Chi-ming Yang Four years after the premiere of Voltaire's L'Orphelin de la Chine in Paris, the English playwright Arthur Murphy adopts it, makes "moral improvements," and claims the superiority of his Chinese "English Orphan" even as he pays due respect to Voltaire's representation of Eastern virtue.1 Despite their Western conventions and concerns, the two Orphan's are in fact adaptations of the first Chinese play to be translated into a European language, the Orphan of the House of Chao (Chao-Shih Ku-Erh). A thirteenth-century Yuan Dynasty drama about the Chao family's near-destruction, resistance, and vengeance, it is translated into French by the Jesuit Prémare and first published in 1735 in Du Halde's Description géographique, historique, etc., de l'empire de la Chine; this authoritative ethnography undergoes a craze of rival translations into English in book form and popular magazine installments between 1738-42.2 Once published in England, a host of theatrical productions follow. Why the interest in this Chinese play? In eighteenthcentury Europe, we see a pseudo-philosophical turn to China for moral authority; if the Yuan version is concerned with violence, revenge, loyalty, and self-sacrifice, the Western interpretations embrace the latter two themes and add the Enlightenment virtues of morality and emotionalism
Comparative Literature Studies – Penn State University Press
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