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Library Journal Review
This play in three acts examines the decline of a once-prominent family in Peking. Through two twenty-four hour periods, a month apart, the reader is transported into a gradually decaying world. The Zeng family represents the deterioration of traditional Chinese values and institutions during a period of rapid change and modernization. Cao Yu, a master of ``Western-style'' drama, completed the play in 1940. This is an excellent translation, based on the 1954 version published by the People's Literary Press; it was first performed in the United States in 1980 at Columbia University. Highly recommended for academic and large public libraries, especially those emphasizing materials on China. Eileen B. Guleff, Univ. of Colorado Libs., Denver (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
By common consensus, Cao Yu is the most important Chinese playwright of the 20th century. He played a historic role in creating a modern spoken drama for China to take the place of traditional plays in which speech alternated with song. In the 1930s and 1940s, productions of his plays were immensely popular; audiences were moved by his unprecedented presentation on stage of conflict and decay in the Chinese family. Drawing upon O'Neill, Chekhov, and classical Greek tragedy, Cao was one of a new generation of Chinese writers using literature to criticize what they considered to be a corrupt social order. Today, however, the plays do seem dated and derivative. In Peking Man the tragedy and lyricism of The Cherry Orchard (to which this play bears a resemblance) have degenerated to the level of melodrama and even bathos. Where Chekhov felt some compassion for the doomed protagonists of The Cherry Orchard, Cao seems to feel nothing but contempt and hatred for his characters, with the exception of the young girl Yuan Yuan, a transparent symbol of youth and energy. And the chief symbol of the play today takes on an unintended irony. ``The future,'' Cao proclaims, ``belongs to the Peking Man of tomorrow.'' When the Noble Savage returned to China in 1966 (the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution), he proved to be savage indeed, but not in the least noble. This work would be appropriate for upper-division undergraduates.-J. Chaves, The George Washington University