovery research on versions of drama of the Yuan dynasty.
Li: you say that your research on drama of the Yuan dynasty has been concentrated on version proofreading. In fact, it is an effective way “developed by you” in the research of Yuan poetic drama, which can phrased as “do right things in right time”. Few ancient books and literature on Yuan poetic drama remain, while respectively speaking, more dramas have been kept. After reading your articles, we can find that your proofreading of different versions of Yuan poetic drama is not only limited to problems of a single drama. For example, as for the problem of different vocal cavity of Yuan poetic drama, in the past, people have had few discussions because of the lack of materials.
Deng: yes, and it is surprising that I got unexpected gains at the time of proofreading dramas of the Yuan dynasty. I have found an example of “Zhongzhou Song” among Yuan drama, which was found by me in Street Vendor, a copy from the Ming dynasty. In chapter 3 of this copy, the author explained again and again that the change of the local accent of the female leading role Zhang Sangu of Jinzhao connects with [Street Vendor], while the person who taught her to sing [Street Vendor] came from Henan province, “she has delivered [Street Vendor] to me, so she changed her local accent”. This states that she sang [Street Vendor] in the
Poetic dramas are sung in the
Li: when I read your Discussion on Yuan poetic drama published in Research on Chinese Studies, I also felt that this discovery of yours was very interesting, and it is the weak point in the research of Yuan poetic drama. As for the research on Yuan poetic drama, because of the influence of composers in the early years, such as Wang Guowei and Wu Mei and so on, scholars pay much attention to drama literature. However, you always emphasizes that we should discuss some issues in the development history of Yuan poetic drama from different angles, such as scripts of Yuan poetic drama used for performances, for example, discussing the reasons for the flourishing of Yuan poetic drama.
Deng: the research on Yuan poetic drama involved macro proposition and includes origin, aging, and flourishes and so on. Since The History of Chinese Drama in Song and Yuan Dynasties of Wang Guowei, opinions of different schools have been different, but they have had the same opinions, so that some basic ideas have been formed. As for reasons for the flourish in Yuan drama, economics, politics, society, and culture are some of the reasons, later generations only wrote some supplements and proofreading. When I edited Literary History of Yuan Dynasty, I synthesized arguments of various schools in accordance with the conventionalized common practice that literature books shall absorb research achievements of the literature field. Historical facts in history tell us that the first appearance of south drama of the Song dynasty is earlier than Yuan poetic drama, but the drama style which can be popular on a national scale and has produced numerous writers ( there are outstanding writers) and a large quantity of literary dramas (there are more than 200 kinds which have been handed down up to now) is later than Yuan poetic drama. The reason why “Yuan drama” can be mentioned in the same breath as “Tang poetry” and “Song poem” is that poetic dramas thrive rather than songs. Poetic drama and poetic prose are different, and its flourish relies on not only creation but also performance. Generally, as for a kind of drama, if batches of outstanding actors emerge in large numbers from its performers, the artistic level of this kind of drama will be increased, so that this drama will flourish and grow. At present, poetic drama of the same name are distinguished through different starring roles (namely so-called “leading role” and “supporting actor”), and actually it is a kind of reflection that the actor serves theatrical troupes and actors. Therefore, I said: “you can imagine this kind of phenomenon: in the eastern film studio, Tumbledown Cave of Kuan HanChing is on show; while in the western film studio, Tumbledown Cave of Wang Shifu is on show.” Actually, this opens the histrionic phenomenon that main actors are regarded as the center. Seen from the literature of Collection of Whorehouse, there were many famous poetic-drama actors, with ability, skill, and morality, and it was another important reason for the flourish of Yuan poetic drama. I feel deeply ashamed, because in Literary History of Yuan Dynasty edited by me, I only supplemented this point. However, I think that this point is very important, which is one of main features distinguishing ancient opera and poems, and this feature is more obvious in the problems of version.
Li: you have proofread different versions of Yuan poetic drama for many years. It seems that you discovered them bit by bit, and actually you are concerned with and solve major problems in the history of traditional opera. For example, in the article named Proofreading of Yuan Drama published in Dramatic Arts (volume 3) in 1992, you talked about the merits and demerits of Selection of Yuan Drama by Zang Maoxun. As for Selection of Yuan Drama edited by Zang Maoxun, people in ancient times and at present criticize it. And generally, what is different from the Yuan edition in Selection of Yuan Drama is the thought change of Zang Maoxun. Therefore, predecessors criticize Zang Maoxun’s “faults” more. You have put forward various viewpoints through proofreading scripts of Yuan poetic drama of different versions and with the consideration of the feature that the script is used for a stage show.
