The "Unicorn-Trapping Purse" is a famous Peking Opera comedy play. It was a great hit in the 1940s and is still very popular today. The story is about how a woman gets rewarded for doing a kind deed.
In ancient China, when a family was going to marry their daughter off, the mother traditionally made a purse decorated with a unicorn embroidered on it as a wish for good luck and a lovely son. Xue Xiangling was a daughter from a wealthy family who was scheduled to be married. She was sitting in the palanquin, holding the unicorn-trapping purse with valuable jewels in it that her mother had given to her when it began to rain. When they were taking shelter from the rain in a pavilion, she met another poor girl who was also going to be married. The poor girl was weeping because of her unfair and miserable destiny. Xue felt pity for her and gave her her unicorn decorated purse generously.
Six years later, a disastrous flood made Xue become homeless and penniless. In order to survive, she worked as a nanny of a boy for a rich family. Unexpectedly, she found the unicorn-purse her mother had given to her in the home. To her great surprise, the mother of the son was the poor girl she had helped sixed years ago. After they recognised each other, they cried with joy and became best friends.
A Great Success
Soon after the play was performed, it became such a hit that the actors were made to perform for 11 days straight, with the audience still pleading for more. The elegance of the sound, the taste of the desolation and warmth and the access of art to everyone touched the heart of everyone at the time. "Now the "Unicorn- Trapping Purse" is considered as one of the greatest works to come from Peking Opera due to its literary value and innovation. Traditionally, the lyrics of a Beijing Opera are regular and strictly organised. However, the writer of the play, Cheng Yanqiu decided to change the situation and produce sentences in varied length. With the rising and falling in cadence as well as the mild and agreeable tone, it fully expresses the delicacy and beauty of Peking Opera.
Here are some translated lyrics from the play:
"This is the most unexpected thing I've ever had, to reunite with an old friend! Looking back, there were so many times death had clutched my throat. Now I have got the warmest help from my old friend, so I am no longer miserable and lonely in this world anymore. Thanks to the kindness I gave her then, now the goodness finally rewards me! "
Today, the "Unicorn-Trapping Purse" is still being performed at theatres in Beijing. Many people enjoy and appreciate the great show and the "Chinese feeling" behind it.