Voltaire and his “Confucius Ethics Drama”

  In October last year, on the occasion of the opening of the French Culture Year, French President Chirac came to Chengdu. Whether he was visiting Du Fu Thatched Cottage or tasting the fresh and delicious Sichuan cuisine, he showed his strong interest in Chinese culture. The trip to Chengdu became a highlight at the beginning of the event. In fact, the influence of Chinese culture on France was far-reaching as early as the 18th century.
  An anti-feudal and anti-church ideological and cultural revolution took place in Europe in the 18th century. It prepared ideological preparations and publicized public opinion for the bourgeois revolution. This was the famous Enlightenment movement.
  The center of the Enlightenment was in France, and the leader of the French Enlightenment was Voltaire (1694-1778). His ideas had a huge impact on Europe in the 18th century, so later people once said: The 18th century was Voltaire’s century.
  In 1755, an ingenious opera “The Chinese Orphan” was staged in a theatre in Paris. This is Voltaire’s adaptation of the Chinese Yuan drama “The Orphan of Zhao”.
  Yuan Zaju “The Orphan of Zhao” is undoubtedly one of the representative works of Chinese classical tragedies. The play depicts the struggle between loyalty and traitors inside and outside the Jin court during the Spring and Autumn Period, and the resulting struggle for persecution and anti-persecution surrounding the orphans of the Zhao family: the traitor Tu Anjia received the support of the faint king, arrogant, and frantically persecuted loyal ministers. Zhao Dun, causing him to be beheaded by the whole family, only the newly born orphan of Zhao family was rescued secretly by Dr. Cheng Ying from Cao Ze, while Tu Anjia was chasing after him. Cheng Ying gave his young son, who was still in swaddling, instead of the orphan to Tu Anjia to kill, so that the orphan was saved. Cheng Ying was insulted and despised by the Chinese people for this, but he gained the trust of Tu Anjia. He took the opportunity to make the orphan recognize Tu as his adoptive father, and skillfully raised the orphan under the protection of Tu’s powerful forces, and finally killed the orphan himself. Enemy, revenge for the Zhao family. The play exposes the vicious and brutal criminal acts of the dark forces represented by Tu Anjia, and at the same time praises a series of tragic figures of noble character represented by Cheng Ying and others who sacrificed their lives, were generous, tragic, and endured humiliation.
  In 1698, a French priest, Joseph Marcel, came to China as a missionary. He was proficient in Chinese, studied ancient Chinese classics and histories and developed a strong interest, so he lived in China for 40 years. In 1731, he translated “The Orphan of Zhao” into French in Guangzhou, and asked someone to bring it back to Paris; in 1735, Father Duhede of the Society of Jesus published it in the “Complete Chronicle of the Chinese Empire” (also translated as “All Chronicles of the Chinese Empire” edited by him). Chinese Annals”). In the translation, Ma Joseph only retained the framework of the basic plot and deleted all the lyrics. He believes that the lyrics of Yuan Zaju are difficult for Europeans to understand, because the content and meaning of these lyrics are beyond their grasp. language image. Therefore, what was introduced to Europe was actually just a dramatic story structure.
  It was after reading Marose’s translation that Voltaire came up with the idea of ​​creating “Chinese Orphans”. Before that, another thinker, Rousseau, in his book “On Science and Art”, regarded China as a “country corrupted by civilization” whose people failed to purify their hearts and sacrifice their lives for the country because of science Instead, he became a “slave” willing to endure the barbaric ravages of the Tatars. In response to Rousseau’s prejudice against China, Voltaire created this Chinese drama.
  The plot of “Chinese Orphans” is roughly as follows: Genghis Khan captured Yanjing and ordered the search of the royal family’s orphans. Zhang Ti, an old minister of the previous dynasty, hid the orphans in the emperor’s tomb, and then sacrificed his son to replace the orphans. His own flesh and blood was killed, he went to the palace to see Genghis Khan, told the truth, and he was willing to die on behalf of the orphan. As long as Idamé leaves Zhang Ti to marry him, everything can be forgiven. And Idamenin refused to obey, and the two were both kidnapped to the execution ground. Facing death, the husband and wife encouraged each other. Idamei even asked her husband to kill him first! Genghis Khan was moved by this heroic scene, so he pardoned the three and allowed Zhang Ti and his wife to raise orphans.
  ”Chinese Orphans” was performed at the National Theatre in Paris in 1755 with unprecedented splendor. Voltaire demanded that everything such as sets, costumes, and props be Chineseized. At that time, the famous actor Clerjon played Ida May, Henry Louis Kane played Genghis Khan, dressed in Chinese costumes made by Westerners, and performed this oriental style. A tragic and moving drama, which caused a sensation in Paris.
