Going on a Binge in the Bai Hua Ting Pavilion

(Bai Hua Ting nao jiu)

[Volume 1]

Emperors and imperial concubines are a common focus of traditional Chinese theatre, and the story Going on a Binge in the Bai Hua Ting Pavilion is the one most often performed in various forms of regional opera. This play is largely a showpiece for the female role, which requires demanding emotional and physical performances with difficult poses and movements.

Yang Guifei is one of the Four Great Beauties in Chinese history. She was an imperial concubine of Emperor Li Longji, one of the Emperors of the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907). One day, the Emperor promises to meet Yang Guifei in the Bai Hua Ting Pavilion for a drink. She arrives there early in the morning, prepares everything for him, and waits expectantly. She waits an entire day, but he does not come. A eunuch later arrives and informs her that the Emperor has changed his plans and is with another concubine instead.

Yang Guifei feels she is has been abandoned by the Emperor and replaced by another woman. Brokenhearted, she decides to begin drinking alone. She drinks heavily and soon becomes intoxicated, but keeps ordering wine. When a eunuch brings her a new cup, she picks it up in her teeth, hands on hips, tips her head backwards, and drinks it in one shot. As she drinks, she becomes flirtatious, and begins dallying with the eunuchs. As she recalls how the Emperor doted on her in her early days at the palace, she also becomes bitter. The alcohol intensifies her sadness, and makes her quite drunk. Her maid helps her back to her quarters by making up a story that the Emperor is on his way to see her. Yang Guifei eventually returns to her rooms, lonely and despondent.

This play vividly exposes the depression suffered by the women who lived as concubines in the palaces of Ancient China. Revised and performed for many generations, the play has become an operatic masterpiece for its performance style and artistry.