Deng: yes, at the beginning of the publication of Selection of Yuan Drama, the famous composer Wang Jide confirmed that “its achievements can not be covered”, and at the same time he criticized Zang Maoxun for modifying his own will. Ling Mengchu, a fellow villager of Zang Maoxun and another famous composer spoke in defense of him, but he also criticized Zang Maoxun for the change inYuan drama. Wu Mei, Zheng Zhenduo, and Sun Kaidi, famous scholars in recent years, and Yan Guwen and Aoki Masaru, famous Japanese scholars researching Yuan drama, criticized Zang Maoxun severely. However, for some problems, such as how Zang Maoxun modified Yuan drama and whether the differences between the version of Zang Maoxun and other versions were modified by Zang Maoxun or not, there rarely are specific statements and discussions; I proofread Yuan dramas in succession, published a series of articles, and talked about a number of viewpoints, after I edited Literary History of Yuan Dynasty, because this was a major problem involving versions of Yuan drama.
Under the condition that I confirmed that Zang Maoxun had always modified characters of Yuan drama, I didn’t agree that all differences in other versions had been modified by Zang Maoxun. I approximately agree with a kind of a common view that there are modifications and changes to different degrees in the process of performance, which is a common practice in drama performance. And until today, there exists this phenomenon in traditional drama performances and modern drama performances. Therefore, significant variance between some scripts in Selection of Yuan Drama and other versions may state that there are some differences in choice. However, in order to test and verify this deduction, we must have examples and analyses of these examples, while this kind of analysis must fit the historical reality. And I will use two conditions as examples in the following.
Firstly, the condition with examples: in the past, some have found many differences through comparing dramas of Yuan versions that exist at present with those collected in Selection of Yuan Drama. For example, compare King Zhao of Chu Goes Ashore in Thirty Kinds of Yuan Dramas and King Zhao of Chu Goes Ashore in Selection of Yuan Drama, the differences are too large to proofread, and could it be said that it was modified by Zang Maoxun? When King Zhao of Chu Goes Ashore was discovered in the Maiwang library, we knew that Zang Maoxun had not deleted King Zhao of Chu Goes Ashore in the Yuan version. He only collected the same version as the one in the Maiwang Library, and he only made some modifications.
Secondly, the condition without examples. As for Xue Rengui’s Return with Glory in Yuan version and Selection of Yuan Drama, the plots are extremely different, in the Yuan version, Xue Rengui didn’t have a wife originally, and then he was recruited as the emperor's son-in-law. While in the Selection of Yuan Drama, Xue Rengui had a wife originally, and then he married the daughter of Xu Maogong, and the relationship between the two wives was harmonious. Was this modified by Zang Maoxun? A scholar said: “all of these modifications weren’t made by Zang Maoxun. Through performance change over several years, the content of Yuan dramas from the Ming versions has changed a lot. When Zang Maoxun printed Selection of Yuan Drama, he used a master copy may be the change in the Ming performance version was changed by others.” Although only questions are asked in this sentence, it gives us a lot of information. Through my investigation and analysis, including research on the evolution of the story of Xue Rengui, I concluded that the modified version by Zang Maoxun may stem from the end of the Yuan dynasty and the beginning of Ming dynasty, and Zang Maoxun has modified a lot.
In another instance, as for the famous Sacrifice in Yuan drama, there are differences in Yuan versions and Selection of Yuan Drama. In addition, there are obvious differences in the words of these two versions, and there is obvious modification traces in the Ming version. In the Yuan version, it emphasizes advantages and disadvantages of loyal ministers and traitor ministers, while in the Ming version, it renders “loyal ministers don’t dare to die, and people who dare to die are not loyal ministers”. However, the development clue of the plot of these two versions is the same basically. In the Yuan version, when orphan Zhao prepares to kill Tu Angu, the story is over. While in the Ming version, in chapter 5, the orphan is committed to hold Tu Angu firmly after he reports to the Emperor, and Tu Angu is put to death with the order given by Wei Xiang. In chapter 4 the orphan is twenty years old at the time of Linggong, while in chapter 5 the orphan is still twenty years old, which is contradictory. Someone thinks that the chapter
Li: it seems that we should not follow blindly the judgments of our predecessors. As for many issues in drama history, through detailed literature investigation, we may make new discoveries. I feel that you are very cautious in making conclusions of some issues in the research of Yuan poetic drama, for example, as for the issue of how many version systems of Yuan drama can be divided, the conclusions in Literary History of Yuan Dynasty and articles published by you later are different.
