Bao Yu is in Love

(Ban Yu liang hun)

Volumes 1 and 2

The plot of this play is derived from the novel A Dream of Red Mansions, which was written in the mid-eighteenth century and remains one of China's most popular novels. In this love story of two young people from prestigious families, the leading male character, Bao Yu, is a pampered young man who spends his time cut off from the outside world, simply because he is the family's only son. His cousin and love interest, Lin Dai Yu, is beautiful but emotionally fragile and prone to fits of jealousy. She is an extremely accomplished poet, writer and musician, yet a lonely, proud and ultimately tragic figure. In Buddhist terms, she is the reincarnation of Crimson Pearl, and the purpose of her mortal birth is to repay a "debt of tears" to her divine nurturer, who has been reborn as Bao Yu.

Bao Yus other cousin Xue Baochai is lively by contrast and is the family favourite. The three cousins are close companions, enjoying the beauty of the garden together and writing poetry which they read to one another. Bao Yu rarely thinks about the exam he is supposed to be studying for, preferring instead to enjoy the companionship of Lin Dai Yu.

Bao Yu's mother becomes concerned about Bao Yu's relationship with his cousin, because Lin Dai Yu is always sick and morose. Although the love and understanding between Bao Yu and Lin Dai Yu are profound, Dai Yu's poor health, hypersensitivity, and her status as an orphan dependent on Bao Yu's family make her a poor candidate for marriage. Xue Baochai, on the other hand, is liked and respected by the entire family for her thoughtfulness and good deeds. Knowing Bao Yu will never agree to marry the woman they choose, the family hatches a plan.

Bao Yu is led to believe that he is going to marry Lin Dai Yu, but is actually tricked by his grandmother, mother, and sister-in-law into marrying Xue Baochai. Lin Dai Yu hears of the wedding from a maid while the ceremony is underway, but she does not know that Bao Yu has been tricked. She burns the manuscripts of all the poems she wrote to him, and her poor health suddenly deteriorates. She dies unattended, and is later found in her remote chamber at the opposite end of the garden.

Bao Yu does not learn that his bride is Xue Baochai until the wedding night. He runs from the house, searching everywhere for Lin Dai Yu, only to learn that she is already dead. After marrying Xue Baochai, Bao Yu enters a new life, fulfilling his Confucian family obligations: treating his wife with respect, producing a son, and taking the civil service exams. After passing the exams, Bao Yu disappears without trace. Several days later, he reappears in the street one snowy day as a Buddhist monk, with shaven head and bare feet. He completes his 'earthly karma' by bowing four times to his father in the direction of his home, the Red Mansion, then strides off into the snow with a Buddhist monk and a Taoist priest.

(For other versions of this story, please see the entries for Bao Yu Mourns His Lover, Bao Yu is Weeping before the Bier and Miss Dai Yu Returns to Heaven in this collection.)