An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Quanyuanqu 全元曲

Aug 27, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Quanyuanqu 全元曲 is a collection of all surviving arias and aria-style poems (qu 曲) of the Yuan period (1279-1368). The 12-volumes-large book was compiled by Xu Zheng 徐征, Zhang Yuezhong 張月中, Zhang Shengjie 張聖潔 and Xi Hai 奚海 and was published in 1998 by the Hebei Jiaoyu Press 河北教育出版社.

The term qu points at two different types of literature, the first being solitary arias (sanqu 散曲) that were written like poems or songs and can be said popular forms of lyric-metre-style poetry (ci 詞), and the second being dramatic arias (juqu 劇曲) as part of operas or theatre plays (zaju 雜劇).

The interest of Chinese scholars and literati in Yuan-period songs and operas was not very deep, and even important collectors like Li Kaixian 李開先 (1502-1568) published not more than a few songs by Qiao Ji 喬吉 (1280-1345) and Zhang Kejiu 張可久 (c. 1270-c. 1348). The same authors were also the only ones regarded as worth mentioning by the authors of the eminent Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) series Siku quanshu 四庫全書.

Wu Mei 吳梅 (1884-1939) was the first scholar who seriously studies Yuan-period arias, and the first publications on this type of songs were produced by Ren Zhongmin 任中敏 (1897-1991, the series Sanqu congkan 散曲叢刊) and Lu Qian 盧前 (1905-1951, Yinhongyi suo kan qu 飲虹簃所刊曲). These publications instigated a lot of researches and collections, among them some rarities, like the sanqu collections Yangchun baixue 陽春白雪, Liyuan yuefu 梨園樂府, Taiping yuefu 太平樂府 and Yuefu qunyu 樂府群玉.

The earliest comprehensive collection of solitary arias was Sui Shusen's 隋樹森 (1906-1989) Quan Yuan sanqu 全元散曲 that includes 3,853 short songs (xiaoling 小令) and 457 suites (taoqu 套曲, taoshu 套數), with a total number of 4,310 songs. This is, of course, much less than the poems included in the collections Quantangshi 全唐詩 and Quansongci 全宋詞, but the large number alone shows how productive Yuan-period writers were in comparison to their collegues of earlier dynasties.

Apart form songs, the genre of qu includes whole theatre plays. The Yuan-period plays consisted of spoken passages (kebai 科白) carrying on the plot, and of arias expressing the thoughts and feelings of the main characters (jiaose 角色). Only the main female and male character use to perform arias. According to the books Luguibu 錄鬼簿 by Zhong Sicheng 鍾嗣成 (c. 1279-c. 1360), Luguibu xubian 錄鬼簿續編 by Jia Zhongming 賈仲明 (1343-1422), and Zhu Quan's 朱權 (1378-1448) Taihe zhengyin pu 太和正音譜, there must have been some 600 theatre plays, of which only a small part has survived. In 1616, the collectors Zang Jinshu 臧晉叔 (1550-1620) and Liu Yanbo 劉延伯 published a book including 100 selected theatre plays, the Yuanquxuan 元曲選. Zang Jinshu has much been criticized by contemporaries that he had polished or altered the original texts of many plays instead of copying exactly the original wording. Yet he was also praised for his merit to have been the first systematically collecting, arranging and publishing a large amount of surviving Yuan period theatre plays.

The great historian Wang Guowei 王國維 (1877-1927, Song-Yuan xiqu kao 宋元戲曲考) and the Japanese scholar Yoshikawa Kōjirō 吉川幸次郎 (1904-1980, Gen zatsugeki kenkyū 元雑劇研究) acknowledged Zang's efforts. The book of Zang and Liu was followed by a series of other publications, like Yuankan zaju sanshi zhong 元刊雜劇三十種類, Li Kaixian's Gaiding Yuan xian chuanqi 改定元賢傳奇, Zhao Qimei's 趙琦美 (1563-1624) Maiwangtang chaojiaoben gujin zaju 脈望堂鈔校本古今雜劇, Gujin zaju xuan 古今雜劇選 by Xijizi 息機子 (c. 1600), Chen Yujiao's 陳與郊 (1544-1610) Gu mingjia zaju 古名家雜劇, Huang Zhengwei's 黃正位 (fl. 1609) Yangchunzou 陽春奏, Gu Quzhai's 顧曲齋 Guzaju 古雜劇, or the books Liuzhiji 柳枝集 and Leijiangji 酹江集 by Meng Chengshun 孟稱舜 (1599-1684).

Sui Shusen later enlarged his collection by the Yuanquxuan waibian 元曲選外編 that includes a further 62 plays. Zhao Jingshen 趙景深 (1902-1985) has added a further collection of Yuan plays, Yuanren zaju goushen 元人雜劇鈎沉. These collections were the basic sources for the Quanyuanqu. A Ying 阿英 (Qian Defu 錢富, 1900-1977) opened a new aspect of research in Yuan operas with his book Yuanren zaju shi 元人雜劇史, published in 1954, by investigating the social and economical circumstances of the time, as reflected in the plays of Guan Hanqing 關漢卿 (c. 1241-1320) and other authors. The field of Yuan operas since experienced a quick development, and the books published on this topic can be divided into several categories, like bibliographies, editions, textual critique, commentaries, melodies, historical relics, commented selections, translation, collections, or history.

The Quanyuanqu includes all known qu arias written during the Yuan period, anonymous writings as well as such from the brushes of famous composers. It includes a total of 162 theatre plays (zaju), including full texts, and not only the arias (juqu). Some of the theatre plays are not complete, especially those copied from the earliest collection Yuankan zaju sanshi zhong. In addition to the above-mentioned number of solitary arias (sanqu) collected by Sui Shusen, 45 fragmentary arias (canju 殘劇) are included, as well as titles of lost plays or arias (yimu 佚目).

The collection is basically arranged according to the names of authors, however, the order is not chronological, but follows the arrangement in the Luguibu, where masters famous for their theatre plays appear first (Guan Hanqing, Bai Pu 白樸, Yu Jifu 庾吉甫, Gao Wenxiu 高文秀, Zheng Tingyu 鄭廷玉, Li Wenwei 李文蔚, Ma Zhiyuan 馬致遠, etc.). Authors professing in solitary arias fill the last two volumes in the collection, with a few anonymous sanqu at the end. Anonymous theatre plays are found in volumes 8 and 9.

Arias with the same musical mode (gongdiao 宮調) and the same basic melody pattern (qupai 曲牌) are brought together, e.g. Guan Hanqing’s arias of the pattern Dade ge 大德歌 written in the mode shuangdiao 雙調. For all authors, short biographies are provided, and all pieces are richly commented, including critical comments comparing different editions and versions.

Luo Jintang 羅錦堂 (1998). "Liang’an gong jiao liyuan shu yi jia tongshang wasi hua: Xu Quanquxuan 兩岸共澆梨園樹一家同賞瓦肆花——序《全元曲》", in Xu Zheng 徐征 et al. Quanquxuan 全元曲 (Shijiazhuang: Hebei jiaoyu chubanshe), 1-4.
Xu Qinjun 徐沁君 (1998). "Xu 序", in Xu Zheng 徐征 et al. Quanquxuan 全元曲 (Shijiazhuang: Hebei jiaoyu chubanshe), 1-4.