Deng: it is a process. After Literary History of Yuan Dynasty was published, in the process of proofreading Yuan drama, I have preliminarily formed systematic and shallow opinions towards the version system of existing Yuan drama. In Ancient and Modern Poetic Drama Collection, Mr. Sun Kaidi divided versions of Yuan poetic drama in to three systems: firstly, the Yuan version; secondly, deleted and embellished versions (namely Ming versions, such as Ancient Famous Poetic Drama, Collection of Ancient and Modern Poetic Drama, and Ancient Poetic Drama of Gu Quzhai); thirdly, versions in the Selection of Yuan Drama. I think that existing copy version, as a kind of performance version, can form a kind of system by itself. When I edited Literary History of Yuan Dynasty, I also quoted viewpoints in Ancient and Modern Poetic Drama Collection. Until 1995, I was invited to take part in an academic seminar, and I formally put forward that versions of Yuan poetic drama can be divided into three systems in my submitted thesis.
Li: in addition, you always consider various factors, emphasize proceeding from historical reality, and pay much attention to the detailed analysis of issues, when you discuss literature history and opera history. Taking the research on opera version as an example, in the past scholars always criticized actors’ change of scripts. Generally, as for scripts changed by actors, the artistic level decreased, and literariness was especially decreased, which doesn’t meet the requirements of scholars. However, you don’t agree with blind blaming.
Deng: in Thirty Kinds of Yuan Dramas, Wang Guowei said: “as for books on opera, if they are copied by people of later generations, it is easy for them to change styles and increase or decrease words.” Actually, he didn’t take up the vital issues in this sentence, and the change of opera scripts in the process of spread is connected to performance. In the Central China Rhyme, Zhou Deqing of the Yuan dynasty has recorded that the words in Ma Zhiyuan’s scripts have been modified by “common scholars”. It states that the condition that actors change scripts have appeared in the process of actual performance and spread when opera flourished. And the habit has been formed since its start. In addition, it is different from the spread condition of poetry collections. If we research so-called “modification”, there may not be only one reason. However, the most important is the subjectivity of actors’ performances. They should express characters seriously, and they should also publicize their main features in performance, therefore, they have to change the object of the script, so as to adapt. In this meaning, it is not right for us to criticize “modification” blindly. As for the criticism of this kind of historical phenomenon, different people have different opinions. Our comments may fit in with historical reality with the admission of this kind of historical phenomenon. In fact, it involves the issue of “communication”.
During an opera performance, as for the same script by the same author, if it is performed by different actors, different features in character performance always occur. This kind of phenomenon is the same in ancient and modern times. However, actors’ modification of scripts during performances is usually criticized by scholars. In the General Introduction of Yuan Poetic Drama written by Aoki Masaru, a Japanese scholar, he compared Yuan poetic dramas seen by him and said after comparing thirteen dramas collected in both the Yuan version and the Selection of Yuan Drama: “as for these fierce modification traces, we can not only blame the editor of Selection of Yuan Drama, because modification is formed with the change of years”. In Solution of Opera and Novel --- Thirty Kinds of Ancient and Modern Poetic Opera, Sun Kaidi said: “editors are careful or impulsive, but they can not do everything in accordance with original texts without any modification”. Although editors are careful, why do they “change”? It seems that it is not because of “editors”, but modifications during performances and spread. This is really a major feature for distinguishing the spread of opera and drama and that of poetry collections. When compiling Opera Record and writing Song-Yuan Opera History, Wang Guowei spearheaded his attack on traditional cultural perspectives, which influenced scholars in the times of the “May Fourth” movement, pushing opera research in to the academic field, and regarding it as “literature for common people”. And they have made historical contributions. However, they also neglect the feature of the of spread opera in the issue of version, not concerning the “individuality” of opera, and finally they have made some unrealistic judgments. Maybe, it belongs to historical contradiction which is said by many people.
Li: from research work, I experience that, as for a scholar’s entrance to a new academic field, courage is needed, especially entering a field with little academic accumulation, and you can not go in with the intention of achieving quick success and getting instant benefits. In Literary History of Yuan Dynasty, you stated the development vein of the Yuan poem and corrected some viewpoints of your predecessors, you must have met quite a few difficulties.
