This dissertation explores the representation of female imagery associated with the Yuan pleasure quarters by examining a reservoir of Yuan sanqu. Previous scholarship has studied this topic using either historical material or zaju drama texts but has more or less ignored the voluminous corpus of sanqu. Furthermore, scholarly inquiries of Yuan sanqu either have emphasized its development from the Song ci lyrical tradition or its colloquial features. In consequence, the complexity of sanqu as an independent literary genre has been neglected. Using the representation of female imagery of the pleasure quarters in Yuan sanqu as an entry point, on one hand, this dissertation examines the dynamics of this urban and textual space. On the other, it focuses on rarely-studied sanqu pieces and analyzes them in a new light. The pleasure quarters and the production of Yuan sanqu are closely related to each other. In particular, the pleasure quarters are both revealed through the creative process of sanqu and have established sanqu as a distinctive aesthetic experience. The first chapter will focus on women of the pleasure quarters from the perspective of their hierarchical distinctions in terms of beauty, performative nature, and desirability as companions. Chapter two discusses the representation of women of the pleasure quarters in Yuan sanqu. Distinctive from the exclusive focus on privileged outstanding courtesans in poetic and lyrical tradition, Yuan sanqu depicted women from different registers of pleasure quarters. Thus, the genre formulated a diverse picture of images, rhetoric, and modalities. Chapter three examines a major literary tradition mainly sustained by the Yuan sanqu tradition, which is the story of Shuang Jian and Su Xiaoqing. As one of the most important and widespread literary traditions at play during the Yuan, Yuan sanqu writers’ representation of this pleasure-quarters-based story manifests the fulness and diversity of Yuan sanqu as a distinctive literary genre. In the epilogue, I focus on a zaju script by Ma Zhiyuan and an anonymous song suite in relation to this story. By so doing, I intend to show how Yuan qu lyrics incorporated the poetic, lyrical, and dramatic traditions in a somewhat promiscuous way.
- Space of Imagination, Beauty, and Romance: Yuan Sanqu’s Representation of Female Imagery of the Pleasure Quarters