Play Reading in English – Lady Precious Stream by S. I. Hsiung


HK English Speaking Union
  • Mon 15-09-2014 7:15 PM - 2 h
  • Mon 20-10-2014 7:15 PM - 2 h

Colette Artbar

Free admission


Lady Precious Stream is an unlikely literary phenomenon - a Chinese play written in English.  It was written by Hsiung Shi I not long after he arrived in London in 1933 with the aim of pursuing postgraduate studies on Shakespeare. His idea of adapting a drama from Chinese culture in order to help fund his stay and create a link between his own culture and his adopted one proved inspirational, as the play that grew out of his initial idea was a resounding success in London.

Produced by the People's National Theatre of London under the direction of Nancy Price with an all-Caucasian cast, Lady Precious Stream ran for 1000 performances from 1934-1935 and proved such a hit with audiences that it transferred to Broadway in 1936. Hsiung based the play on a classic Chinese opera script dealing with the same narrative by Wang Pao-chuan.

The plot is set in the Tang Dynasty during a period of great national instability, but the play is more of a romantic, and partly comic, domestic drama than a martial piece. Precious Stream is the third daughter of the Wang family and shocks her parents and sisters by falling in love with, and ultimately marrying, the gardener Xue, who is of humble origin. In this take of love treachery, fidelity and reconciliation, Precious Stream shows her devotion to the noble Xue who is elevated to a senior position in the army fighting the rebel forces opposed to the Tang emperor.

In the latter part of the play Xue is captured by the enemy forces and, to save his own life, is forced to marry the rebel queen. Xue is placed in a terrible dilemma but his love for Precious Stream remains strong, and he attempts to find a way out of his impasse, while his loyal wife remains constant and hopes for his return. Audiences at the time were captivated by the specially prepared Chinese curtain and backdrop, as well as by the dazzling costumes, designed by the great Chinese Opera performer Mei Lanfang.

The play was so popular that there were subsequent movie (1938) and television (1950) screen adaptations. The play was immensely popular with amateur drama companies too, but is rarely performed nowadays, being seen as something of a period piece. Our play-reading, which will be attended by S.I. Hsiung's grand-daughter Joanna, will hope to change that perception of the remarkable and unique Lady Precious Stream

The scholar/playwight Shih-I HSIUNG & his wife Dymia​ Portrait photograph taken c. 1935 - 1936

Hsiung Shi-I with his granddaughter Joanna Hsiung Kai Chau in Hong Kong in 1984


Manuscripts of Hsiung Shi-I’s The Professor from Peking transcribed by Joanna Hsiung.

Left: A poem memorized from his youth and written for Joanna Hsiung by Hsiung Shi-I

Right: Passages from _Zhuzi Zhijia Geyan,_ the traditional morality text for Chinese households, copied by Joanna Hsiung at the instruction of Hsiung Shi-I in 1984

Photographs: courtesy of Joanna Hsiung

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