Qian Nü Li Hun  
 T of C 
Qin as
Qin in
/ Song
Analysis History Ideo-
Personal email me search me
Novels and Operas   /   Performance themes   /   My performances 首頁
Qin in Qiannü Li Hun 1
(The Disembodied Soul of Miss Qian 2, an opera)
"Qiannü" and Wang Wenju, two versions3      

In many of the operas described here a man or woman is seduced by hearing a qin played. In the present story Miss Qian and her nephew Wang Wenju have grown up together and are already in love. However, her mother opposes their marriage, and so Wang leaves in disappointment, taking a boat to Sichuan. However, Miss Qian's soul then leaves her body and pursues Wang. They meet when from the riverbank she hears him playing qin on his boat. They go on to live in Shu and have many children. When they finally return, Miss Qian's spirit is reunited with her original body, which had been home in bed, apparently sick.

This Yuan drama is perhaps the most well-known example of a story depicting a woman who is frustrated in love, but whose soul is able to leave her body, take physical form, and in this way marry the man she loves. However, the story had much earlier origins. It is most closely based on a Tang dynasty story called Record of a Detached Soul, by Chen Xuanyou.4 And this, in turn, seems to trace its origins at least to a story in Youming Lu by Liu Yiqing (403-444) called Pang A.5

The images at right, reminiscent of some depictions of Bo Ya playing the qin (see Jiang Yue Bai), are connected to Act 2 of the Yuan drama.6 Wang is on a boat playing qin to express his sadness at having to leave Miss Qian. She (i.e., her soul, but in physical form) hears the music and comes to see who is playing, hoping it is Wang. In her song she mentions 雁起平沙 geese rising from a sand bank (compare Wild Geese Descend on a Sandbank). He hears her voice and hopes it is her. As they speak she compares him to Bo Ya.


Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Qiannü Li Hun 倩女離魂
The original Yuan drama/opera, by 鄭光祖 Zheng Guangzu (courtesy name 鄭德輝 Zheng Dehui, fl. 1294 Wiki), was translated into English by Richard Yang Fu-sen in Four Plays of the Yuan Drama, Taipei, China Post, 1972, p. 143-end. He translated the title as "Chien-nu's Soul Left Her Body".

Further information here comes largely from Zhang Zhenjun, "On the Origins of Detached Soul Motif in Chinese Literature", in the Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies, Vol. 9, No.2, 2009, pp. 167-184 (Academy of East Asian Studies, Seoul). I could only read it by doing a Google search then viewing it as a Google document.

There seems to be at least one film telling this story: 倩女離魂 Qian nu li hun (with: Ai Wei, 藍海青 Lan Haiqing, Hsia Ching-Ting, 周思潔 Zhou Sijie.)

A page in www.cultural-china.com says the following:

A Fair Girl's Soul Departed was the masterwork of Zheng Guangzu, and one of the most outstanding works among the poetic dramas in the late Yuan Dynasty as well. The script was developed from the novel Story of Soul Departed written by Chen Xuanyou in the Tang Dynasty. It describes the image and character of a fair girl who pursues freedom of marriage and will not allow anyone to manipulate her marriage.

On the aspect of artistic description, A Fair Girl's Soul Departed had a thick atmosphere of expressing feelings: the description detailed but not delicate, and the words exquisite but not seem like polished. Section Two describes the girl's departed soul chasing Wang Wenju, blending words of verse with aside to a perfect degree and accomplished the process at one go. It vividly delineates the girl's nervousness, the scene she speeded up on road as well as the beautiful scenery of the river bank in the moon night.

The above was accompanied by an image very similar to that at upper right.

2. The Disembodied Soul
One can also find many other translations of the title, including,

  1. A Pretty Girl Leaves her Body Behind
  2. The departed soul of Qiannu
  3. An Entrancing Woman Separates from her Soul
  4. Qiannü's Soul Goes Wandering
  5. A Fair Girl's Soul Departed

3. Two images
Qiannü (Miss Qian) is 倩女; Wang Wenju is 王文舉.

  1. The upper image is from a woodblock print that has written on its lower right 調素琴書生寫恨 . The original print is from 元曲論 Yuan Qu Lu by 陶宗儀 Tao Zongyi (Ming) as reproduced in 續修四庫全書 Xuxiu Siku Quanshu, Vol. 1763, p. 213; there it was placed directly to the right of another image from the play.
  2. The lower image is from a woodblock print that has written on its upper right 調素琴王生寫恨 . It can also be found in 新鐫古今名劇柳緝枝集, reproduced in 續修四庫全書 Xuxiu Siku Quanshu, Vol. 1760, p. 248 (see also in Judith T. Zeitlin, The Phantom Heroine, Ghost and Gender in 17th century Chinese Literature. Honolulu, U. Hawaii Press, 2007, p. 153 (Google books). Zeitlin says it is "showing the phantom heroine standing on a bridge with her sleeves hanging down as she listens to her lover play the lute. Zhang Maoxun, Yuanxu tuxuan, facsimile reprint of 1616 edition."

See also another.

4. Record of a Detached Soul (離魂記 Li Hun Ji)
By 陳玄祐 Chen Xuanyou (fl. 779). Here Miss Qian is called 倩娘 Qianniang and Wang is named 王宙 Wang Zhou. Wang is still her nephew, but it is her father who opposes their marriage, betrothing her to someone else.

5. Pang'a (龐阿)
By 劉義慶 Liu Yiqing (403 - 444). The title is also written Pang'a, Pang'e, etc.

6. Act 2
The original text is in the Appendix below (converted from simplified characters).

(Act 2, from















































Return to the Guqin ToC