By Sofia Jesus

If Macau’s playwright Mu Xinxin had to describe China’s acclaimed author Tang Xianzu in one single word, that would be “emotion”.

“For all his life, he wrote about love, emotions,” Ms Mu tells mART, after taking part in a session of The Script Road – Macau Literary Festival, during the weekend.

This year, the festival pays tribute to Tang Xianzu, as well as to Portuguese poet Camilo Pessanha.

“Tang believed love was something that can cross time and space, even life and death,” Ms Mu explained. But the renowned playwright, who lived during the Ming Dynasty and had a passion for white camellias, “said it was very difficult to describe love”.

The way Mr Tang treated the theme of love in his literature was one of his strengths as a playwright, Mr Xu said. The way he made use of his imagination was also one of his special talents. “Many writers in Chinese literature use their imagination,” but Mr Tang used his to describe things “in detail”. “And people love it” — even now, 400 years after his death.

Born in Macau, Ms Xu is a doctor of Arts by Nanjing University, with a major in Theatre and Chinese Opera. She wrote a Peking opera called The Soul of Macau, which features the historical moment that led to the death of governor Ferreira do Amaral as a background.

Ms Xu believes one’s personality leads to one’s destiny. Mr Tang, she says, was “a kind of a rebel”, always “trying to challenge authority”.

Speaking at the Macau Literary Festival’s session— in which playwright Edward Li Kui Ming also took part —, Ms Xu explained that Mr Tang recited poems when he was only five years old. But he failed the exams to join the team of the empire’s officials for four times.

After he finally succeeded, things did not go smoothly with his job — and he was punished for his stand against corruption. If it weren’t for his lack of success in politics, “we would have lost one of the best playwrights in our history,” Ms Xu tells mART.

The masterpiece

The Peony Pavilion is considered to be one of Mr Tang’s masterpieces. The original play has a total of 55 scenes. Macau — where it is said the author may have lived for a while — is believed to be mentioned in three passages, Ms Mu says.

According to Ms Mu, The Peony Pavilion tells the story of Du Liniang, a young girl who once had a dream about an encounter with a lover. The dream impressed her a lot. As she fell ill, she painted a portrait of herself and buried it in her garden. After she died, the man of her dreams came to her town and found her portrait. One day, when he was talking to the figure in the painting, Du Liniang came out as a ghost, and they began a love relationship. The young girl asks his help to get back to life — and “the story has a happy ending”.

Love is an “eternal” topic in literature because it is something people want to believe in, Ms Xu says. And that is why stories like The Peony Pavilion are still so popular 400 years after having been written. “Whether you love this opera or not, [that depends on] your understanding of beauty,” she adds.

The Foshan Cantonese Opera Troupe performed “Peony My Beauty – an adaptation of The Peony Pavilion” on sunday, March 7, at the D. Pedro V Theatre, as part of the The Script Road’s programme. Another play based on Tang’s famous piece, “Excerpts ofThe Peony Pavilion” — by Mainland China’s Zhejiang Xiaobaihua Yue Opera Troupe — can be seen on May 14, at the Mandarin’s House, as part of the 27th Macao Arts Festival.

Mr Tang died in 1616, the same year British author William Shakespeare passed away. Ms Xu said — in the festival’s session — maybe it was all “an arrangement of the gods” at that time to have those two playwrights [Tang and Shakespeare] “producing masterpieces of East and West”.