Deng: when I edited the Literary History of Yuan Dynasty, there was indeed the difficulty of “blank space” waiting for me, namely the research on the Yuan poem. This is an unpopular field and not in demand. Take literary history as an example, there are comparatively abundant discussions in books of literary history for hot poetry in the Tang and Song dynasties and poetry in the Ming and Qing dynasties. University students can memorize seven scholars before and after the Ming dynasty and the flourish and declination of the Gong’an and Jingling schools; and they also can talk about the causes and effects of Verve Doctrine, Style Doctrine, Texture Doctrine, and Spirit Doctrine. However, as for the development of Yuan poetry, they can barely say anything. This is mainly due to a lack of common books in literature history, so I decided to arrange the development of Yuan poetry in order. I found that predecessors’ statements on Yuan-poetry-following-Tang-dynasty are proper, but only too general. Through detailed arrangement, I have drawn out the causes and effects of Yuan-poetry-following-Tang-dynasty.
After Yanyou the year of Emperor Renzong of Yuan, the trend of following Tang dynasty became fiercer, and finally the situation of “following Tang dynasty by people all over the world” was formed. As for the following of Tang dynasty by people in the Yuan dynasty, they didn’t only follow the flourishing Tang. “
The “gaining ancient ways through following Tang dynasty” of the Yuan dynasty can be regarded as a kind of trend for “restoring ancient ways”. In fact, this kind of trend is aimed at some evils in Song poetry and to correct partial views of Song scholars of looking down upon poetry and the arts, therefore, it possesses the nature regarding “restoring ancient ways” as “new changes”, not “archaism” of an analogue type. “Four scholars” or “four major scholars” of Yuan poetry means Yu Ji, Yang Zai, Fan Chun, and Jie Xisi. However, this saying doesn’t fit the reality of Yuan poetry. As far as I can see, the following six persons shall be “masters” of Yuan poetry: Liu Yin, Zhao Mengfu, Yu Ji, Sa Dula, Zhang Zhu, and Yang Weizhen.
Seven scholars before and after the Ming dynasty advocated restoring ancient ways and put forward the so-called “poems that flourished in the Tang dynasty are the best”, not only aimed at Song poetry, actually, it is the inheritance and development towards the practice of Yuan-poetry-following-Tang-dynasty. This point has not been discussed in almost all famous literature books. However, the discussion on Yuan-poetries-following-Tang-dynasty can highlight the causes and effects of the Ming-People-following-Tang-dynasty.
Li: previous researchers paid little attention to Yuan prose, because Yuan prose has not always been valued. It is known that literary achievements of Yuan prose are not high.
Deng: at the beginning of the “preface” in Literary Selections of Past Dynasties --- Articles of Yuan Dynasty published in 2001, I said: “Yuan prose inherited Song prose, and it has its own development history and features”. However, for a long time, Yuan articles have not been valued by people. Since the Qing dynasty, an ancient article collection has been well-known far and near, nearly widely known to all, that is Outlook on Classical Chinese Literature. Until recent years, it was still a popular book and the same as Three Hundred Tang Poems. In this collection, many articles are gathered from the Pre-Qin, with articles from the Qin dynasty, Han dynasty, Six-dynasty period, Tang dynasty, Song dynasty, and Ming dynasty, without an article from the Yuan dynasty. We may think that the viewpoint of looking down upon articles from the Yuan dynasty was started by people of the Yuan dynasty, because in the Wanzhai Collection, Yang Weizhen always said that Yuan poems were better than that of previous dynasties, but Yuan prose was worse than that of previous dynasties, namely “prose of this dynasty is worse than that of previous dynasties, while poems are better than that of previous dynasties”. If we comprehend the saying of Yang Weizhen as those general achievements of Yuan prose are not as good as Song prose, it fits with reality basically. In this meaning, the saying of Yang Weizhen is not extreme. In accordance with various historical realities, opinions extremely belittling Yuan prose did not stem from the people of the Yuan dynasty, but people of the Ming dynasty. And Wang Shizhen has always said: “there was no prose in the Yuan dynasty”.
Li: because of this, I think it is creative for us to clear up Yuan prose history. Prose of every dynasty is a link that can not be neglected in the developmental history of prose, with the meaning of inheriting the past and forging ahead into the future. I notice that you have also discussed the meaning of Yuan prose in Chinese history besides researching features of Yuan prose and theoretical opinions of Yuan prose writers.
