A Couple of Soles

A Comic Play from Seventeenth-Century China

Li Yu, translated by Jing Shen and Robert E. Hegel

Columbia University Press

A Couple of Soles

Pub Date: December 2019

ISBN: 9780231193559

344 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $25.00£20.00

Pub Date: December 2019

ISBN: 9780231193542

344 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $75.00£58.00

Pub Date: December 2019

ISBN: 9780231550369

344 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $24.99£20.00

A Couple of Soles

A Comic Play from Seventeenth-Century China

Li Yu, translated by Jing Shen and Robert E. Hegel

Columbia University Press

A Couple of Soles is a classic comedic romance by the seventeenth-century playwright Li Yu. Tan Chuyu, a poor young scholar, falls in love with the beautiful actress Liu Miaogu. He joins her family’s acting troupe, and, in plays within the play, romance ensues. After Liu’s family attempts to marry her off to a local country squire, she performs a famous scene in which a heroine drowns herself—and then jumps off the stage into a river, followed by Tan. The local river deity rescues the lovers from death by transforming them into a pair of soles. Li balances their romance with the adventures of a retired upright official involving banditry, bribery, and mistaken identity—and who nets and shelters the two fish when they regain human form.

Written at a time when China was beginning to recover from the cataclysmic Ming-Qing dynastic transition, A Couple of Soles displays Li’s biting wit as well as his reflections on the concerns of his age, including the dangers of administrative service and the role of theater in society. The play combines witty wordplay and caustic satire with a strong emphasis on traditional moral values. The first major comedy from late imperial China to appear in English translation, A Couple of Soles provides an unparalleled view of the theater in seventeenth-century China. A general introduction and a detailed appendix shed further light on the play and its context.
Li Yu and his work are critical to understanding Chinese theater of his day because he insisted on writing against established conventions and wrote the single most complete guide to playwriting before the end of the imperial period in China. We should all be very grateful to the translators for their effort and care in translating this fascinating example of chuanqi drama. David Rolston, University of Michigan

About the Author

Robert E. Hegel (Columbia PhD) is Liselotte Dieckmann Professor of Comparative Literature in Arts and Sciences and Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at Washington University, St. Louis. His publications include Reading Illustrated Fiction in Late Imperial China (Stanford, 1998) and The Novel in Seventeenth Century China (Columbia, 1981) as well asthe translated volume Idle Talk Under the Bean Arbor: A Seventeenth-Century Chinese Collection (Washington, 2017) and numerous edited collections, book chapters, and articles.