  In this play, Voltaire deliberately moved the story that happened in the Spring and Autumn Period in the 7th century BC to the era of Genghis Khan after the Mongols conquered Beijing in 1215, and specially described the Chinese courtier Zhang Ti and his wife Idamé at the expense of their own lives. The child’s extraordinary courage to save the “Chinese orphans” emphasizes that the tyrant Genghis Khan could not but be moved by it, and the Mongol conquerors were finally conquered by the culture of the conquered nation, thus showing the victory of reason. The main ideological proposition of Enlightenment is to open up wisdom and advocate rationality. Through education and propaganda, people were liberated from the ignorant, backward and dark feudal society, and people were freed from the superstition and prejudice spread by the church, so as to fight for freedom and equality.
  Brandess, author of “The Mainstream of Literature in the Nineteenth Century” commented: “China is an ancient country with no belief in gods and simple folk customs. Voltaire paid attention to this peaceful civilization. He praised the virtue, loyalty and sacrifice of pure humanity. Spirit and enduring attachment to human ideals. In the final analysis, The Chinese Orphan affirms a philosophy of life.”
  Anyone who has read Voltaire’s philosophical novels knows that he has always advocated generosity and put Confucius “in his own way”. Do not do it to others if you want , Greeks, Chaldeans and Celts when they met. In the meantime, the Chinese showed their respect for the visitors from all over the world with a humble attitude, emphasizing that the “principle of heaven” is above everything else, which was recognized by the Babylonian Chadig. Voltaire believed that among all the people, “the Chinese are the most rational”, and explained the “li” that the Chinese admired as “the light of nature”. Therefore, Voltaire publicly claimed that he followed the teachings of Confucius and wrote the play “Orphans of China”, which is also called “Five-Act Confucius Ethics Play” by many people.
  Since ancient times, tragedy is to reflect the tragic contradictions in social life, to describe the suffering and death of the protagonist. In Chinese classical tragedies, only those who represent the interests and emotions of the general public who suffer or sacrifice in the struggle against the rule of the dark forces can constitute a true tragedy. Mr. Lu Xun said that “tragedy is the destruction of the valuable for others to see” should be well known. In the traditional Chinese value system, the valuable is the truth, the good and the beautiful. In short, tragedy is the destruction of beauty. Therefore, in Chinese classical tragedies, the protagonists are often ordinary people among the people, but they are full of great spiritual power, persistently fighting for a certain ideal and cause, and fighting against the powerful dark forces until they sacrifice their lives. A heroic and unyielding spirit in which the virtues, loyalty and steadfast pursuit of lofty ideals accumulated by a nation are embodied.
  It can be said that values ​​are the core of culture, and in the value concept system of traditional Chinese culture, “good” is the highest spiritual realm, and “evil” is the opposite of it. Therefore, most of the conflicts in Chinese tragic works are in nature. Constitute in an ethical way of good and evil. On both sides of the conflict, the forces of evil are often extremely powerful and irresistible, while the side of justice, that is, the side of good, is very weak, forming a situation in which the strong bully the weak and the evil bully the good. In the disparity of power, the weaker party has shown a tenacious will to life and an indomitable spirit of resistance in the face of misfortune, suffering and even destruction. It is permeated with a touching tragic spirit, which is tragic, majestic, full of sublime and masculine beauty, and runs through the high power of justice.
  In the conflict between justice and evil, punishing evil and promoting good has always been an eternal value measure in traditional Chinese culture, which represents the idealistic spirit of justice ultimately defeating evil. Although the dark ruling forces of China’s feudal society are strong and powerful, the protagonists of the tragedies cannot resist, but in these tragedies, these destroyed parties representing the good and the beautiful still express their desire for victory and victory in various ways. Persistence in ideals, they either turn into ghosts to take revenge on the enemy, or use external force to realize their wishes. The most typical representative work of winning with revenge is the Yuan drama “The Orphan of Zhao”. In this play, the orphan The revenge not only represents a family, but represents the ideals and beliefs of a series of people with a sense of justice, which contains traditional spirits such as strength, enterprising, resistance, and struggle.
  Since then, the story of Zhao’s orphans has spread all over Europe, and has been translated into English, Italian and German one after another. On the one hand, the situation of the protagonist and the storyline of his revenge, to a certain extent, are in line with the scenario model of the change of power and position of the Western court family and the struggle for dominance; The “Chinese spirit” has also deeply moved Westerners. Therefore, there are stories of Chinese orphans in different languages ​​and versions.