Deng: comparatively speaking, my settlement on the development of Yuan prose was not enough. Main Features for the Development of Yuan Prose in section three of chapter 17 of the Literary History of Yuan Dynasty was written by me. At that time, I summarized two basic features for the development of Yuan prose: firstly, with the experience of the “ancient prose movement” advocated by Han Yu and Liu Zongyuan of the Tang dynasty and “ancient prose movement” of the Song dynasty whose leader was Ouyang Xiu, a final decision on the argument of parallel prose and prose was made in the Song dynasty, and the situation regarding prose as the main part has been confirmed. Only inside writers, differences and discussions on prose style have appeared now and then. To the Yuan dynasty, it developed different trends of following the Tang dynasty (actually following Han Yu) and following the Song dynasty (actually following Ouyang Xiu), and at the same time, the view that exceeding Tang and Song prose and running after Pre-Qin and Han prose appeared. The latter mainly appeared in northern scholars at the beginning of the Yuan dynasty, whose influences were not great. As for the trend of following the Tang dynasty and the Song dynasty, there is an evolution process, and finally Tang and Song were the same. Secondly, after natural sciences became popular in the Song dynasty, opinions of belittling art and abolishing art and differences between the “theoretical school” and “art school” appeared. These two kinds of phenomena have been reflected on and expressed in the field of Yuan prose. However, the harmonic proposal towards the “theoretical school” and “art school” has occupied the leading position, and its direct result was that Yuan prose paid much attention to practical statecraft. Overall achievements of Yuan prose are not as great as those of the Tang and Song. And I think that this is the basic historical position for Yuan prose.
Afterwards, in the “preface” of Literary Selections of Past Dynasties --- Articles of Yuan Dynasty, I also said there were disputes in highly praising Song prose and Tang prose in the Jin dynasty. Until the Yuan dynasty, this dispute has continued to exist. In addition, this condition was more obvious at the end of the Yuan dynasty.
Li: the dispute about “valuing art” and “valuing science” in Chinese prose history has run through different historical periods. In your opinion, the viewpoints of Yuan prose writers towards this problem tend to be in harmonious proportion, and actually it has a negative meaning on the development of prose of later generations.
Deng: in history, various literary theories and views mostly have an inheritance and development relationship, and this is a kind of general rule about not doing everything due to individual will. Mao Kui, another representative of “
In the past, some said: “some contradictions in the relationship of “prose” and “method” appeared after Han Yu of the Tang dynasty put forward “prose is used to make method clear”.” As for the trend of mixing literature and books together first appeared in articles of Han Yu, the literary feature of not valuing prose was easily brought about. In the Yuan dynasty, natural science became an official science, but some scholars in the Yuan dynasty gave up the viewpoint of extremely belittling prose of scholars in the Song dynasty. They advocated and insisted on the opinion of practical statecraft at the time of mediating the viewpoint of the “theoretical school” and “art school”; actually, they maintained the tradition that ancient scholars advocate prose since Han Yu. Therefore, they indeed had historical achievements.
Therefore, we might as well say: two basic features of Yuan prose also reflect historical achievements of Yuan scholars in prose history.
Li: I feel that the inspiration your research experiences and academic achievements incite towards us middle-aged and young people is various. Can you tell us what is academic innovation, which I think is the most basic and important point. Which can be called academic discovery? How to seek academic innovation? Researching basic materials is a unique way for us to gain penetrating judgment for the research of literary history. Only through learning, can you have knowledge; with knowledge, you can have sharp academic insight; with basic academic insight, you can see how things will develop from the first small beginnings. Although this principle is very simple, in a scatterbrained society, the most basic thing needs emphasizing again and again. At present, many people, who don’t know about basic materials deeply, make conclusions easily and even express their intelligent views freely.
I deeply feel that you have inherited excellent academic traditions reflected by senior scholars of the Literary Research Institute, such as He Qifang, Qian Zhongshu, Yu Pingbo, Sun Kaidi, Yu Guanying, and Wu Shichang and so on. That kind of rigorous research spirit, realistic research method, and calm research attitude reflects the true style of scholars. Scholars of later generations shall inherit this kind of tradition, and research spirit, research method, and research style cannot be lacking.
Deng: we shall emphasize and develop a rigorous study style. Professor Zhao Jingshen, my university teacher, always said to students: “as for learning knowledge, we must have five hearts, namely the loving heart, concentration, carefulness, perseverance, and concentration.” After I went to the Literature Institute, I was guided by Comrade He Qifang, and the research attitude and method of Marxism insisted and reflected by him has had a great effect on me. In the 1950s, I assisted Mr. Sun Kaidi to clear up his ancient books, and Mr. Sun always talked freely about the research of people in the Qing dynasty. On
Li Mei, female, graduated from the Department of Literature at the
Translated by Feng Weijiang.
Editor: Wang Daohang