The Peach Blossom Fan by K'Ung Shang-Jen
Trade paperback format. Translated from the Chinese by Chen Shih-hsiang and Harold Acton with the collaboration of Cyril Birch, introduction by Judith T. Zeitlin.
A tale of battling armies, political intrigue, star-crossed romance, and historical cataclysm, The Peach Blossom Fan is one of the masterpieces of Chinese literature, a vast dramatic composition that combines the range and depth of a great novel with the swift intensity of film.
In the mid-1640s, famine sweeps through China. The Ming dynasty, almost 300 years old, lurches to a bloody end. Peking falls to the Manchus, the emperor hangs himself, and Ming loyalists take refuge in the southern capital of Nanking. Two valiant generals seek to defend the city, but nothing can overcome the corruption, decadence, and factionalism of the court in exile. The newly installed emperor cares for nothing but theater, leaving practical matters to the insidious Ma Shih-ying.
Ma's crony Juan Ta-ch'eng is as unscrupulous an operator as he is sophisticated a poet. He diverts resources from the starving troops in order to stage a spectacular production of his latest play. History, however, has little time for make-believe, though the earnest members of the Revival Club, centered on the handsome young scholar Hou Fang-yü and his lover Fragrant Princess, struggle to discover a happy ending.